News

Viacom to Attempt Gay Cable Net

1/11/2002 6:34 AM Eastern

Encouraged by Showtime's success with original series Queer as Folk,
Viacom Inc. will tread where others have failed by trying to launch a gay-themed
cable network.

Skeptics predicted an uphill battle, citing a lack of existing gay
programming and the difficulties in launching any new network, especially a new
'mini-pay' network.

Officials from Showtime Networks Inc. and MTV Networks confirmed a TV
Guide
report that said the two Viacom units are exploring the creation of a
new hybrid digital network dedicated to programming for the gay and lesbian
communities, which they called an untapped audience.

'The two companies are currently examining the potential and exploring
distribution models and prospects, as well as programming elements,' the
programmers said in a joint statement.

'The combination of MTV Networks and Showtime brings unique access to
distribution, expertise in creating original programming and a long track record
of launching successful, new niche-television brands,' the units added.

No launch date has been set, and the company is still nailing down its
business plan, SNI executive vice president of corporate strategy Mark Greenberg
said.

The idea is for the gay network to be a hybrid -- a mini-pay service that
would also take advertising in the form of sponsorships.

Viacom will talk with cable operators about pricing for the service,
Greenberg said, adding that research indicates that gays would be willing to pay
for it -- possibly as much as $5 to $6 per month.

But a number of cable-industry insiders, including several former MSO
officials, said Viacom's hurdles include finding a viable financial model for
the network, securing enough compelling gay-oriented programming and convincing
distributors to carry it.

The gay network's schedule would be a mix of 'proprietary,' original and
licensed programming, according to Greenberg. 'It's possible' that repurposed
Queer as Folk episodes could run on it, he said.

Mini-pay services have had a spotty record, one former cable operator
noted.

For example, services that started out as mini-pays offered à la carte --
such as The Golf Channel and Sundance Channel -- had trouble building
distribution under that model and migrated away from it.

Past attempts to roll out gay cable channels -- such as Lou Maletta's Gay
Cable Network, Gay Entertainment Television and C1TV -- have proved
nettlesome.

Another gay-targeted mini-pay, The Triangle Television Network, is set to
debut next month.

Unlike in prior years, Greenberg claimed that the time is right for a gay
network. Today there is more channel capacity to accommodate new launches, and
Viacom has the financial wherewithal and programming savvy to pull it off.

'If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right,' he added.

Jim Forkan contributed to this story

September