June 28, 2005

MTV launches new gay cable TV channel

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The prospect of a television channelentirely devoted to gay programs for gay people may strike someas unnecessary and others as a sign of immoral times. Mediagiant Viacom thinks there's money in it.

Logo, launching on Thursday under the MTV Networksumbrella, is not the first channel to target gay, lesbian,bisexual and transgender people, but it is the most widelyavailable, on cable boxes in 10 million homes.

And it is the first time a major U.S. conglomerate such asViacom has entered a niche market that, despite Logo's promiseto deliver family-friendly entertainment, is viewed withconcern by some of the same people who worry about too muchsex, violence and profanity on TV.

"It's going to be a tough road and you need a Viacom todrive that truck," said Paul Colichman, head of Here!, avideo-on-demand gay satellite channel launched in 2003.

"Our mere existence offends people."

Logo has been in the works for more than two years underthe guidance of Brian Graden, the man responsible for such MTVhits as "The Osbournes." Logo has bought 200 movies and hasmore than 20 new documentaries scheduled for the first year aswell as half a dozen original series, including a drama titled"Noah's Arc" about four black gay men in Los Angeles.

Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at Concerned Women forAmerica, which describes itself as a conservative Evangelicalgroup of 500,000 members, said it was "a sad day for America."

She said MTV was in a powerful position to influence youthand it was "unconscionable" to present in a positive view of apromiscuous lifestyle that causes "illnesses and diseases."

"I see it as indoctrination of children to present the gaylifestyle as something that's normal, as something they don'thave any choice over," Crouse said in an interview.


Logo General Manager Lisa Sherman cited studies sayingthere were some 15 million openly gay people in America, anattractive demographic for advertisers, considering that manywill have no children, meaning more disposable income.

Logo's advertisers include travel company Orbitz, carmakerSubaru, mobile phone maker Motorola and Miller Lite beer.

Frank Olsen, founder and major shareholder of Q, a smallsatellite subscription gay channel, said the reason there werenow three players was simple -- money.

"I don't think anybody has become more tolerant of gaypeople. The Christian right still says we're going to becondemned and we're going to be in hell," Olsen said. "But Fordneeds to sell more cars and if they can sell them to gay peoplewithout offending straight people, they will."

Q and Here! market themselves as just another of the manyniche options out there, from golfing to gardening channels.

Colichman said more than 30 percent of his viewers werestraight -- a figure he says includes feminists and liberalssick of the way women are portrayed in the mainstream media,and straight men who will watch anything about lesbians.

Here! sells monthly subscriptions for $6.99 to $9.99 aswell as single programs for $3.99 and Colichman said thecompany registered around 1 million transactions a month,fairly evenly split between single sales and subscriptions.

"Our business is growing by 15 percent per week," he said,adding that he had spent $50 million on content in 18 months.

Colichman's production company, Regent Entertainment, is anestablished player with hit movies as "Gods and Monsters." Hesells content to television stations in over 100 countries. Hesees Logo as another customer for Regent productions.

Village Voice columnist Michael Musto appears in adocumentary about the history of gay Americans that will kickoff Logo's programming on Thursday. He said comedies like "Will& Grace" paved the way for mainstream gay TV, and cablechannels had pushed the boundaries even further with the likesof "The L-Word" about glamorous lesbians in Los Angeles.

Despite that, Musto said Logo appeared to be treadingcautiously.

"We live in a very puritanical culture that gets veryqueasy about sexuality issues of any kind and that may be whyLogo is soft-pedaling the sexuality issue," Musto said.