In a modern era of technical marvels why is it that our Electronic Program Guides are actually getting worse and worse?
Is it a deliberate ploy to mislead viewers and stop them changing channels as part of a heated race for our eyeballs?
TV Tonight asked all our network programmers to rate their own EPGs out of 10 for accuracy, and there are some surprising results and admissions.
Most advised that Live programming for News, Sport and Reality TV events was subject to fluctuating problems. Print guides are also susceptible to errors and late changes. Fair enough.
Excluding those declarations, here are their answers and the scores they gave themselves for 2014 accuracy:
Seven’s Head of Programming Angus Ross indicates that aside from Live programming, “I would think it should be a 10 out of 10.”
“The EPGs are accurate all the time when I look at them,” he says.
“Sometimes shows like My Kitchen Rules and House Rules can take a long time to deliver and they’re delivering very close and you have to take the estimate from what is being provided to you by the Producers.
“But on the night they should be 100% accurate.
“The other thing is content can get added in on the night, but all of that should be included. I’d be very hopeful that the EPG is very accurate.
“Sunday Night might often contact me on a Sunday and ask ‘Can I get 5 extra minutes for a story that’s unreal?’ But that won’t have been reflected in the promo if Bones is (scheduled) for 8:45 and they ask for an extra 5 minutes.
“But again I would be hopeful that the EPG can reflect that.”
Ross says when he is aware of errors he tries to resolve them with his team.
“I’m onto it all the time. It shits me!” he admits.
“I want the EPG to be accurate as much as the viewers do, and if it’s not I’ll always try to be getting to the bottom of it.
“But some people, even in this era of fasttracking and things changing very fast, have this antiquated view that all shows should finish on the half hour. Why can’t a show finish at 8:45 if the content is compelling?”
TEN Programming Chief Beverley McGarvey also empathised with viewers.
“I see it myself. I watch the end of something and I miss the last 30 seconds and it drives me nuts,” she concedes.
“If I ever do see that I do come in (to the office) and jump up and down!”
Changes to the EPG can be made until 5pm before they need to be sent to third parties to be electronically embedded.
“We would obviously be aiming for a 10. There is no reason other than in times of a late changing news agenda or over-running sport that you change it late,” she says.
“It is really important to us to not have the EPG wrong. I watch TV as much as anybody –actually, that’s a lie, probably more– but it frustrates me if I get to the end of a show and I miss the last 2 minutes. We absolutely do not intend to do that.
“Our brief to our team is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and sometimes our News might have overrun by 3 minutes and the way that pushes the schedule out in the evening, or if the News Updates or The Project might overrun a bit, by the time you get to 9:30 you’re 5 minutes behind. And because we’re past 5:00 there’s nothing we can do about that.
“I’m not saying (shows will) be on at 7:30 or 8:30. It might be 8:33 or 7:35 but the EPG can handle that as long as you give enough warning.
“It’s not in our interest to try and trick people and to get them to watch shows that aren’t in the right place. It just doesn’t make sense at all. Any time that it happens it’s unfortunate and an accident. It’s certainly not strategic to get people to miss the last ten minutes of a show.”
Foxtel’s EPG is part of its iQ product which allows recording, Series Linking and the ability to add extra minutes for late-running shows, whether from Foxtel or Free to Air.
Foxtel Director of Television, Brian Walsh, says, “I can proudly tell you we have 100% accuracy with Foxtel channels on the Foxtel EPG. We work very closely with ABC, SBS and the commercial networks for accuracy.
“I think our product is magnificent and its accuracy is undeniable. We even provide opportunities for subscribers with the IQ to record-on from the programme they’ve selected. So if the programme does run over, if there is spill, we manage to capture that.
“Free to Air success and revenue is predicated on performance. ABC, SBS and Foxtel have a different business model.”
SBS Head of Network Programming Peter Andrews says, “We take the EPG very seriously in terms of information for our viewers. We’re limited by certain technical capabilities but in terms of what the EPG will reflect we want it to mirror exactly, from a descriptive point of view, what the programme is, so that viewers can make an informed choice.
“So it’s absolutely vital for us and a mechanism to give the viewers a sense of navigation through our channels.”
ABC1 /ABC2 Channel Controller Brendan Dahill says ABC doesn’t play the same games as Free to Air networks
“We don’t mess about with junctions (ie. 8:30pm), mainly because our programmes are largely pre-delivered and we don’t have advertising so we don’t stuff about chasing junctions,” he says.
“We tell our audience when our shows are on and we tend to stick to it. The reason I don’t give us a 10 out of 10 is that we have some shows that are produced in-week, and sometimes they deliver slightly heavily. So you look at them and think ‘I actually don’t want to cut 3 minutes out of that, I’m happy the way it is.’ Which means sometimes you’re a minute or two late getting to things.
“We try to box and cox within the timings of the night to try and make things stay as close to the billed, published time as we possibly can. We update our EPG at 11am every single day to try and reflect the reality of what that particular day and the following day will be.
“So we don’t tend to stuff about.”
But there are occasional exceptions.
“The only times we tend to not deliver on expectation is –and it’s part of network TV– when we have Live, dynamic shows in the schedule. If 7:30 is in the middle of an interview with Leigh Sales and Tony Abbott and he’s not ready to wrap it up, we don’t wrap it up. We keep going to the right out-point and that sometimes has consequences for the rest of the evening schedule,” he says.
“But we’re not intentionally stuffing about with junctions the way some of our competitors do.”
Nine Director of Programming Andrew Backwell is another who knows how aggrieved viewers feel but defers to commercial realities.
“It’s frustrating. I record a show and you get to the end of it and you miss the last 4 minutes. I feel like kicking the TV in! So I completely understand,” he says.
“But when you have shows in the can and you know the running time you can schedule them correctly, then they come up (against) Live shows and everything ripples.
“If you look at Hot Seat and our News, the News starts at 6:00 every night. They are shows you can control the durations. With Live television it’s very hard to get a perfect ‘out’ from it. If we have The Voice and it’s Live… they might ask ‘Can we go 10 minutes over?’ I’ll say ‘Absolutely, let’s run 10 minutes longer.’ It might affect people waiting for the next show coming. But you’ve got a big show delivering serious ratings.
“I’m happy to stick with it longer. Those calls will be made.”
Backwell offered a surprising admission on how competitive the game has become, and how EPGs have been drawn into network ammunition.
“In terms of us putting dodgy information in the EPGs –I’m not saying it hasn’t happened in the past, and I’ve been guilty of it– you have to have respect for the viewers. I know everyone thinks we don’t. But we really try to,” he insists.
“We’re operating a multi-billion dollar business, we have to make decisions about the best way to run the business. But we don’t take viewers for granted and we do show viewers respect and try and minimise (changes) as much as we can.
“One thing that has changed over the years is the junction: the 7:30, 8:30 junction is not as important. If you look ten years ago each network would hit the 8:30 junction within 30 seconds of each other and shows would start.
“But now you have My Kitchen Rules running ten minutes longer, we run The Block longer.
“There will be occasions where we make mistakes, and occasions that we think it’s better to run a promo that says 8:30 rather than 8:39. So we will try and get it as right as we can, but we are going to make mistakes.
“Viewers are our lifeblood so the last thing we want to do is piss off people. They all keep us employed.”
NB: This interview was conducted before the start of 2014 ratings season.