New networks duke it out for gay and lesbian viewers
Three new TV networks catering to gay and lesbian viewers are trying to establish themselves, and all say they support one another--at least publicly. Competition breeds interest and shows doubters that the business is viable, said Frank Olsen, president of the Q Television Network. He once applied the same theory when he owned four gay and lesbian bars near each other in Seattle. "I think there's room for all three of us," said Olsen, whose network is the underdog of the trio. "We're different types of channels, just like you have ABC, NBC, and CBS." Sure to be the most visible is MTV Networks' Logo, scheduled to start as a basic cable network on June 30. Q and Here are both pay services operating now and available to a limited number of viewers.
The gay and lesbian community has been underserved by the media, and these channels are long overdue, said Damon Romine, entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "There's definitely an audience out there that is hungry to see their stories being told," he said. "We've seen this with the tremendous success of Queer as Folk and The L Word." Logo has two original series that will be ready this summer. One is Noah's Arc, about a black gay screenwriter from California and his friends. The other is My Fabulous Gay Wedding, a comic makeover reality show. Otherwise, Logo will rely heavily on movies and documentaries until it is better established. Logo has acquired the rights to films such as Angels in America and Moulin Rouge and has documentaries about a gay rugby team in Chicago and the gay rodeo circuit. "It will be programmed to the sensitivity of a basic cable audience," said Nicole Browning, president of MTV Networks' affiliate sales and marketing unit.
Logo's ride to reality hasn't exactly been smooth. It spent years on parent company Viacom's back burner and already has seen its starting date postponed from February. This year's delay was partly to get more programming in place but was also because it had agreements to be in only 2 to 3 million of the nation's nearly 110 million television homes. Browning was quoted recently as saying she had found some resistance to the idea of a gay and lesbian network in meetings with cable or satellite providers. One executive threatened resignation if Logo were launched in the company's territory. She downplayed that in a subsequent interview: "While there may be some initial trepidation, once they really understand what we're doing, the breadth of the audience and the breadth of the programming, they understand there is a great business opportunity." She said Logo will begin in 10 million homes, a significant percentage of the roughly 45 million homes with digital service. Logo isn't trying to reach analog homes.
Political trepidation is one of the reasons Paul Colichman, Here's CEO, believes his business plan is superior. Interested viewers can subscribe to Here full-time, for an evening, or for individual programs. "Unless you want the channel, you don't receive it," he said. Colichman claims ownership of the largest gay and lesbian film library in the country, with such titles as The Crying Game, Longtime Companion, and Gods and Monsters, which he produced. He has original series on gay families, how gay couples met, and a supernatural soap opera called Dante's Cove.
"Look at HBO and Showtime and what they do and compare it to a basic cable channel, and that's where you will see the difference between Here and Logo," Colichman said. Roughly 80% to 85% of homes with digital satellite or cable can order Here, he said. But Browning noted there's a big difference in visibility between an advertiser-supported network like Logo, which will be seen continually in millions of homes, and a subscriber service whose audience is likely to count only in the thousands at any given time.
Q is aggressively marketing itself but to date is available only on the small RCN satellite service. Olsen said it would be available in 16 million homes by June. Olsen concedes his rivals have shut him out of the market for many films. It has a documentary series, In FoQus, which is preparing a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, and a morning talk show that recently changed its name from Good Morning Gay America to Gay Day after representatives of ABC's Good Morning America threatened legal action, he said.
When Viacom announced it was going ahead with Logo, Olsen said he started getting phone calls from cable companies returned. "Having a company like Viacom validate the niche automatically made the concept of a gay-oriented channel more viable," Colichman said. (David Bauder, via AP)