Guide to the listings guides: which one will help you through the festive schedules?

The most eager searched for newsagents stocking them on the 3rd. But now they're available nationwide, households across the UK are picking up a listings guide to plan their festive TV viewing, perhaps the only time in the year that they buy a standalone TV magazine that doesn't come free with the weekend newspaper.

But which one to choose? a516digital has been reviewing what each of them has to offer:


RadioTimes
£4.50

The oldest listings magazine in the UK and the default choice for many households, just because they've always bought the RadioTimes at this time of the year. Formerly owned by the BBC, now owned by Immediate Media.

Content: The magazine provides extensive editorial on what's on the box, with detailed reviews of the main films coming up. plus features on Peter Capaldi, James Norton, Prince Harry and David Walliams, It also contains highlights for on-demand TV services. There is a double-spread of highlights ahead of each day's listings. For the double issue, some regular features, such as reader's letters are suspended.

Listings: This is a magazine that has in recent years given the impression you'd still buy it even if it didn't carry listings. The RadioTimes is for you especially if you live in a TV bubble that involves watching BBC Two or BBC Four at 8 or 9pm in the evening, and are interested in DVDs, books or travel opportunities linked to a programme. BBC Four has displaced Channel 5 in the listings, but at least this means that Channel 5 has escaped having half of its festive schedule bumped off in to a daytime listings box with the other main networks. For most of the Freeview, Sky and cable channels, there are alternatives that provide clear and more informative listings than the RadioTimes, which has just continued to cram the Freeview pages with more and more channels since the last redesign of its listings pages. It is not your cataracts that are to blame for not being able to see all the listings - the font size for some channels has got smaller over the years.

However, the magazine excels in radio listings, the only one to provide full listings of all main radio networks. But the radio listings haven't changed much for nearly a decade, and out of all of the new entrants to the digital radio market, LBC's national service is probably the most worthy station that isn't included in the magazine.


TV Times
£3.00

The second oldest listings magazine, now owned by the same company that produces TV and Satellite Week and What's On TV - Time Inc. The double issue is different to other listings in that it has the same book style binding you'd often find on a home decorating magazine...

Content: 
Detailed coverage includes over 2,500 films rated, 110 shows previewed and a big soap guide covering all the plots this Christmas. There is a double-spread of highlights ahead of each day of listings.

Listings:
The listings were last revamped earlier this year to allow more Freeview channels to be listed on its double page dedicated to the extra free-to-air channels. Meanwhile, there's very clear, easy-to-read coverage of the main five channels, with cast details for some shows. Sadly, Freeview, Sky and cable channels are squeezed on the following four pages of listings, and even though the producers of the magazine have done a good job at making the most of limited space, the magazine is crying out for more listings pages so that listings are less condensed.

The TV Times does not have radio listings.

TV & Satellite Week
£3.00

From the same publishing company as the TV Times, TV and Satellite Week is unashamedly for pay TV users, with a unique layout that reflects this.

Content:
Coverage of the festive TV highlights, but with highlights from the main Sky and cable channels alongside the usual highlights from the main five TV channels. Beyond TV highlights, a film guide and sports planner, there's little other editorial content. You don't buy TV & Satellite Week for a crossword...

Listings:
The main five channels are joined by Sky 1, BBC Four, ITV2, More 4 and E4 on a double spread. The following pages list Sky and Virgin channels. Channels carried on Freeview and Freesat are also there, but unlike other TV magazines that follow the main five channels with Freeview listings and then pay TV listings, those free channels are embedded within the pay TV channels. However TV and Satellite Week carries listings for more TV channels than any other TV magazine on the market.

There is also a handy at-a-glance overview of prime-time TV ahead of each day's listings - something that has disappeared from other magazines. The overview presents the channel in Sky channel order.

There are no daily highlights pages, unlike RadioTimes and TV Times. There are no radio listings. However, there are two pages of children's TV listings per week, including listings for children's channels just not listed in any other TV mag.


Total TV Guide
£2.50

Published by H Bauer Publishing - part of the Bauer empire that runs a number of commercial radio stations in the UK - Total TV Guide provides detailed TV and radio listings.

Content:
In addition to the run-of-the-mill coverage of the forthcoming televisual highlights, Total TV Guide contents a sports planner and a film guide, but it is the listings that dominate the magazine's content:

Listings:
The listings pages were last given a significant rework in 2015, giving it clear listings of the main TV channels, followed by another three pages of Freeview channels, and further pages containing pay TV channels. It is very easy to read and the main channels plus the main Freeview channels and the main pay TV channels have a at-a-glance layout, enabling you to scan down to see what's on at a particular time. Recently reinstated radio listings follow, although rather than listing the main five BBC stations plus a few commercial channels, it ditches some stations to give more space to BBC Radio 3 and 4, plus Bauer Media's Magic and Absolute Radio stations.

But... and it has to be said: if you only have Freeview, you don't want radio listings and you don't mind increased coverage of the soaps (toned down in this magazine), switch to sister title TV Choice and save £1.50. The first six pages of listings, including the Freeview channel section are identical (except that the Total TV Guide version is blown up to fill the larger page size).

We like the reminder on the footer of the Freeview listings pages that Freeview channels listed are "subject to location and equipment", an important note that some listings magazines leave out.

There are no daily highlights pages, unlike RadioTimes and TV Times.


TV Choice
£1

Published by H Bauer Publishing, and is a sister title to Total TV Guide.

Content: pages and pages of festive highlights on TV, both before and after the main listings pages, with a detailed overview of the impending doom and tragedy in the soaps. A very tabloid listings magazine, it also contains the sports planner and film guide that you'll also find in Total TV Guide.

Listings: detailed and clear listings, last reworked in 2015, with a double page for the main channels, another three pages for Freeview and three pages for pay TV channels. Sports channels are limited in coverage, with no or limited listings for some sports channels. No radio listings. No daily highlights page.


What's on TV
£1

Launched in 1991 following the deregulation of TV listings (before which you had to buy RadioTimes for BBC listings and TV Times for ITV/C4), What's on TV fights an ongoing battle with TV Choice for the budget end of the listings market. A sister title of TV Times and TV and Satellite Week, published by Time Inc.

Content: Between the front cover and the listings pages, the magazine is traditionally split between general TV highlights coming up and a soap section. Often the soaps dominate editorial content and are referenced on front covers.

Listings: A clear overview of all the main channels, plus nearly three further pages containing Freeview listings (sister title TV Times squashes all this in just two pages, the three page solution is more soothing to the eye). There's a page containing the main pay TV entertainment channels, followed by two pages of sports and movie channel listings, plus - perhaps surprisingly - a radio listings column, containing a summary of BBC Radio 1 through to 5 Live.


Who is "Best for Freeview"?
Many listings magazines have over the years claimed to be best for Freeview. But which Freeview channels (beyond the main five) are listed?
(Best viewed on mobiles in landscape format)


RadioTimes
TV Times
TV & Sat Week
Total TV Guide
TV Choice
What’s on TV
BBC Four
BBC P’ment




CBBC




CBeebies




ITV2
ITV3
ITV4
ITVBe
CITV




E4
More4
Film4
4seven



5USA
5STAR
Spike
Dave
Really
Yesterday
Drama
Home



Pick
Challenge
CBS Action

CBS Drama
CBS Reality

Horror


Quest
Food Network


True Ent
True Crime





MovieMix
Movies4Men




TruTV




YourTV





Sample taken from 3-9 Dec editions.
Temporary channel "True Christmas", available in some areas on Freeview 74 is listed in TV Times, TV & Satellite Week, Total TV Guide and TV Choice. No-one lists the Travel Channel.


Conclusion:
A magazine that had the editorial content of the RadioTimes combined with the clarity of Total TV Guide's listings would be a winner around here.

However, if listings is all you're interested in, and you're not bothered about famous columnists and feature articles, you don't need to spend £4.50 on the RadioTimes - most other listings magazines have refreshed their listings since the last time the RadioTimes had a major revamp of the format of its listings pages in 2010 when it lost its separate daytime listings page (the BBC Four/Channel 5 switch was a relatively minor cosmetic switch in comparison).

And if you find you've made the wrong choice for your needs, don't panic: because New Year's listings aren't included in this year's double issue, you can always try another magazine for New Year's TV highlights. The issues covering 31st December - 6th January 2017 are out from 23rd December.















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