Iterating on TV listings

We partner in a number of ways with our great community television / cable access station, Whitewater Community Television. One is that we publish a schedule every week of their upcoming programs across their three different cable channels so that readers can know what government meetings, community events and other shows they can watch.

Historically the WCTV folks would send us a list of their upcoming programming along with a few notable/new programs to highlight, and then we would rewrite or copy/paste that information into a format suitable for the newspaper. The result would look like this:

The approach had a couple of downsides:

  • a fair amount of manual typing time to get the information ready for print,
  • we often could only fit 2-3 days of full schedule info for only one of their channels, and
  • if the person who emailed us the schedule info every week got busy or forgot, it could be a last minute shuffle to figure out where and how to get the info in the paper.

I also thought the schedule listings weren’t ideal from a reader/viewer perspective. If you want to answer the question, “what’s on WCTV right now,” you could turn it on and get the answer without needing to consult the paper. But if the question you’re trying to answer is “what looks interesting that I might want to watch” or “when is a particular government meeting I care about going to be on” then our format didn’t help you get that answer very efficiently; you’d have to read the whole thing in detail to figure out your options.

Earlier this year, we switched to a new format for publishing the television listings.

In addition to emailing us the schedule, the folks at WCTV were also publishing their full schedule on a Google Calendar online. So I wrote a software tool to fetch those listings, group them by channel and program name, and output the information in a way that’s ready to put on the page in InDesign.

Here’s how the feature looks now:

We can fit an entire week of program listings for all three channels in less space on the page. You can find programs by name to learn all the times when they’ll be on. And of course it just takes much less time to produce it every week, freeing our staff up for other things.

There are still opportunities to improve. And, making changes like this based on our internal intuitions about what will best serve readers is risky, so ideally we would have done some focus group-like research first. We still should. (One reader did get in touch to say they preferred the old format, but we didn’t get details about why.)

Time will tell, but hopefully the change is a win overall.

Chris Hardie is a journalist, newspaper publisher, software developer and entrepreneur based in Indiana, USA. Read more from Chris on this site, learn more on his personal website, subscribe for updates or follow Chris on Mastodon.

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