OutTV, the world’s first queer television channel, has filed for protection from its creditors under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. But OutTV president Bill Craig says OutTV is financially sound and blames Shaw Communications for trying to knock his station off the air.
“They’ve given us a left hook in the dark. This is sort of a sucker punch. They seem to be following their old patterns,” Craig told Xtra West Jan 23.
Shaw president Peter Bissonnette didn’t return Xtra West’s calls before press time. Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra West, is a minority shareholder in OutTV.
Craig alleges that on about Jan 10, without ever notifying OutTV, Shaw sent letters to other cable service providers across the country, including Rogers in Ontario and Vidéotron in Quebec and the Maritimes, instructing them to send subscription money owed to OutTV directly to an Ontario sheriff.
“That just sort of whacked our service,” says Craig.
Craig says Shaw is trying to get OutTV to pay a Shaw-owned company called Cancom $25,000 a month to deliver OutTV’s signal to smaller cable companies across the country. But Craig says OutTV already has an agreement with Bell ExpressVu for that service and that OutTV doesn’t need two.
“Bell ExpressVu satellite works just fine,” says Craig. “And it’s cheaper.”
OutTV has had difficulty with Shaw ever since going on the air in 2001.
Initially, Shaw refused to carry the channel, then called PrideVision, at all-even though the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) classifies the gay channel as must-carry. Then Shaw subscribers didn’t get a free preview of OutTV with all the other debut digital channels, even though every other digital cable service in the country did provide free previews.
As recently as last summer, Shaw refused to include OutTV in any of its package deals or bundles and marketed the porn-free OutTV only alongside the Hustler and Playboy channels. Craig had to petition the CRTC in June to insist Shaw treat OutTV as any other must-carry digital specialty channel.
Shaw continues to refuse to carry OutTV’s queer porn specialty sister channel, which is not a must-carry service, even though virtually every other cable provider in the country it.
Craig says Shaw has been consistently difficult to deal with, that he has instructions not to call anyone at Shaw, and that he should deal only with Shaw’s legal department.
Craig told Xtra West last July how happy he was that Shaw, in the face of a looming CRTC hearing, had finally come to the table to work out their differences. “They came and negotiated with us,” he said. “Twice! They walked right through Toronto’s gay village, walked up the stairs and came up and visited us. Their attitude was ‘let’s fix this’ as opposed to ‘over our dead bodies.'”
But now Craig says, “While we were signing our deal with Shaw, they simultaneously had Cancom take some action against us. We were in meetings with these folks and they didn’t even mention it. No one in the meeting said, ‘What do you think of the lawsuit that we’ve launched against you?’ We had no idea. Totally blindsided.”
Craig says OutTV is neither bankrupt nor in receivership. He says OutTV has 30 days from Jan 12 to get a plan in front of its creditors. He says he’s even in secret negotiations to find an outside investor who could help keep OutTV on the air. Even if that deal falls through, Craig says OutTV will continue to broadcast.
“If everybody behaves at the distribution level where Shaw’s pulling these stunts,” he says, “we have enough to get ourselves through and be in a position to offer some really fresh new programming in the fall.”