An initial analysis of the removal of Zap2IT guide data in the US

(I had some spare time while waiting for the kids to finish their breakfast, so this is posted earlier than I planned).

As mentioned briefly earlier today is reporting that Tribune Media Services (TMS) is turning off their free guide data service for MythTV on 1 September 2007. This is mainly because of claims of abuse — the theory on the MythTV users mailing list is that this abuse is vendors selling pre-configured MythTV systems for profit, which use the not-for-commercial-use guide data service from Zap2IT.

The announcement from TMS reads:


For several years we have offered a free TV listings service to hobbyists for their own personal, noncommercial use. In October of 2004 we posted here an open letter saying the future of Zap2it Labs was at risk because of certain growing misuses of the Zap2it Labs data. Unfortunately this misuse has continued and grown. These misuses, combined with other business factors have led to the decision to discontinue Zap2it Labs effective September 1, 2007.

We thank those users who have honoured the terms of the agreement, and we suggest you consider the many TV listings options offered by the commercial licensees of TMS TV listings data.

If you would like to discuss how to license TV listings for commercial use, please let us know by e-mail ( and include your company name, telephone number and the best time to reach you. We will respond to your inquiry as soon as possible.

We anticipate this decision will generate discussion and invite you to respond via the Zap2it Labs forum. We will do our best to respond to relevant questions posted on this forum in a timely manner.

There has been much consternation on the MythTV users mailing list about this announcement. There haven’t been a lot of helpful suggestions yet though. There is the assurance that the development team is looking into options, and some users are suggesting rounding up enough people to pay for a commercial license. The reality however is that this is likely not a big deal. I can think of a few possible outcomes:

  • Doom! The guide data stops, we all go home. This seems particularly unlikely though. It would take many people ignoring the problem, and just accepting that their MythTV systems are going to stop working.
  • Some sort of scraper using XMLTV is written. This is in fact how guide data is obtained for most other countries at the moment. This technique is discussed in my MythTV book (Amazon), and is well understood. I would expect new XMLTV grabbers for the US to start appearing in the next few days.
  • A conglomerate is formed to buy a commercial license to the guide data, and then sells that in XMLTV form to US based MythTV users. This option seems less likely to me, although not impossible. It would take someone being willing to buy the license for the data, on the assumption that enough people would actually pay for a XML feed. Lots of people have said they would, but there is already arguments over how much they would b willing to pay and it’s yet to be seen if those people will actually front up with the cash. It should also be noted that this sort of arrangement has been tried in other countries, and seems to invariably fail.
  • Another company steps up to provide guide data for free. There are lots of companies which have this data for their own uses now. Examples include the various TV guide web sites out there. They might chose to provide the data as a way of generating good will, as well as because providing the XML will cause less load on their systems than being automatically scraped to produce a third party XMLTV feed (the second option). This was the reason that the Zap2IT feed started being provided in the first place after all.

So, no doom yet. I’ll post more analysis as it appears.