TVGuide.com sale triggers concern over differentiation

Lionsgate is looking to rebrand TV Guide Network in order to distinguish it from the brand’s dot-com extension, which the studio is moving closer to unloading, according to sources.

The network filed a trademark request for the title TVGN in September, according to public records. That could become the name of the new channel as Lionsgate seeks to avoid the confusion that has already enveloped the brand, which is still available as a print magazine published by a separate owner, Open Gate Capital.

Lionsgate is said to be in advanced negotiations with an unspecified buyer. Deal would fetch in the neighborhood of $20 million for TVGuide.com, Deadline reported Monday. Another report later that day, from blog AllThingsD, mentioned that Yahoo was one of the potential buyers. A rep for Lionsgate declined comment.

Lionsgate had attempted to sell the TV channel as well earlier this year, with published reports indicating Discovery Networks and CBS Corp. among those kicking the tires but going no further. Lionsgate has a 51% stake in the channel, with the remaining shares held by One Equity Partners, JPMorgan Chase’s global private equity investment unit.

Three months after acquiring the network for $241.6 million from Macrovision in early 2009, Lionsgate sold half of the network to One Equity Partners and investor Allen Shapiro, currently the chairman overseeing the channel and the website.

New branding may not only help avoid consumer confusion but give the TV network a fresh identity as it struggles to carve out a distinct niche in the crowded cable field without any standout original programming. The network has yet to get much traction beyond modest followings for second-year series “Standup in Stilettos” and “Nail Files.”

That said, sources indicate the network may not be in for a complete overhaul, with the title change potentially the only major alteration.

It’s unclear what the branding TVGN would mean for the network, but it’s a common move by cable programmers to use an acronym instead of a more specific title, giving flexibility for going in any number of creative directions. The strategy worked for both A&E and TLC in recent years, which was previously known as the Arts & Entertainment Network and the Learning Channel, respectively.

What may further complicate a new identity for the channel is the listings in the lower-third of the TV screen, which most pay-TV distributors have been willing to forego but have not been entirely expunged.

Holding onto the channel, which is available in more than 80 million homes across the U.S., could mean a tough road ahead for Lionsgate, which lacks the clout that comes with having a portfolio of networks that can be leveraged in negotiations with distributors. Lionsgate also has stakes in premium net Epix and international channel Tiger Gate.

On recent conference calls with analysts for quarterly earnings, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer has stayed mum on the future of TV Guide Network, which was previously known as TV Guide Channel. When asked earlier this month about the potential for a transaction, he replied, “I will say that there are a number of both operational and strategic moves that we are working on at TV Guide, and I think we’ll probably be able to talk a little bit more about that in the very near future.”

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