4 min

Still standing alone

New PrideVision channels get chilly reception from Shaw

PrideVision is once again in a dispute with Shaw Communications over the carriage of the world’s first queer television channel. PrideVision launched a new, porn-free gay lifestyle channel called OUTtv on Apr 12. The original PrideVision channel is now a 24-hour gay porn channel re-branded Hard On PrideVision. (Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra West, owns a minority share of both.)

PrideVision wants OUTtv to cost the same as the rest of the specialty channels and be included in specialty packs and bundles. Hard On PrideVision will remain, as PrideVision was, a stand-alone channel at $7.95 per month.

But when OUTtv premiered on Apr 12, Shaw and its satellite business, Star Choice, ran it in the stand-alone slot reserved for Hard On PrideVision-and didn’t run Hard On PrideVision at all.

OUTtv still costs $7.95 per month on Shaw and is not available in any specialty packs or bundles.

Rogers and Videotron digital cable customers in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes have been getting an OUTtv free trial since Apr 12.

“I was told when we bought PrideVision that Shaw was going to be a problem,” says OUTtv president Bill Craig. “They haven’t disappointed. Shaw has a history of resisting running gay programming and it’s profoundly upsetting.”

Shaw delivers programming to about 33 percent of Canadian homes. Without fair access to Shaw’s distribution system, OUTtv will suffer the same financial and competitive disadvantages PrideVision has endured compared to all the other digital specialty channels.

Craig says he’s been told by Shaw not to attempt to contact Shaw president Peter Bissonnette. Craig has instructions to interact with Shaw only thorough a single programming executive somewhere in Mississauga.

“They don’t talk to us very much,” says Craig. “They’ve always done their best to ignore us. We’ve tried to meet with them in the past but they were terse. They don’t like meeting with us and we’ve never had a constructive dialogue.”

Bissonnette did eventually return Xtra West’s calls but he didn’t have very much time to answer questions. He says Shaw offers OUTtv at the $7.95 per month stand-alone price with no available discounts because of OUTtv’s adult content.

OUTtv doesn’t run any porn.

“We have an obligation to carry the category one service [OUTtv] and we do,” says Bissonnette. “We have no obligation to carry the category two service [Hard On PrideVision].”

Xtra West asked Bissonnette: “What would you say to those who may wonder if the price and carriage structure Shaw has adopted for OUTtv, which is different from the structures for virtually every other digital specialty channel, might be motivated by homophobia?”

There was a stony silence. “That’s an erroneous suggestion. It’s not true,” says Bissonnette.

OUTtv is mentioned on Shaw’s website, on a page separate from all the other specialty channels, as an adult channel option along with Hustler and Playboy TV-even though no sexually explicit material has ever run on OUTtv.

Shaw offers a range of straight erotica titles on its pay-per-view service including a couple of titles each in the Girls Gone Wild and Swingers series. It also offers something called Pride Fighting: Total Elimination 2005 in which grown men punch, kick, slam and choke each other into bloody submission. It doesn’t offer any queer erotica.

OUTtv recently filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) alleging Shaw’s non-participation in the OUTtv launch is injurious to OUTtv and the public. The CRTC is responsible for issuing broadcasting licenses and policing content; distributors like Shaw are not.

This is not the first time PrideVision has filed a complaint against Shaw.

When PrideVision debuted along with a score of other digital cable channels in 2001, Shaw initially resisted including it in its line-up.

In order to see the free preview of PrideVision, customers had to program their set-top boxes to receive it every time they turned on their televisions. The free preview of PrideVision was accessible only through the pay-per-view menu and led subscribers to believe they’d be charged one cent every time they accessed it.

In a 2001 letter to the CRTC, founding PrideVision president Rob Malcolmson protested: “Fair and equitable packaging of PrideVision on distribution systems owned by Shaw Communications Inc has been problematic from the outset.

“As the commission knows, representatives of Shaw have made public statements to the effect that Shaw will not carry the service in certain areas. Shaw representatives have also said that if the service is to be carried, it will not be packaged with other programming services.

“Having realized that PrideVision is a must-carry service, Shaw is now impeding the preview of PrideVision in order to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to sample the service.”

Shaw and PrideVision disagree over how PrideVision wound up as a more expensive stand-alone service in the first place.

Shaw says in 2001 PrideVision freely chose to stand alone and charge more than the rest of the digital specialty channels.

PrideVision says it was given a choice under pressure from Shaw and other cable providers to either stand alone or not be carried at all.

In 2001, the CRTC concluded that Shaw subjected PrideVision to an undue disadvantage in relation to other digital cable channels and was in breach of CRTC regulations.

In its decision the CRTC wrote: “The commission considers it significant that it did not specify… that it would be appropriate for distributors to accord PrideVision treatment different from that accorded any other category one specialty service.”

As for the current dispute, the CRTC has collected the complaints and replies from Shaw and OUTtv over the past couple of weeks and has begun the complaint process. Craig encourages those who would like to support OUTtv and Hard On PrideVision to contact Shaw and the CRTC.