Tag Archives: Steve Hatton

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.