OutTV, Canada’s digital specialty television channel catering to gay and lesbian people, has appointed former CHUM Ltd CEO Jay Switzer to its board of directors.
Switzer, often credited along with Moses Znaimer with turning CHUM’s CityTV into a successful national player in Canadian broadcasting, brings 20 years of experience to OutTV.
“I have close personal friendships with OutTV chair Joy MacPhail and CEO James Shavick,” says Switzer. “When they asked if I would help on the board I said I would be happy to.”
OutTV was launched as Pridevision in 2000 and marketed as the world’s first TV channel devoted exclusively to gay and lesbian audiences. It struggled to survive but today has earned a subscriber base of almost 500,000 viewers. The channel still faces several challenges, including recurring disputes with cable provider Shaw Communications, most recently over Shaw’s refusal to market OutTV equitably as per Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission regulations.
“We have to develop much better relationships with our cable providers, I should say partners,” says OutTV chief operating officer Brad Danks. “Jay’s abilities on that side are well known. More importantly he’s been a tremendous programmer over the past number of years, which means understanding your consumer and building a program with your consumer in focus.”
Danks says growing OutTV’s advertising base is the next order of business.
“As far as other digital channels go I would say we’re behind them in number of subscribers but we actually have more viewers than most of them based on our Neilsons ratings,” he says. “Our advertising dollars for sure will more than double in the next year. The problem is we’re coming so far from behind to play catch up but we’re getting there.”
Danks says he hopes to expand audience appeal beyond the gay and lesbian markets while still presenting gay and lesbian content.
“We need to be inclusive enough to go beyond the basic community,” he says. “We’re already seeing a substantial rise in our straight female audience and that’s not a surprise, and probably where our growth will be in the long term.”
Pink Triangle Press president and executive director Ken Popert has also joined OutTV’s board of directors. Popert says OutTV’s gay and lesbian content can’t be found anywhere else on the television dial.
“In Canada it’s the only consistent source of stories about ourselves in our own voices,” he says. “Certainly we don’t get anything like that from CBC, although we should. Actually the need for OutTV is a reflection of that failure of the CBC.”
Pink Triangle Press, the not-for-profit company that publishes Xtra, owns a minority stake in OutTV.
Read a PDF of OutTV COO Brad Danks' recent blog entry, in which he speaks about Shaw Communications' treatment of OutTV and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's relationship with Shaw: