Viacom gambles with gay channel


Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 11:13 p.m.
Any company that broadcasts such shows as "Jackass" and "Beavis and Butthead" can't get overly worried about controversy. But Viacom - the corporate giant behind CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon and numerous other networks and media properties - might be taking its biggest TV programming gamble yet with Logo, the long-awaited gay cable channel.
On Thursday, the media giant rolled out the network in roughly 10 million U.S. homes, becoming the first widely available, advertiser-supported channel for the community known by the acronym LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Brian Graden, the MTV programming whiz hired to oversee Logo, envisions the network eventually becoming a "lifestyle brand" as essential (and inescapable) for gay people as MTV is for teenagers or Nickelodeon is for preschoolers.
"That's the hope," Graden - perhaps best known for backing such water-cooler fare as MTV's "The Osbournes" - said in a phone interview, adding that a major Internet and radio presence for Logo is likely down the road. "Our philosophy is, in an age of 400 channels, you better 'super serve'" the target audience.
Some analysts believe Viacom stands a good chance of success, especially given its track record at MTV, VH1 and other networks. Many marketers say up to 7 percent of American adults identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, making a potentially huge audience for a cable network.
"They've got a clear target market that is receptive to a dedicated channel," says Jack Myers, a TV industry forecaster and editor of www.mediavillage.com, who estimates that Viacom will spend at least $70 million to launch the channel (an MTV Networks spokesman declined to comment on the figure).
Early advertisers include online travel service Orbitz and car maker Subaru.
Still, Logo faces one stumbling block most start-ups never have to contend with: To some, its very existence might prove offensive.
"Logo needs to become synonymous with the gay lifestyle, just as MTV has become synonymous with the music lifestyle," Myers says. But "they're launching the network in the face of a governmental and regulatory environment which is anti-gay."
In fact, since Viacom announced plans for the network, which was originally scheduled to launch in February, conservative politicians have intensified their focus on measures vehemently opposed by many gay rights groups, most notably a constitutional amendment, supported by President Bush and others, that would ban gay marriage.
Many marketers say up to 7 percent of American adults identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, making a potentially huge audience for a cable network.

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