OUTtv, Canada’s gay and lesbian digital cable channel, has new owners. And according to its latest proprietors, it’s also getting fresh programming.
OUTtv, which bills itself as the world’s first gay and lesbian network, has endured a series of ownership and financial struggles since it was launched as PrideVision in 2001.
Now a majority of shares in both OUTtv and its sex-oriented sibling Hard On Pridevision have been sold to Shavick Entertainment, a Vancouver-based production company which, among other projects, makes gay-themed programs like TV movies Third Man Out and Too Cool For Christmas. Shavick will own 52 percent of the company.
“We thought it was an opportunity to broaden our mandate,” says James Shavick, president of Shavick Entertainment. “We are the largest quality gay programmer in Canada. It’s a demographic that’s not being properly filled.”
Pink Triangle Press (PTP, which publishes Xtra) and its production partner, Peace Point Entertainment Group, will own 38 percent. PTP previously owned 21 percent. The remaining 10 percent will continue to be held by John Levy, the channel’s founder.
Shavick says his company presently airs its programs on larger Canadian networks like Global and CHUM, and on US cable networks like Lifetime and Here. Shavick also has an arrangement with Here that will allow OUTtv to air US programs in Canada.
“OUT will become the primary focus of our programming,” says Shavick. “In the future, we’ll write a cheque to ourselves.”
PTP president Ken Popert says taking a larger share of OUTtv will ensure PTP can produce original shows and qualify for government tax credits for Canadian programming. The not-for-profit company currently produces a queer travel show, Bump, through a “bought deal” in which the show was bought and financed upfront by OUTtv.
“We reasoned that because we want to get into TV production, we’re going to have to do it through bought deals,” says Popert. “The best way to ensure we have bought deals from OUTtv is to make sure we own it.”
Popert says PTP is already planning to produce a current affairs show to help address the lack of news coverage on the channel.
“The entire gay marriage issue came and went without once being mentioned on our national gay and lesbian station,” he says.
Shavick says OUTtv will also be picking up his company’s shows, including the internationally popular Dante’s Cove.
“It’s a mystical series, about the solstice and magic. It’s kind of Melrose Place meets The Beach.”
The new ownership agreement was reached only after both PTP and Shavick went to court to prevent outgoing OUTtv president Bill Craig from selling his shares to other shareholders. Popert says PTP had the right of first refusal. The case was settled out of court after PTP and Shavick reached an agreement to work together. Craig did not return phone calls by press deadline.
In January of this year, OUTtv had sought protection under Canada’s Bankruptcy And Insolvency Act, after Shaw Communications, a western cable and satellite company, attempted to seize revenues. Shaw had claimed OUTtv owed $25,000 a month for providing a feed to cable stations from its satellite service StarChoice.
Popert says the dispute has since been resolved.
Shavick says the new owners will be looking to expand the audience for the channel.
“By providing new and exciting programming, we’re really looking to get a broader reach with the audience.”
The new deal still has to be approved by banks involved in the financing and by the Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which vets changes in ownership of media companies. Both Shavick and Popert say they expect the CRTC will be happy with the changes.
“We think they would like to see the channel survive and prosper,” says Popert. “Obviously that hasn’t been the case for the last two owners.”
Shavick says the CRTC will like the money his company is proposing to pump into OUTtv.
“It was a substantial investment,” says Shavick. “It was the largest single investment from our company. It’s not a dollar and future considerations. The CRTC is going to be thrilled with an increased investment.”