WGAY's Coming-Out Party

If Key West's over-the-air station aimed at the gay market catches on, the station's owners hope to take their WGAY station concept nationwide.

“This has never been done before,” says Jason Sherwood, WGAY's general manager and co-owner of Paradise TV, along with his father, Burt, who has been in the broadcasting business since the 1950s. “There's nobody else doing this for free and over the airwaves.

The Sherwoods acquired a construction permit from the FCC to build the station, with the intention of setting it up as the market's first gay-themed outlet.

To program WGAY, they're teaming with Palm Springs, Calif.-based Pride Nation, which runs a gay-themed broadband channel, Proud TV, at pridenation.com and on Akimbo's set-top box, which connects broadband channels to televisions. Proud TV also is carried on SBC's Homezone.

Proud TV carries such programs as The Kenji & Bella Show, a cooking program in which a Chilean chef and a drag queen work the kitchen together, and Poker's Wild, in which losing contestants lose their clothes. Sherwood says WGAY will be careful to stay within the FCC's decency standards.

“We have to be just like NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox in the U.S.,” Sherwood says. “We're going to be just as regulated by the FCC as anybody else, although some of our programs may be more flamboyant.”

Comcast On Board

WGAY has hammered out a retransmission-consent deal with Key West's local cable operator, owned by Comcast. Assuming that the final technical issues get ironed out, the station should be available on Key West's cable system in January. Some 65% of the station's programming will be provided by Pride Nation; the rest will be produced locally and will eventually include entertainment and news, says the younger Sherwood.

If all goes well, the Sherwoods (both of whom are straight, for what it's worth) plan to turn WGAY into a superstation, like Turner's TBS and Tribune's WGN, that's carried nationwide on digital tiers.

“It will run like a typical affiliate with a national network partner like CBS,” says Allen Edwards, president of AEU Media Group, Pride Nation's parent company. “We would keep the WGAY name as a superstation, and then the [Internet] side would be Pride Television,” which has been running since 2000.

Fighting Politics

Edwards says the superstation route is much easier: “Even the big guys—like Logo, which has the backing of Viacom—have a hard time getting into certain areas of the country. It's still a political issue in many markets.” Once WGAY and Pride Nation decide to expand, they expect to hit smaller gay-friendly markets first.

A $641 Billion Market

The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) market is substantial and growing, worth some $641 billion per year, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth and polling firm Harris Interactive. That's equal to the 16th-largest gross domestic product in the world—smaller than Australia and larger than The Netherlands, says Stephanie Blackwood, co-founder and account director for marketing agency Double Platinum. That's why big media companies and advertisers are working hard to get into the marketplace.

Programming Challenges

Still, with only three players—Logo, privately owned Here! and Pride Nation—there is room for entry. “In simplest terms,” Blackwood explains, “this market is totally underserved with regard to media offerings.”

What local programs WGAY will offer has yet to be determined, although Sherwood plans to tap into the wealth of talent in the area.

The station has a deal to simulcast the radio show of a local lesbian deejay, and it plans to produce a gay-themed talk show. Eventually, the station plans on doing gay-oriented local news as well, according to Sherwood.

Programming gay networks is tricky, considering the diversity of the target audience. What single gay men in cities want to watch isn't necessarily what partnered lesbians with children are tuning into.

“You cannot be everything to everyone,” says Jeff Garber, president of OpusComm Group, a marketing and communications firm that collects data on the gay market. “But these programmers need to carefully determine what the widest band of the gay population wants to watch.”

While there are only a handful of networks targeted specifically at gays, several mainstream cable networks are popular among the community. In an OpusComm Group survey, 46% of 6,000 GLBT people surveyed said they watch NBC Universal's Bravo, while 41% of respondents said that they watch A&E, and 37% watch Comedy Central.

Other cable networks that are popular among the community are HBO, Showtime and the Food Network.

Although Sherwood and Edwards take their business seriously, they were nonetheless thrilled to make David Letterman's famed top-10 list on Nov. 28. Among the “Top Ten Shows on the New Gay Television Channel,” Letterman mentioned “Gary's Anatomy,” “Desperate Poolboys,” “Everybody Loves Raymond...Especially Steve,” and “My Name Is Earl and I Like Construction Workers.”

E-mail comments to palbiniak@reedbusiness.com

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.