The world's first national gay cable channel, Toronto-based PrideVision, is in trouble because Canadian gays have refused to subscribe to it.
Launched in September 2001, PrideVision is available across Canada via satellite and digital cable. Cable subscribers pay around $5 U.S. a month extra to receive the channel.
In the beginning, PrideVision trumpeted such programs as 'DykeTV,' 'Gimme, Gimme, Gimme' (a 'lewd' look at habitual cruisers), 'Got 2B There' (about circuit parties), and 'Shout!' (a current-affairs program).
But by September 2002, the company— owned by Headline Media Group—acknowledged problems. PrideVision had lost $1.39 million U.S. in the previous quarter alone.
Staff was slashed from 25 to nine and most original programming was canceled, including the flagship Shout, the call-in show Under Covers, Urban Fitness, and the travel show Bump.
Shortly thereafter, PrideVision angered some gays with a questionable marketing campaign that seemingly blamed the gay community for the channel's fate.
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'What would you say if you heard that discrimination was pulling the plug on PrideVision TV?' it said. 'What would you say if you learned that it isn't discrimination pulling the plug, but our own community who isn't plugged in? With only 20,000 subscribers we are impotent! Help PrideVision TV GET IT UP!'
The channel desperately needed 50,000 new subscribers, it said. They never materialized. In December 2002, the network was put up for sale.
One original program remains in production, a nightly chat show called 'Jawbreaker.'
Nonetheless, 'Headline continues to believe in the viability of this one-of-a-kind network, both in Canada and abroad,' said chairman and CEO John Levy.
So what went wrong?
'The most obvious problem is the cost,' says longtime Canadian gay journalist Eleanor Brown who edited Canada's largest gay newspaper, Toronto's Xtra!, for nine years. 'You have to buy the digital box which is a minimum of 100 bucks, and then you have to pay for PrideVision monthly.
'To try to save themselves, they tried to appeal to the guilt of the gay community,' Brown said, referring to the GET IT UP campaign. 'That obviously blew up right in their faces ... saying it was the subscribers' fault they weren't doing well.'
PrideVision spokeswoman Lorelei Luchkiw acknowledged the campaign bombed.
'It was meant to be glib,' she said. 'It wasn't meant to alienate anybody. Obviously we got feedback from the GLBT community, saying, 'This isn't very nice and we don't appreciate it.'
'We're not blaming the community and saying, 'This is your fault,'' Luchkiw said. 'We're saying the reality of the situation is that this is your network and it's not going to survive without support. So if you've been thinking about subscribing, now is the time. We weren't pointing fingers at the gay community.'
According to Brown and reports in Xtra!, PrideVision's other problems include Canadian viewers' slower-than-expected transition from analog to digital TV, 'boring' programming, and rural gays not wanting to come out to the local cable company by ordering the channel.
'You have to come out to buy it,' Brown said, 'which is fine in urban centers, but urban centers are already pretty well-served by gay print media. In rural areas, people may not be fine about coming out. I don't think PrideVision ever considered that.
'Then,' she added, 'some of the shows were so forgettable. I don't get it because it's so boring. I don't need to pay extra to watch old Liza Minnelli movies.'
Luchkiw said PrideVision usually is sold as a stand-alone channel —requiring subscribers to out themselves to the local cable operator by requesting it specifically — because it's difficult to 'bundle' it in a multiple-channel subscription package.
'Does it belong with a 'lifestyle' package?,' she asked. 'Also, why should someone else [straight people] have to pick it up if they don't want it? And with the delivery of erotica, we could be in a position where we couldn't show the kind of programming we wanted to show.'
As for the old Liza flicks, Luchkiw says, 'You turn on any channel and you might get something that doesn't light your fire.'
Brown predicted a larger company will buy PrideVision and continue to try to make a go of it. PrideVision is 'good television real estate,' she said, because all Canadian cable companies are required to carry it.
'We may bring in a partner, we may get an investor, we may sell the asset,' said Luchkiw. 'We're doing what we need to do to make sure the business survives.'
Luchkiw said 'attaining 20,000 subscriptions in the first year is significant — and I think being the first GLBT channel running 24/7 is something no one can ever take away from the company.'
Chairman and CEO Levy recently infused another half a million into PrideVision ($325,000 U.S.) which Luchkiw said will keep it on the air through the end of 2003.
'The people we have left are very dedicated and very focused,' she said. 'Management is working unbelievably hard to move this thing forward. We are looking at new partnerships and new programming. We're looking at a couple of investors which may result in PrideVision being launched in another market, maybe in the U.S. There have been blips in the road but it's the first year and I think that goes with the territory.'