The shortcomings of printed TV listings

09/21/2013 7:03 PM

09/21/2013 7:03 PM

One of the evergreen topics with readers I speak to (especially on the phone) is the various places The Star’s print edition runs TV listings. There is the “On the Air” column in the Sports Daily, and there is the “TV Tonight” grid in the FYI section.

Print subscribers can also add the printed Star TV Plus to their home delivery on Sundays if they like for an extra

75 cents a week. There is also a free version of Star TV posted on KansasCity.com

, updated every Sunday. It’s a PDF formatted to be downloaded and printed on home computer printers.

The most common complaint I hear about TV listings concerns the FYI grids. They don’t list programming every channel available.

Fans of Fox News Channel are especially concerned not to see that channel listed, suspecting The Star is intentionally suppressing its conservative message. I tell them the same thing I tell those making the much less frequent objection over the grids’ not listing liberal MSNBC: There are no politics at play here. None of the three major news networks — CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC — is listed because they usually show the same programs every night during prime time.

The bottom line is that there’s room for 58 channels in the grids. The basic tier for most cable companies supplies about 65 channels. Add in the digital and premium tiers, and that goes well into the hundreds. And also throw in the new extended over-the-air digital channels offered by local stations. Many people tune these in with antennas.

And on top of that, there are four major cable providers in the metro area, with other smaller companies, satellite providers, and the rapidly-expanding Google Fiber offerings. Each one of these systems has a different channel lineup and numbering system.

If you look at the microfilm from the late 1970s, you’ll see Star TV used to be a thick book, with full listings of every single show on TV, many with descriptions.

But that was when there were about a dozen channels, and everyone got the same thing. Networks signed off late at night.

And most of all, there was no Internet, with its myriad ways to customize your listings. There were no set-top boxes with program guides built right in.

Star TV (which is purely a product of The Star’s Advertising department) was thick because every advertiser in town knew that book was going to spend all week next to every armchair in town. Today, printed TV listings are the very definition of a niche product.

But there are still

lots

of people out there who have no interest in 800 channels. And I truly sympathize with them. The world of TV has become irretrievably difficult for printed listings to keep up.

I also see irony here. There’s no question to my mind that printed listings, even when they include huge numbers of channels, are actually easier to peruse in printed format, at least to my eyes. Scrolling through rows and columns on a TV screen is much slower and more cumbersome for me, though Web-based grids such as those on

Zap2It.com

are at least somewhat easier. But few people keep a computer next to where they watch TV.

One caller this morning offered at least one suggestion to make things less confusing for those people who do rely on the printed grids. He pointed me to a listing in the “TV Highlights” for the movie “The Spy Who Loved Me,” which shows tonight at 7 p.m. on ENC, or

Encore

- a premium channel on some providers.

Yet Encore isn’t one of those listed in the grids. Wouldn’t it make sense for the “TV Highlights” to restrict its listings to channels that run below in the daily grids?

I think that’s perfectly logical, and I’ve shared the suggestion with the Features department. They don’t put the listings together themselves, but they coordinate it with a syndicate. I am with my reader that while it would restrict the variety a bit in the “TV Highlights,” it would avoid confusion among readers who don’t use electronic listings.

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