Viacom prepares coming-out party for its gay-targeted cable network

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Viacom is busy applying the finishing touches to Logo, its gay cable network three years in the making.

Logo-whose introduction was delayed from February while it bulked up on content and distribution-will boast 1,000 hours of programming as of its June 30 launch, and will be the first ad-supported gay-targeted cable network. (The other two, Here and Q Television, are available by subscription, a la Time Warner's HBO or Viacom's Showtime.) Last week it signed a co-branded deal with LPI Media, publisher of The Advocate, and hired ABC vet Tom Watson to head sales.


Its charter sponsors include Viacom's Paramount Pictures, along with gay-targeting marketers Subaru and Orbitz, and, says Watson, the ad market is primed to support a gay TV outlet. By most estimates, the U.S. has 15 million to 16 million gay or lesbian Americans with a combined buying power of $610 billion.

"It's a completely underserved market that has really only been served by the print arena," he says. And even if some mainstream marketers are wary of targeting this audience, Watson's confident they can't ignore it forever. "More than 150 of the Fortune 500 companies are active in the lesbian and gay print arena and ad spending in gay publications rose about 30% last year to reach $204 million. That's a very strong indicator for us. We also expect there'll be some advertisers who will see their specific competitors on our air and become motivated to revise their thinking about the power of the gay market and come to us."

Logo will launch with 10 million subscribers, gaining mass from VH1 Mega Hits, whose 6 million households Viacom supplanted in favor of Logo. Time Warner, Adelphia, RCN and Atlantic Broadband have all agreed to carriage deals; final negotiations with Comcast are expected to wrap before Logo's launch and Viacom is also talking to Charter and Cox.

Logo's alignment with Viacom's powerful stable gives the fledgling network heft. Logo will certainly be part of cross-channel ad deals and Watson says upfront talks have already engaged clients that overlap with other MTV Network's cable channels, such as Comedy Central and VH1.

"We can develop marketing ideas to fit programs that can live on multiple networks," he says. For example, "Tickle Pink" is a co-production between Logo and TV Land that looks at the gay subtext of TV in the `60s and `70s. The show will air on both networks and, Watson says, the channel is in the midst of talks with a sponsor.

Todd Evans, who places advertising in gay print media for a host of marketers (including Logo), believes the time is right. He's also not worried the gay-targeted cabler will cannibalize the gay print market.

Original series, rare for a such a small digi-net, include "Noah's Arc," a comedy-drama following a struggling gay African-American screenwriter in Los Angeles; "Open Bar," a reality series following a man's coming out as he opens a West Hollywood gay bar; and "First Comes Love," a reality series about gay weddings. Watson says the key to Logo's programming is to feature gays and lesbians in primary roles-"rather than them being more of an implied or secondary presence." To that end, it has acquired HBO's hit "Angels in America" and will feature a co-branded news services with Viacom's CBS and, separately, with LPI Media, which publishes The Advocate, Out and Out Traveler. Evans says the deal with LPI shows Logo is first and foremost playing to its base. "The temptation with this network is to be little too broad-to get the reruns of `Will & Grace,"' he says.

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