Following last year’s backlash over Yahoo!’s re-design of their TV section, and in particular their television listings feature, many users felt left out in the cold. I was one of them. Having previously relied on the Yahoo! online television guide to know what was on the boob tube, I was annoyed when a simple and easy-to-use product was replaced with such a clunker (more on that in the review of Yahoo!’s TV page below).
So, I set off on a quest to find a replacement for Yahoo!’s television listings. At times, as I dug through the various online tv listings services, it almost seemed that there were as many ways to find out what was on TV as there were channels to watch! Below, in alphabetical order, are quick reviews of 10 such services that I tried (including Yahoo!’s).
Note that each site is linked via its logo. Also, some of the sites below may only be accessible in the US.
Design: AOL’s design is simple, displaying listings in ‘3 hour by 15’ channel boxes – broken up by advertisements for additional TV content on the site. Movies, news, sports, and family programming is color coded; and you can sort by program type (including additional types beyond the four that are color coded in the listings). Drop down boxes provide a way to jump to any date or time; and forward / back arrows advance the listing by one hour in either direction.
Content: Additional program information pops up in a separate box, though it is fairly basic – episode name, and sometimes a one-sentence episode summary. The “Episode Detail” link leads to a dedicated page for each episode (for the most popular shows, at least) including cast list, original air date, and some other pithy information. Beyond listings, AOL offers a large amount of television content, including forums, blogs, photos, news, videos, reviews, and previews.
Extras: AOL’s “My Favorites” services allow users to create a customized TV listings grid that displays only their favorite shows. They also provide a TV calendar that highlights premieres, finales, and special episodes. One of AOL’s more impressive extra features is In2TV, which serves full length episodes of classic television shows for free (though I use the term ‘classic’ lightly – while there certainly is some great classic content on In2TV, like ‘Growing Pains,’ ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ and ‘Johnny Quest’; it is also where the ill-fated ‘Friends’ spin-off ‘Joey’ went to die).
Conclusion: AOL’s service is actually the one that I ended up using personally. Coincidentally because I’ve listed these services in alphabetical order, I led off with it. Strictly for TV listings, which is what I was most concerned with, AOL’s services is quick, simple, and easy-to-use. They also have enough quality extras to keep TV junkies happy.
Design: Couchville displays listings in a 4.5 hour by 9 channel grid, with a convenient vertical red line that indicates the current time (and moves forward as time passes). Sports and movies are color coded. You can customize the grid to show only channels you are interested in. Couchville’s most innovative feature is their use of a Google Maps-style interface that allows you to “drag” listings vertically (channels) and horizontally (time). You can also click on up and down arrows to scroll 9 channels at a time, or left and right arrows to scroll 4.5 hours each click. A calendar linked in the upper left corner of the page gives easy access to any day’s listing data, though Couchville does not seem to save old data – and provides listings only about 2 weeks into the future.
Content: Episode details open conveniently to the right of the listings grid. Information is fairly basic and limited to episode title and a short description, but expanded episode and series data is available on separate pages.
Extras: Couchville is really just about TV listings, so they don’t have much in the way of extras. You can add shows to a “Favorites” list (really just a bookmark for shows you like so you can find info about them easier) and their “Buzz” page shows the top recorded shows each week on the BeyondTV DVR, which is mildly interesting.
Conclusion: Couchville is about listings, and they do them pretty well. While their AJAX click and drag interface is unique (to TV listings sites), it isn’t really very useful in practice, especially in an age when you might have 900 channels to sort through. But there are enough other navigation options provided, so that you don’t have to use the click and drag.
Design: IMDb TV delivers listings in a 3 hour by 10 channel grid, with breaks only to redisplay times. Left and right arrows advance the listings by 3 hours. There are drop downs that allow you to choose day, time, or even jump to a specific channel.
Content: Content is where IMDb really excels. Last year IMDb switched from single pages for each television program to individual pages for each episode. This has allowed them to link each listing to the specific IMDb page for that episode. Because the change was fairly recent, their television data is largely a work in progress and older shows especially are often without complete cast lists or episode synopses. Movie data is, of course, very strong. Brief episode data is available in a small box that hovers when you hold your mouse over the down arrow icons on each listing.
Extras: IMDb offers the strongest community of the bunch. It has message boards for each show, with episode, actor, and crew member info. The message board is ranked 48th in the world, with over 13 million posts and 4.1 million users. IMDb also offers news and photos.
Conclusion: IMDb’s listings are simple enough; and while they don’t offer a ton of extras, it does have a very strong community.
Design: MeeVee’s guide loads listings in a 3 hour grid by 14 channel grid (though all channels are loaded at once, and the listings are in an iFrame – allowing them to scroll under the times). Left and right arrows let you skip three hours at once, and drop down menus let you choose date, time, and sort by program type. A “Now” button lets you easily reset to the current time and date. You can also print the full guide, which may not be the most useful feature – do you really need to print 3 hours worth of TV? Especially when just movies on my cable service take up 9 printed pages over the next 3 hours.
Extras: MeeVee allows you to mark shows, people, topics, sports, movies, keywords, and channels as interests. Then you can create customized daily or weekly, or 3-hourly guides, highlighting your favorites shows or programs – including actors you like or topics you enjoy. You can also block programs, to keep them out of your interests. MeeVee’s ‘To Go’ lets users get TV listings via mobile, RSS, or email; and most interestingly, via an embeddable widget that allows you to share your favorite programs on your blog or MySpace page. Finally, they have the ‘MeeVcast,’ a downloadable Windows program that gives users access to clips, trailers, and commentary.
Conclusion: MeeVee offers some very unique features, but their listings seem rather slow and unwieldy to me. I’ve often had problems in Firefox with their site (I had to use IE to play with MeeVee for this write-up). But they do have some great content and impressive exclusives – I was recently able to watch the entire first two episodes of Showtime’s “The Tudors” on MeeVee.
Design: TitanTV organizes listings in a 3 hour by 10 channel grid with left and right arrows to advance listings by three hours at a time. The grid is exceptionally colorful, with color coding for action, childrens, comedy, drama, documentary, educational, and game show programming. Drop down menus let you jump to a specific time or date.
Content: Episode information opens in a popup window, though it is not very detailed.
Extras: TitanTV lets users mark shows as favorites and create customized listings based on them. They have a message forum, but it’s rather inactive unfortunately. Perhaps the most interesting extra feature at TitanTV is their PVR integration. Through partnerships with a laundry list of PVR makers, users can automatically set television shows to record direct from the TV listings.
Conclusion: TitanTV is not the most attractive website in this roundup, but it is simple and works quite well.
Design: TV.com sports a very polished design, and the smallest grid in the bunch: 2 hours by 7 channels. ‘Earlier’ and ‘Later’ buttons advance listings by 2 hours, and drop downs let you jump to a specific date, time, or channel. Like MeeVee, TV.com offers an option to print listings. The print pages are attractive, but again of questionable value – do I really need to print 15 pages worth of television to get listings for 2 hours?
Content: Episode details are opened in a new window and is often very detailed with summaries, cast lists, quotes, trivia, etc. Episode, program, and actor content is presented wiki-style, allowing registered users to edit it. Unfortunately, it seems like TV.com’s listings have a lot more gaps in content coverage than other services. However the website makes up for this with a bevy of additional non-listing content – including pictures, news, podcasts, videos, and popular forums.
Extras: TV.com offers a standard favorites/custom listings feature, but they also include rather fun (if frivolous) statistical charts detailing a breakdown of your TV watching habits. As I suspected, I watch more comedy than drama.
Conclusion: TV.com stands out for its great community features. Its massive TV wiki offers an awesome amount of TV info – provided by fanatical fans – and their video section allows user uploads. It is a mix of user created content with professional news and analysis, in a very attractive format. However including only 2 hours on their TV listings grid is a drawback.
Design: TV Guide displays listings in an attractive 2 hour grid, broken up rather sporadically by banner ads. The grid is in an iFrame, allowing listings to scroll under the times. Single arrow buttons jump listings by two arrows, while double arrow icons advance listings by an entire day. Drop down menus allow users to jump to a specific time or date, or to sort listings by movies, sports, family programming, or favorites channels. Listings are color coded by sports, movies, news, and family.
Content: Episode details hover in a box on mouseover and a separate link leads to a more detailed page of information for some programs. TV Guide’s episode descriptions are probably the most descriptive of any of the sites in this roundup. Beyond listings, TV Guide offers a ton of addition television and movie content. News, blogs, gossip, fan blogs, forums, groups, podcasts, videos, and photos.
Extras: Beyond the standard favorites/custom listings set up, TV Guide’s real strong point is their exceptional, professionally produced content – of course drawing on their 54 year old magazine and 19 year old television channel.
Conclusion: TV Guide is the most famous name in, well, TV guides. Their listings are attractive and functional, and there may not be a more detailed site for true television fans.
Design: TVplanner loads listings in a 5.5 hour by 15 channel grid, though in an iFrame so all channels load at once and scroll under the times. There are drop downs for jumping to specific times and dates, as well as buttons for “Now” and “Primetime”. Listings are color coded – kids, movies, sports, and HD – and can also be filtered by the same settings.
Content: Content opens in a side bar that shortens the grid by an hour. The content is fairly basic, but attractively displayed.
Extras: TVplanner doesn’t have much in the way of extras, except a ‘Browse’ section that highlights content in specific categories. TVplanner’s search is also quite good. A search for ‘Meg Ryan’, for example, brings up listings of every movie in the system starring Meg Ryan; and a search for ‘baseball’ brings up any show that references baseball – it even found an episode of “MTV Cribs” in which New York Yankees’ center fielder Johnny Damon was profiled.
Conclusion: TVplanner is an interesting site. It is very basic, blazingly fast, and from a strictly design standpoint it provides the best listings by far in this round up. Unfortunately, it is only available for Comcast customers (it is owned by Comcast), and thus isn’t very useful for a large portion of television watchers.
Design: Yahoo! TV loads listings in a 3 hour by 10 channel grid. Left and right arrows advance the guide by 1 hour, and drop down menus allow users to jump to specific times and dates. Yahoo! TV has both “Now” and “Primetime” quick links. Movies, sports, and news programming are marked with buttons.
Content: Yahoo! TV has a very slick way to load episode content: via an AJAX slide-out that loads inside the listings. The actual content in the listings is weak, but full show listings lead to very detailed pages. As usual, content is a strong point for Yahoo!. In addition to extremely detailed program pages, they also offer news, gossip, photos, and videos. Users can rate and review shows, and Yahoo! offers forums via a partner site.
Extras: One of Yahoo! TV’s most unique extras is the ability for TiVo users to schedule recording directly from the listings. Yahoo! also offers the standard favorites/custom listings setup.
Conclusion: The biggest rap on Yahoo! TV when they rolled out the new version of the TV site, was that the listings loaded far too slow. Each 3×10 grid loads separately and they just don’t load fast enough to catch up with users scrolling. Even on a 3mbps cable connection, I found this to be true and so I made a switch to a new TV listings service. I have since upgraded to a 20mbps connection and the Yahoo! site is far more usable; however, Yahoo! TV had by that time already lost me as a user.
Design: Zap2It’s listings load in a 3 hour by 10 channel grid that can be filtered by sports, movies, news, series, specials, and children’s programming. Left and right arrows allow users to jump by 3 hours at once, and drop downs let you jump to a specific time or date. Unique to Zap2It, the times scroll along with you down the page, so you always know what time programs are on. Zap2It offers a print option.
Content: Descriptions of programs load in the listings, which makes them rather large and unwieldy. The descriptions can be turned off however. Additional episode information opens in a separate window, though it is fairly sparse. The website offers a host of other television and movie content, including news, photos, blogs, ratings, and an active forum with nearly 5,000 members.
Extras: Zap2It doesn’t offer much in the way of extras, beyond the standard favorites/custom listings.
Conclusion: Zap2It is a service of Tribune Media Services, Inc. and their real business is in licensing content. They power the TV guide page for a number of newspaper websites, and at least one other service in this round up (AOL). But they also offer enough compelling additional content, and active community, to force people to take them seriously as an online TV guide.
As I said earlier, I ended up settling on AOL’s service for my daily use – although if TVplanner covered more than just Comcast, I would certainly switch to their listings.
However as more people switch to digital services or use PVRs that have built in on-screen guides, I can’t help but wonder if the market for online TV guides is in for a crash. In order for most of these sites to survive, they will need to add additional content beyond listings – like video, news, commentary, community and social features (I’m looking especially at you, Couchville).
Which of these – or other – online TV guide services do you use, and why?