Canada's PrideVision Eyes U.S. Gay Viewers

PrideVision, the digital-cable service directed at Canada's gay and lesbian communities, is making a cross-border play for the U.S. cable audience.

With a dual-revenue strategy of advertising support and pay TV subscriptions, PrideVision hopes to become the preeminent stateside network targeting the growing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual (GLBT) communities, said John Levy, chairman and CEO of Headline Media, the Canadian company that owns the channel.

PrideVision, which launched last fall, is believed to be the world's first full-time network following gay and lesbian culture. Levy would not disclose how many subscribers the network has in Canada, but if it launches in the U.S., the channel could go up against a similar venture that Viacom Inc. is developing.

Viacom's channel, managed by Showtime Networks Inc. and MTV Networks, would also sell as a premium network — possibly for $5 to $7 per month — with some national advertising support.

Levy said PrideVision would also adopt that hybrid format, with a suggested retail price ranging from $5 to $10.

The network also expects to generate advertising and sponsorship revenues from companies seeking to reach the gay and lesbian communities.

The advertising community needs a vehicle to connect with the community," Levy said.

PrideVision will have a "inner-city look" and offer a mix of news, sports, films and entertainment shows from around the world.

Its schedule — only 10 percent of which is original at this point — includes independent films, newsmagazines, drama series and lifestyle specials.

Network executive producer Michael Serapio said the percentage of original content will ramp up this fall.

Said Levy: "Everyone is familiar with Will & Grace
and [Showtime's] Queer as Folk, but there's tons of programming that hasn't seen the light of day. It's a complete representation of that diverse community."

The network has retained Rasenberger Media, the new service outsource agency headed by former Food Network senior executive Catherine Rasenberger, to line up U.S. affiliates.

At last month's International Gay & Lesbian Business/Entertainment Expo in New York, Levy vowed U.S. distribution "would happen quickly," with some operators launching his service in late summer or early fall.

Showtime vice president and general manager of digital media Gene Falk praised PrideVision for a "terrific" service that shows the value of the gays and lesbians to operators and advertisers.

Falk, speaking at the Expo, added that initial operator conversations about the Viacom service were promising, but didn't offer details on a start date or a format.

"The trick is where and when we get distribution," he said. "Cable channels don't go on the air magically."