MTV Networks finally took the wraps off its long-anticipated gay and lesbian-aimed, ad-supported network last week, targeting a Feb. 17, 2005, launch date for Logo.
But there could be a rush of distribution news in the largely untapped TV genre — one that’s setting its sights on an audience of some 15 million Americans, who wield an estimated annual buying power of $450 billion — in June, Gay Pride Month.
- here! TV, heretofore a pay-per-view purveyor to direct-broadcast satellite providers that has also scored video-on-demand and subscription VOD deals with RCN Corp., said it will announce several carriage deals in advance of its linear debut this fall;
- Q Television Network, formerly Triangle Television Network, is finalizing distribution pacts as it readies for its July 1 debut;
- And Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. on June 1 will introduce Divine HD, part of satellite service Voom’s multiplex-movie suite, Cinema 10.
Last Tuesday — following more than two years of starts and stops — MTVN upped the ante in the race to reach the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
As MTVN chairman and CEO Tom Freston joked on the conference call announcing Logo’s coming out of the closet: “This was either the worst-kept secret in television or the longest-awaited promise to a very loyal and important television audience.”
What remains to be seen is how wide the smiles for Viacom Inc. officials, including MTVN Group president Judy McGrath, will be down the road.
Given the bandwidth constraints, the rollout of any digital-cable services have been tough of late, much less for a channel that brings political, moral and religious issues to the table.
Still, MTVN president of affiliate sales Nicole Browning projects that Logo — which is to pool shows from the programmer’s varied services — will have 10 million to 12 million households at launch, with carriage in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Francisco.
Time Warner Cable will launch the service in New York on expanded basic, but at press time it was unclear whether or not the agreement was an MSO-wide deal.
Adelphia executives said Logo will launch in Los Angeles. “We think it’s a great idea. This is an important audience and shows cable is able to offer a wide choice of programming to a variety of audiences,” Adelphia spokesman Paul Jacobson said, adding the MSO would consider other launches “depending on what the local market conditions are.”
Browning declined to reveal a rate card, but network sources pegged Logo’s licensing fee in the 10-cent-per-customer range.
Noting that Logo will be sold on an a la carte basis or as part of MTVN’s digital suite — including MTV2, Nicktoons and VH1 Classic — Browning said discussions have taken place with many operators.
“We’re looking forward to learning more about the network’s programming and business objectives,” Comcast Cable spokesman Chris Ellis said. “We applaud MTV Networks for developing a program network that meets the needs of an important group of customers.”
Still, despite early contracts and the mainstreaming of the medium — the success of gay-themed and oriented shows like NBC’s Will and Grace, Bravo’s Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and Showtime’s The L Word and Queer as Folk has been well-documented — Logo and the other fledgling services have external obstacles to surmount in a climate riled by the move to legalize same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
A number of groups, including Christian group Focus on the Family and the Parents Teachers Council, have already voiced opposition to Logo.
Freston said the network, which will adhere to basic-cable editing standards, should be judged on its entertainment value and not tossed around as a political football.
Other genre players, perhaps putting on a brave face in front of the entry from a media conglomerate that wields considerable cable clout, also believe that solid acceptance is right around the corner.
“All boats will rise,” here! TV president Paul Colichman said, adding he wanted to “thank Viacom” for its legwork in talking with distributors.
“They convinced operators that this niche is a niche,” he said.
Colichman, a founder and producer at Regent Entertainment (Gods and Monsters), said here! TV will be announcing “numerous cable deals for varied and every platform” in June.
Currently, Los Angeles-based here! is offering PPV movie titles to DirecTV and Dish Network, but on July 1 will launch VOD and SVOD packages with RCN Corp. in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Washington. Although here! is preparing to launch as an around-the-clock linear channel in fall — the network has more than 1,500 hours of programming — Colichman believes the channel may perform better in the other modes.
“Three years ago, operators made it clear that there was no way they were doing a digital basic channel with us,” he said. “I’m not sure so much has changed, but we can generate revenues for operators on any platform.”
Voom’s Divine HD will feature more than 100 titles described as of interest to the gay and lesbian communities, including The Producers, The Divine Miss M, Les Cage aux Folles 1 and 2, The Birdcage and Kissing Jessica Stein.
The films will be supported by introductory comments from notable gay personalities, according to Rainbow senior vice president of business development Nora Ryan.
In addition to these introductions, some of the “HDivas” will present original entertainment segments featuring cabaret-style performances.
Ryan said Voom will promote Divine HD with booths at Gay Pride festivals and other community functions, as well as through radio ads.
Q Television Network, which completed five-hour technical trials with Comcast in the Puget Sound area and Cox Communications Inc. in Louisiana on May 15, will soft-launch on Intelsat America’s 7 Channel (129 degrees West) on June 1.
The mini-pay service, which is looking to charge $6.95 to $7.95 per month, has set its official launch date for a month later. “We will have major announcements [in June],” executive vice president Steven Grunberg said. “Lawyers are dotting Is and crossing Ts.”
Grunberg said Palm Springs, Calif.-based Q Television, backed by chairman Frank Olsen, an entrepreneur who was involved in the launch of The Movie Channel and has pioneered African-American and gay radio formats, will provide an array of entertainment and informational programming, including news from a number of bureaus. Talk, travel, fashion and sports (from the Gay Games) — as well as documentaries like I Will, I Do, We Did, a film exploring gay and lesbian marriage — are lined up.
Calling Logo a “Johnny come lately,” Grunberg said Q Television will succeed because “we are of the community. This network will reflect all aspects of gay life.”
Programming authenticity is a concern for some on Madison Avenue. John Nash, president of Moon City Productions, the longtime agency of record for Subaru of America, questions how Logo will be received.
“The network will likely be rolled out in urban markets first, and those groups tend to be more cynical,” he said. “It may not have the authenticity, and word would spread before it rolls out to other parts of the country.”
While welcoming Logo’s prospective reach, Nash also has cost concerns, noting it would get expensive to produce separate TV spots. “Is the community going to consider a general-market commercial as a supportive message, or merely a media buy?” he asked.
Jean Pool, executive vice president, director of operations, at McCann Universal, said Logo could become a very viable media option: “This is not a small group of people. If clients have products with demographic and psychographic matches, we would certainly explore the options.”
Out of the gate, Logo’s programming schedule will begin with 25% original productions and 75% acquired fare.
On the original side, the network claims to have some 40 series and specials in various stages of development.
McGrath said Logo would work with Comedy Central, TV Land, MTV: Music Television, VH1, Showtime and CBS News to develop programming across a variety of genres. Logo has already acquired the rights to more than 100 films and specials from a number of studios.
The network will also launch a subscription video-on-demand service that could be home to edgier fare, possibly including the randy Showtime series Queer as Folk and The L Word.