Front

$3 Bill

The dealmaker

I cancelled my subscription to the world’s first all-gay television
network, Canada’s very own PrideVision, in a fit of exasperation. I was
spending eight hard-earned bucks a month for a bunch of lousy reruns and
midnight porn interrupted by commercial breaks at the most inopportune
moments. You could hear the groans in living rooms right across the Great
White North and, honey, they weren’t groans of pleasure. So I trashed
PrideVision in this column and pissed off a few folks at the network.
PrideVision said they had 22,000 subscribers. When I quit, I wrote,
“That’s 21,999 and counting.” Recently, bestselling
Canadian author Irshad Manji (who headed CHUM’s failed competing bid
for a CRTC license) told me, “I wish them well but I don’t
subscribe to that channel [either]. They can call it PrideVision but I
don’t know where the vision is.” Then the shit really hit the
fan. Headline Media Group, which owns PrideVision, laid off most staffers and
put the sad-sack station, which has lost $16 million since its inception in
2001, up for sale. Fortunately, Canadian white knight Bill Craig arrived in
the nick of time. Last December he offered to buy the network for $2.6
million, which includes the station’s $1.1 million debt-load. The CRTC
will likely approve the sale by this June. So I tracked Bill Craig down in
Bermuda (where he is building a wireless cable system) to get his thoughts on
queer TV. After all, Craig is a gay man—though he was a married father
of two sons until he divorced his supportive wife a decade ago. Not
surprisingly, when Craig offered to buy PrideVision, his sexual orientation
and thoughts about gay life escaped the notice of Canada’s mainstream
press—until now. “This has been a real lesson for me,” says
Craig, who knows a thing or two about the TV biz after holding programming
positions at the CBC, TV Ontario and Rogers Cable, as well as serving as a
CRTC senior policy analyst in the 1970s before creating four regional sports
networks in the USA and founding the now-defunct iCravetv.com. The man knows
TV, but folks still think he’s nuts for buying PrideVision. “I
have tried to get investors to come on board, including out gay
people,” Craig explains. “Oscar Wilde’s phrase ‘The
love that dare not speak its name’ is very profound because [the gay
community] is the only minority that the majority thinks you can hide it. And
if you don’t hide it, that means you’re in their face. But if
you’re black or Chinese or a woman, you can’t help that. Tell
them that you’re gay and they say, ‘Why are you telling me
that?’ It’s not that it’s bad—it’s just the
love that’s not allowed to speak for itself. So people in the gay
community who have money spend a lot of their capital convincing 90 per cent
of the population that they understand the straight market and straight
world. So a truce is drawn. This is like the Barry Dillers and David Geffens
of the world. They spend their whole day fighting that or being embarrassed
they are gay. So if they spend their money on PrideVision, it’s viewed
as their losing touch with 90 per cent of the population.” It’s
just as bad for straight folks. “[Headline Media owner] John Levy says
several people looked at buying the channel,” Craig says. “But if
it’s a straight liberal person, they can’t stand the pressure at
cocktail parties. [Levy was always asked] ‘Why did you choose to buy
that channel? There are 400 other good channels!’” Craig believes
the key to PrideVision’s future success, in addition to fresh original
programming, is distribution. “During the free preview period,
PrideVision was in the top one or two in all demographics,” he says.
“It had advertiser support and viewer support. The missing ingredient
was distribution. In my mind the channel was corporately gaybashed. The way
to kill a channel is to put it in subscription mode. The only [subscription
channels] that work are movie-based. I mean, if you were to charge for Home
& Garden you’d be lucky to get 500 subscribers.” Though U.S.
giant Viacom fast-tracked the creation of an American gay network last month,
Craig (who also has American citizenship) says, “It’ll be tough
sledding down there. This Janet [Jackson]-Gate is just the tip of the
iceberg. In the United States they said, ‘Why did she show one
breast?’ In Canada we went, ‘Why didn’t she show both of
them?’” That faith in the Canadian way has Craig looking forward
to running PrideVision. “I’m told [my CRTC] chances are very good
but I’m still touching wood as I speak,” Craig says.
“I’m wrapping up my affairs here in Bermuda, then [my partner and
I] go sailing in Guadeloupe and then I’ll come back to Toronto to
manage PrideVision full-time.” Perhaps then I’ll renew my
subscription. V

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