After three years of planning and a delayed start, Viacom’s gay-themed digital cable network, Logo, says it will launch June 30 with 10 million subscribers.
Even now, however, it’s unclear whether Madison Avenue—or cable operators—will cozy up to the MTV Networks channel aimed at lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
Many in the advertising world say buyers, despite their progressive attitudes, are skittish about committing to a network that could prompt a firestorm of conservative backlash. At issue is Viacom’s decision to offer Logo as a digital channel. Some operators are uneasy about facing complaints from special-interest groups who say that kids could flip to Logo as easily as they could to Nickelodeon. MTV Networks President of Affiliate Sales and Marketing Nicole Browning was told by one system operator, “There are no gays here.”
RELUCTANCE NOT UNUSUAL
Still, Logo Senior VP/General Manager Lisa Sherman says any reluctance from the cable companies is par for the course for a new network, regardless of its orientation. “Any new channel that wants to launch has a selling job to do because they’re competing with everyone else out there,” she says. “We’re ultimately selling a business case, and we have to make a compelling argument for why they should take Logo over anyone else.”
At press time, Logo had inked deals with Adelphia (including Los Angeles), Time Warner (including Manhattan), RCN (throughout the country) and Massachusetts-based Atlantic Broadband, which has systems in central Pennsylvania, Miami Beach, Maryland and Delaware. Logo is in negotiations with Comcast, Cox and DirecTV, among others.
Logo’s major U.S. competitor is on-demand network here!, founded in 2002 by Regent Entertainment President Paul Colichman. Currently in 44 million digital homes through deals with every major cable operator, DirecTV and Dish Network and growing its subscription base 15% a week, here! is easier for operators to digest for its pay model, Colichman says.
Logo’s affiliate-sales executives have been touting their audience’s brand loyalty, tech savvy and overall buying power: a projected $610 billion discretionary income in 2005 among self-identified gay and lesbian adults, according to Witeck-Combs Communications (a gay- and lesbian-consumer marketing firm). “When [system executives] see the tape [of Logo programming], they get really excited, and preconceived notions go away,” says Sherman. “And we get down to talking business terms and conditions.”
Brian Graden, president, Logo and MTV Networks Entertainment, has said Logo is an aggregator of mainstream gay content, rather than the trendy, cutting-edge fare he brought to VH1 and MTV. There are plenty of mainstream movies in Logo’s 200-title library (Mulholland Drive, Moulin Rouge), as well as those with gay leads (prime acquisition HBO’s Angels in America). Of its 1,000 hours of programming at launch, 30% will be originals.
WAIT AND SEE
Noah’s Arc, a drama about a gay African-American writer struggling to make it in Hollywood, will debut by the end of summer. Other series include reality show Open Bar, documentary profile series Real Momentum, travel show Round Trip Ticket and standup-comedy show Wisecrack.
Sources in the ad community say advertisers are waiting to see how content is received before committing big bucks. In addition to deals with Subaru, Orbitz and Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures, Logo has inked agreements in the travel and tourism, entertainment, movies, and automotive categories, and it expects to name additional advertisers by launch.
“Some advertisers will be reticent, but this network will be judged more on their audience acceptance than on their sexual preference,” says John Rash, senior VP/director of broadcast negotiations for ad agency Campbell Mithun. “The key to their long-term success will be to have crossover appeal: being gay-friendly but not gay-exclusive.”