2 min

Going, going…

Station down to skeleton staff

As PrideVision TV restructures its money-losing operation, six more staffers at the world’s first 24/7 queer TV channel lost their jobs Dec 13, leaving the troubled network with little more than a director of programming and operations, and enough technical people to get the station on air.

“By reducing our operational expenses associated with PrideVision to levels we feel are more in line with the current subscription and advertising revenues, we will see a dramatic drop in the burn rate associated with this subsidiary,” states John Levy, chairman and CEO of PrideVision parent Headline Media Group, in a news release last week.

Levy states that Headline continues to have discussions with third parties who might invest in or buy the station. He says they have a distribution deal in the US, but didn’t name the company.

“We have reached a master affiliation agreement with a major US cable operator allowing the company to negotiate carriage agreements with its affiliate systems for PrideVision,” states Levy.

The contract of Anna McCusker, PrideVision’s VP of marketing, expires Fri, Jan 3. Headline Media is also losing its vice president of finance, Sarah Hughes, who is resigning effective the end of January. McCusker says the channel is still viable.

“We’re very optimistic about the opportunities for partnering or being purchased – we’re open to either possibility,” she says. “It could be a week, it could be a month before we know.”

McCusker identifies two key hurdles Pride-Vision has had: Selling the digital concept itself – not too many Canadians have digital yet – and selling a queer channel. Planning an effective marketing strategy has been tough, McCusker says, because of a lack of available research on the potential audience.

“Statistics Canada came out with their first ever figures on same-sex households just a couple of months ago,” said McCusker. “A lot of our community is still closeted and hard to reach.”

Four weeks into its Get It Up advertising campaign for new subscribers, McCusker was unable to give new subscriber totals, but says a free preview on Rogers over two weekends in November and December hit a peak of 3,400 new viewers and maintained an average of 1,200 new viewers over the course of the trial.

The target for the campaign is 50,000 new paid subscribers – a 150 percent increase over the current 20,000 subscribers. The campaign rankled some for its not-too-subtle erection reference and its overt desperation. Web producer Jason Van Tassel, known on PrideVision’s website as Jason Fantastic, says that the controversy is unfair.

“Some people have said it’s a sexist slogan – they only have to look at our programming to see that’s not true,” says Van Tassel.

But is it too little too late? PrideVision has been plagued from the beginning with what might be called indecisive programming, making many line-up changes and canning most of its original productions after a single season. McCusker says they were motivated by a desire to respond to the wants and needs of the community.

“There are great words of wisdom now that we have actually been on air about what we could and should have done,” says McCusker. “We relied heavily on community input, and tried to react as quickly as we could.”

The network was sold at a stand-alone price of $6 to $8 a month, rather than being offered in a bundle with other digital channels.

“The lifestyles package was one of the opportunities open to us, but there would have been so many outraged community members,” says McCusker. “We’re not a lifestyle, we’re a way of life.”

As well, McCusker says that packaging with other stations would have had meant very different programming. The locally-produced So Gay TV, for example, had an 18-plus rating and would probably not have run. Neither would the porn, which has provided some of PrideVision’s highest ratings.