On June 26, TV Week underwent a revamp. The TV Week logo was spruced up, along with much of the magazines layout and graphics. Gone are the weekly Home & Away covers, replaced with a mixture of other shows. This has all been part of an effort to make the magazine feel more contemporary, relevant, and more up-market. Reportedly, focus groups had revealed that there had been a perception that TV Week is a trashy teen-orientated publication.
The audience for TV Week is TV enthusiasts. In the past viewers needed the TV Week to access weekly TV listings, but with TV listing lift outs provided now as part of most newspapers, it’s no longer a necessary purchase. At $4.20 an issue for a product that nobody needs in the same way they once did, TV Week needs to be geared at a dedicated, enthused consumer. Yet, the publication still seems to be far too tailored to the casual, unengaged reader.
Taking a look through this weeks issue (cover date: July 16-22) there’s actually some quite good content in the magazine, but it’s surrounded by so much lower-grade nonsense that any perception of an intelligent, premium magazine experience is neutered. The front cover offers stories on Masterchef reaching ‘Boiling point’, Downtown Abbey’s Explosive Finale, the Offspring Wedding Bombshell, The Block Couples at War, and an Australia’s Got Talent “Old Fella’s Secret Heartbreak”. They all seem like okay stories (nothing I’m wildly interested in, but it is what’s on the telly this week). The next two-page spread is a series of paparazzi pics of little consequence. Zac Efron & Ashley Tisdale happy at a beach, Melissa Doyle & her family rugged up walking down a beach, Curtis Stone & Lindsay Price shopping for baby books, and Mila Kunis & Mark Wahlberg in wedding outfits on the set of a new movie. It’s absolute nonsense that immediately downgrades the value of the publication for me.
A Masterchef 6 page feature that follows is quite good, with information and insights on the shows contestants away from the show and the way that participating in the show has altered their real lives. What follows is a bit of a mixed bag of articles that serve to inform and entertain, combined with trashy fan-service articles that diminish the whole enterprise. While there are some reasonable interviews/features about The Block, Australia’s Got Talent, Midsomer Murders, The Mentalist, Winners & Losers, and Claudia Carvan, they’re mixed in with some low-level fluff storyline-driven pieces about the obstacles threatening the couple’s nuptials on Offspring and a pregnancy revelation on Downtown Abbey. They’re the sort of articles one would expect from fan-driven publications like TV Soap. I’d like to think TV Week can set the bar just a little bit higher than that.
The rest of the magazine is filled with regular sections. Breaking these down:
- News & Views is a TV news column that seems highly irrelevant in the day and age of TV Tonight and Deadline. A periodical published weekly should be providing more context to their stories than brief snippets like this.
- Soaps with Andrew Mercado & Erin Miller. There is most certainly a place for discussion on Soaps in the TV Week. Soap fans are among the most passionate and driven TV fans and certainly has a lot to offer to fandom (even if they can be creepily scary at times with their devotion). TV Week would be well-served to move the trashy plot-driven fan articles from the feature pages to this section. They have a place in the magazine, but they certainly need much less prominence. The Soap Diary in this section is also pretty good, offering breakdowns of what happens on the soaps throughout the week.
- I don’t quite understand why Ken Sutcliffe is offering nothing more than his Picks of The Week. He has an extensive history in sports broadcasting. Wouldn’t it be so much better to have him write an actual column that allows him to offer his thoughts on sports today, as well as reminisce about incidents from years gone by?
- Movies on tv. David Stratton providing film reviews is most certainly welcome, but it’d be good to see less of a focus on films screening this week on pay television. If people want more detail about films airing on Pay, there is a Foxtel magazine. So much exposure to Pay means that many films on FTA go undiscovered. With digital multichanneling, there is a wealth of films on every week that go unnoticed.
- The TV puzzles are pretty fun, but I wish the puzzles were solely TV focussed as questions about pop singers really have little place in a TV magazine.
- Talkback is the magazines letter column. I love letter columns in magazines, but the column in this seems filled with letters provided by 13 year-olds or TV publicists. Of course, one reaps what they sow and when a magazine aims as low as TV Week appears to at times, the letter columns and the reader base will reflect that.
- Stars with Hedy Damari. Why does a TV magazine have a horoscopes section? Unless the stars are aligning to tell me how good the shows I watch will be every week, this column is a poor fit.
- in Review offers reviews on DVD, Movies, Music, and Gadgets. This really needs to be more substantial. There are so many TV shows on DVD released each week, new gadgets, and games that 4 pages aren’t enough. TV Week needs to focus more on TV lifestyles and not just series content. This section is indicative of the magazines misplaced focus. I do love the Just Ask with Gavin Scott column which offers answers on when various TV shows will be available on DVD.
- TV Life, in which celebrities offer a guide to food, fashion, and their favourite things. This section is okay, but really could be better executed. Catriona Rowntree offers her favourite aspects of Paris in 3-4 paragraphs this week. I’d much rather read 3-4 paragraphs on what she has learned from her many years of travel on Getaway. What should a traveller look for in their luggage? What is the difference between travelling for her work and her own personal travel interests? etc Fast Ed Halmagyi from Better Homes & Garden spruiking Dry July with a mocktail recipe was pretty good, but Amazing Race Australia contestants promoting their favourite makeup felt like a waste of my time.
The centrepiece of TV Week remains the TV guide. The layout for each day is clear and relatively easy to read. It’s not ideal, with different timeslots not lining up. While that’s fine for checking an individual channel, it does make it difficult to quickly scan all the pages across a timeslot to find something to watch. With each day colour coded, it’s quite easy to separate days from each other. I also like that each day in the guide offer an additional page with a Feature and Review of shows on that day. It’d be nice to see them squeeze a few extra reviews onto this page, but that’s a minor quibble. It’s pretty disappointing to note that the TV guide does lack listings for the community TV channels in each region. Different guides are produced for different states, so it’s certainly feasible for them to be included.
While the TV Week surprisingly offered me better content than I had expected, I still couldn’t help but feel that the magazine still wasn’t quite good enough to justify the $4.20 each week. Ideally, from a publication like this, I want to see:
- More in-depth Features. While this weeks Masterchef 6-page feature was great, I’d love to see some stronger reportage. In-depth text pieces that explore a subject beyond a double spread could be amazing reading. TV Week should be at the centre of the Australian TV industry, yet such short articles really place it nowhere beyond the centre of the Australian TV Publicity industry.
- More Opinion. Currently there is just the one opinion column (the lightweight “It’s Only My Opinion”), which has a focus on content issues like how dreamy Patrick is in Offspring. It’d be great to actually see some opinion on weightier issues. What should networks do to combat IPTV services, what are the moral implications of using streaming boxes to access foreign content, should ACA have dedicated that much time to Lady Gaga this week, etc.
- Greater consideration given to the value of the product. There are two things I ultimately want from a TV magazine – an in-depth stimulating read with great Features I can’t find elsewhere, and a great TV guide. While the TV guide is pretty good, it’s really not offering me anything I can’t get elsewhere. Back up the TV guide with original, must-read articles and the publication is a winner. Right now, it offers nothing that the combination of TV Tonight and the Ice TV guide on my iPad aren’t already offering me.
TV Week, more than almost any other publication, has the potential to position itself as a dominant player within the digital space. With meaningful, engaging content, TV Week can translate just as easily to an e-reader as publications like Wired have already. What sets it ahead of the pack is that it has the added feature of the TV guide. The guide takes the magazine from being read once cover-to-cover to being an oft-utilised resource. The fact the TV guide isn’t already an integral part of the TV Week website astounds me. To take the integration of TV Week into the lives of its readers that one step forward, the TV Week could quite easily offer an EPG service akin to that of Ice TV, but powered by TV Week for subscribers of the magazine. This delivers a powerful product that could quite easily become an integral part of the TV enthusiasts lifestyle.
TV Week is a better publication than many people give it credit for, but it’s still one that falls far short of its potential. There’s a place in the Australian market for a TV publication that offers a more thoughtful, considered approach to TV reportage. The magazine can still cover the same subjects as TV Week already examines (reality shows, soaps, sports, and scripted series). There’s a market for a fun, thoughtful, and relevant publication. I just wish TV Week would take that step and actually deliver a better product for my $4.20 a week.