3 min

Craig takes charge

PrideVision says bye-bye porn

Credit: Xtra files

On Jul 29 Bill Craig got the keys to the car he bought last year – Canada’s struggling digital TV channel PrideVision.

That’s the day his $2.3-million purchase, finally approved by the Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), closed.

“Now I’m looking for some gasoline,” says Craig.

Headline Media Group (HMG) – which put the world’s first all-queer TV channel up for sale after launching it September 2001 – retains a 9.9 percent interest in PrideVision, as well as the rights to develop the station outside of Canada. There are several other minority co-owners (Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra, is one of them).

HMG lost $17-million running Pridevision; Craig plans to learn from its mistakes. He says HMG poured millions into production without a good distribution network. He’s working on getting cable distributors to include PrideVision TV in a tier-based package, so anyone who subscribes to that tier gets the channel automatically.

The station has been offered only as a standalone pay channel for about $6 to $8 a month. With its Category 1 “must-carry” licence, Craig says CRTC obliges distributors to make the channel available, a requirement HMG did not push as far as Craig intends to.

“This thing is a sick puppy at the moment and it is not a sick puppy because the gay community didn’t support it, because the ratings are there,” says Craig. “It is a sick puppy because it hasn’t had proper distribution. It hasn’t been carried on a tier.”

Aiming for a new distribution deal in September, Craig wants to boost the audience from the current paid subscriber base of 21,000 to a potential audience of 800,000. Even that 21,000 is a cup half full for Craig.

“I look at 21,000 for a regular broadcast channel and say, ‘Wow, that’s really high.’ If you were to charge $8.95 for Home And Garden TV you’d be lucky if you got 500 homes.”

When PrideVision TV first launched there was some resistance, particularly from Shaw Cable in British Columbia, according to Craig. It seemed to be over the queer content.

“Part of the emotional problem that the Shaw people have out west is that what comes on at 1am here comes on at 10am there,” he says.

Which leads to the first thing that current viewers may notice about PrideVision under Craig’s command. No more porn.

Partly to placate western distributors and partly to actually increase the amount of gay porn available, one of Craig’s first moves is to take out the late night porn and create a second pay channel that would be 24-hour erotica.

Craig is quick to say that eliminating the porn is not about watering down the gayness of PrideVision, or creating a station that is “gay lite,” as he describes Viacom’s forthcoming US network, Logo, set to launch February 2005.

“They are trying to have a homosexual channel without the sex in it,” Craig says of Logo. “That’s hard to do. We still want to carry Queer As Folk and stuff like that.”

Though the station under HMG has grown dependent on repeats – PrideVision bought almost no new shows in the last year and a half – viewership has remained constant and even increased in the last year.

When it comes to criticism of all the repeats Craig finds it rings a little hollow.

“It’s interesting for someone to make that comment that there is a lot of repetition,” he says. “It means they are noticing that there is repetition because they are watching.”

Being on a cable tier will mean bigger advertising dollars which will mean new programs, says Craig.

Craig’s long-term goal for the station includes a daily newscast, live call-in public affairs shows, more sports and an in-house situation comedy. He is currently working on a late night So-Graham-Norton-meets-Jay-Leno talk show filmed live out of Buddies In Bad Times theatre.

He also has plans to give PrideVision TV the ability to do live television including gavel-to-gavel coverage of major Canadian events like the Pride Parade in Toronto and the Gay Rodeo in Calgary.

“I just see the channel as becoming a communications tool,” Craig says. “Just like the early days in the Canadian community there was CBC television. It was the lifeline that pulled the Canadian nation together. Maybe we can perform a similar role in the gay community, east talking to west.”