Split Decision for Gay TV

The outlook for new video services targeting gay and lesbian audiences was mixed last week, as Viacom Inc. sidelined plans for a premium channel, while an independent vendor moved forward with a pay-per-view initiative.

Viacom's effort — the tentatively named Outlet, to be formed under the auspices of Showtime Networks Inc. and MTV Networks — was officially put on the back burner at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles.

There, Showtime Networks chairman Matt Blank told reporters that despite good reception from operators, as well as advertisers willing to support a low-cost premium service, the environment for new channel launches was too volatile to proceed.

"It's something we'd like to do, and who knows what the future holds, but right now we're not going ahead," Blank said.

Earlier, DirecTV unveiled a deal to carry Here! PPV, a collection of feature films and special programming on gay and lesbian themes, starting Aug. 29. The channel, set up by independent distributor Here! Films, will showcase four to six titles a month at $3.99 each.

It starts off with Sordid Lives, a comedy of unconditional love in a Texas family, starring Olivia Newton-John, Beau Bridges and Bonnie Bedelia.

DirecTV "was the obvious first choice, because it's a platform available nationally," said Paul Colichman, co-founder of Here! PPV. "But we're getting excellent feedback from cable operators and we expect some deals soon."

Cable negotiations are being aided by AtomTelevision CEO Andrew Tow, who is serving as a senior adviser on clearance and management logistics.

"This is an underserved niche, gaining visibility and acceptance as evidenced by the shows you see on HBO, Showtime and Bravo, as well as other places," he said.

R.Thomas Umstead and Linda Moss contributed to this story.