GAY NETWORK COULD DEBUT WITHIN A YEAR
Showtime And MTV Would Develop It For Viacom; Others Considering, Too
By J. Max Robins
MTV and Showtime are in "serious discussions" about launching a gay channel, according to several sources familiar with the project.
The would-be developers are part of the Viacom media empire that includes CBS, UPN, Nickelodeon and VH1. However, they're not the only big-time players considering a gay network. According to industry sources, there have been such discussions at HBO, USA Networks, as well as at Rainbow Media, the programming arm of Cablevision, which runs Bravo and AMC. But the proposed MTV/Showtime venture appears to be closer to reality, although both parties declined comment.
"It's being given real consideration," says a Viacom insider, who indicates such a network could launch within the next year. [As early as March, Showtime may begin a trial run with a four-hour gay programming block on its companion service Showtime Too.] Little wonder such a network may launch soon. An already successful Canadian model exists: PrideVision, which launched last year.
"Look at the success Showtime has with programming like Queer as Folk," the insider says. "And MTV has a long history of being out in front on gay issues and marketing to that community."
Both networks have been pioneers in bringing gay storylines to television, long before Will & Grace became prime-time players. Real World, MTV's long-running hit reality series has included gay participants since it began in 1992, as have the game-show Singled Out and the late-night teen soap Undressed.
Showtime got into the game even earlier. In 1984, the premium cable network launched Brothers, the first gay-themed TV series. It also has offered Tales of the City, a recurring miniseries based on the Armistead Maupin novels about gay and straight life in San Francisco. Queer as Folk, the drama based on a hit British series, recently began its second season. The show credited with boosting Showtime's audience.
"It's about time somebody had gone after that audience with a network," says Tom Wolzien, senior media analyst of the investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. "It's an important segment of the audience that has traditionally been under-served. The money is certainly there to support it."
According to the marketing publication Brandweek, research suggests that six percent of the adult population, roughly 15 million people, identifies itself as gay or lesbian, with combined annual spending in the $250-$350 billion range. Major advertisers including Miller Brewing and General Motors, have increasingly targeted gay and lesbian consumers, with select commercials and print ads.
"Whoever does this could win big," says Randy Barbato, co-president of World of Wonder, an independent production company that created The RuPaul Show for VH1.
MTV and Showtime are undecided if the proposed gay network will be advertiser supported like MTV or a commercial-free pay service like Showtime. Some industry observers believe the latter might minimize resistance from anti-gay groups against cable systems that would carry the network as part of a basic cable package. "You wouldn't have the content issues that you're inevitably faced with if you go the ad-supported route," Wolzien says.
Programming for the gay channel may include existing and original programs, including gay-hosted talk and music video shows, relationship game shows and news.
FORMELY KNOWN AS NotByChoice!!!
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