Not only has TV Guide turned a profit for the last three years, the publisher says that a key strategy was cutting circulation.
OpenGate Capital bought TV Guide in 2008 for the grand total of $1. Which at the time might have been a reasonable price: OpenGate became the magazine’s fifth owner in just 10 years, circulation was down from a peak of 20 million to about 3 million and the deal did not include the website tvguide.com or the TV Guide channel.
But, OpenGate founder Andrew Nikou and his partners specialized in turnarounds. And, they liked the idea.
"You’re not going to find many opportunities where you have a brand of this stature," Nikou says. Especially not for a buck.
A cheap price doesn't make it a sure investment, though. The new owners approached magazine veteran Jack Kliger about heading TV Guide. Kliger had run magazines Elle and GQ. He said maybe.
"I said, 'Well, to be honest I have to first take a look,'" Kliger says, "'and see if it’s all dead, or mostly dead.'"
Cable made TV Guide’s original model, listings, impractical. There were too many channels to list. Kliger’s plan focused on the "guide" part of the magazine’s title. With a million channels, what’s worth watching? "Quite frankly, how much TV can one watch a week?" Kliger says says. "After 20 hours, you become a zombie."
He also set out to cut the circulation even more, to the two million most-loyal readers. That saved on paper, printing and shipping.
Now, total revenue is down by almost half, but TV Guide makes money overall.
Bill Mickey is editor of Folio, a magazine for and about the magazine industry. I asked him, if I’d told him five years ago that TV Guide was going to be profitable and looking to grow in 2013, what would he say?
Mickey's answer was quick: "No way."
But, he then went on to ratify TV Guide's lower-circulation strategy, and suggested that Readers Digest might make a similar rebound.
Who knows? Maybe Newsweek will come back too.