TV listings: they all suck

Steve Hatton, another follower of local television, has an article at Suite 101 looking at printed television guides from The Gazette and La Presse, and commenting on how both have shrunk in size in recent years and their editorial quality has diminished. He takes particular notice to errors that come up when an assumption is made that two stations on the same network have the exact same programming.

Most printed TV guides are shadows of what they once were. TV Guide no longer exists as a print publication in Canada, and weekly listings in newspapers have been cut back severely to save space. Now they consist only of grids, with little information inside. (The Gazette’s TV Times doesn’t even include staples anymore, a simple changed that caused some inconvenience but saved a lot of money.)

There are exceptions, though even Le Devoir’s weekly TV section doesn’t have complete descriptions of programs.

Besides the general downfall of the print industry due to the Internet, this death spiral is also being blamed on the convenience of on-screen guides for digital cable and satellite subscribers, even though sometimes those are less than helpful.

Online sucks too

Most media have encouraged people to go online to get their TV listings, pointing to websites that serve it automatically. Unfortunately most of these websites are poorly designed and poorly maintained, with little or no editorial oversight. Most fall under the set-it-and-forget-it philosophy.

For example:

Even the ones you’d expect to get it right aren’t perfect, though they’re still better than what the newspapers offer:

  • TV Guide makes use of Zap2It, which has proper listings, but limits people to 100 channels and has minor but persistent errors, especially when it comes to network logos.
  • Yahoo uses its own system, which has proper listings and doesn’t limit the number of channels. But it was created for the United States, defaults to U.S. channels until you figure out how to change it, and doesn’t include logos for most Canadian channels. (Minor issues compared to the rest, but still an indication that the listings aren’t checked at all by humans.)

Part of the problem also lies with the broadcasters themselves. Many of them have given up trying to provide individual episode information outside of their hit primetime series. Many shows get generic descriptions or no description at all. And because all the TV listings are done by computer now, nobody checks with the broadcasters to fill in the gaps in their schedules.

It’s an indication of how little the media in general care about the quality of information they distribute to the public.

14 thoughts on “TV listings: they all suck

  1. Dude

    For american shows, is usually on the money with their listing. It’s gotta be regular programming tough. They got show info and IMDB completes it in the credits department.

  2. Carmi

    Content quality ceased to matter to media companies a long, long time ago. You’ve captured this particular slice very nicely – though I admit it makes me a little sad, as I remember the TV Times when it was a readable, standalone pub with actual articles, actual writers, useful listings, etc.

    In the case of TV listings, specifically, I think this also reflects the increasing irrelevance of time insofar as programming is concerned. In an on-demand world where PVRs automatically hoover every episode of a given program, does it even matter when we need to plunk ourselves in front of the telly?

    I can’t remember the last time I consulted a paper-based listing. PVR interfaces have automated the process to the point that none of this is relevant anymore.

  3. ATSC

    Oh, how right you are!
    I really hate those grids. No info other than a shows name. Very confusing as to which symbols are for which channel. Not all channels listed. And a major eye sore when looking at the grid. The old style TV Guide was the best.

    For now, I’m using TV I enter at Plattsburgh or Burlington zip code, and I get a list of the Over the air channels that come into Montreal. But, this doesn’t include Canadian channels. Sometimes it even doesn’t list the proper sub-channels either. For example, WCFE-DT just recently added Mhz Worldview on their 57.2. This service has world news packages from France 24, Russian TV, NHK etc. I have no way of knowing what is on when unless I constantly check with the channel every half hour to figure out what their schedule is.

  4. ladyjaye

    There is one site that you can use. It is Quebecor-owned, but falls outside the Canoe group of websites. TV Hebdo’s website ( does provide the possibility to save city/channel provider (including Videotron Analogic West, aka the former CF Cable). Only problem: the site, including all show descriptions (even those on anglo stations), is in French only, which can be an issue for non-French speakers.

  5. mare

    Compare this with the situation in the Netherlands, a country half the size of Canada (in inhabitants, the physical size is 1.5 times Lake Ontario).
    Every public broadcaster in the Netherlands has not only their own weekly magazine (examples,,,, there are 8 of them) with a schedule for the whole week for all channels, and articles, interviews, reviews etc. These are sold by subscription and in news stands, supermarkets etc.

    Together they also made a website with long descriptions and a choice of all Dutch public and commercial and foreign channels in a grid.

    On top of that most programs are available for viewing online the day after they’ve been aired on a shared website, comparable to Hulu, but this one is also viewable outside the Netherlands.

    The newspapers all have at least one page about television as well.

    Beat that.

  6. Steve Hatton

    Hi Fagstien. Wow! Thanks for mentioning me in your article. I also noticed at the bottom that I’m a tag. I don’t think I’ve ever been a tag before.

    At any rate, while I have your attention, I would also like to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. Especially the media analysis and humour, which of course, can be hard to find elsewhere in the main stream media.

  7. Chris Lamothe

    I use the i.TV app for my iPhone and not only is the guide accurate, it lets you determine who your cable provider is so that it screens out channels you don’t get, and it will play previews to movies that are appearing on TV and also has movie listings for my local theatre. Sometimes I feel ashamed that one of the best iPhone apps is a tv guide.

  8. Kakei

    I use which allows registered users to choose providers and customize channel lists. I’ve used it for more than 5 years now.


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