|FEEL YOU SPENT TOO MUCH A HOLT’S? Bill Craig just bought himself a struggling TV station for $2.6-million.(Image by Xtra files)||
story by Paul Gallant /
Dec 11 2003
The man who ticked off the US cable industry with his Internet broadcasts of network programming a couple of years ago is now getting ready to do battle with Canadian TV distributors.
This time it’s over getting more queer content into Canadian homes.
Bill Craig is buying PrideVision, the world’s only 24/7 queer TV channel, from Headline Media Group for $2.6-million (including the assumption of liabilities valued at $1.1-million). Headline Media has been trying to sell the station for more than a year.
Craig’s first step will be wrangling a better deal out of Canadian satellite and cable companies. His goal is to have them offer the digital channel as part of their conventional specialty channel bundles — late-night gay and lesbian porn and all. Right now the channel is offered as a stand-alone service for between $6 and $8 a month.
“PrideVision was marginalized by the distributors,” says Craig. “I think they [Headline Media] blinked. They really tried, but the view was that having a channel in people’s living-rooms was flaunting [homosexuality].... Somebody felt that this was a good compromise to hide behind the paid wall, that people were willing to pay for it and that we won’t unsettle the people who don’t want to look at it.”
Craig says the station has to get into more homes in order to work. With a subscriber base that has maxed out at 20,000, PrideVision has lost $15-million since it went on the air in the fall of 2001, even as it cut staff to three from about 25 and went into heavy repeats with programming.
In the two and a half years since PrideVision signed its deals, Craig says the TV world has changed dramatically, especially concerning queer content. His purchase, which leaves Headline Media with ownership outside Canada and 10 percent of the Canadian operations, will allow the station to renegotiate things with distributors and the Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which needs to approve the deal. (The process will likely take three to four months.)
In a country where a handful of companies own most of the TV industry, what kind of person buys a struggling niche TV station, even at fire sale prices?
Craig, 51, is a broadcast executive who as a teenager did research for CBC’s legendary This Hour Has Seven Days 1960s current events show. (He has no connection to Craig Broadcasting, which owns Toronto 1.)
He’s had programming posts at the CBC, TV Ontario and Rogers cable, and in the early 1970s he was a policy analyst with the CRTC. More recently, he was responsible for building regional sports networks in Minnesota, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
But Craig is probably most famous for the 1999 launch of ICravetv.com, a web broadcasting station that brought US network programming to Canadians. Though ICrave argued that the concept was legal, the US TV industry cried foul and ICrave closed up shop in 2000. Craig says he raised $5-million from ICrave and has “other capabilities.... I don’t want to give you my income tax statement.”
Unlike Headline Media owner John Levy, he’s not straight. He’s bi. Married for 24 years, he separated from his wife about 10 years ago and has been in a relationship with a man for almost seven years. They live in Forest Hill. He has two sons, 18 and 23.
“I’m not shy about the love that dare not speak its name,” says Craig.
Craig figures he might end up losing as much as $15-million in his first few years of business. But he’s confident that gay and lesbian broadcasting is profitable.
“It’s no wonder PrideVision only got 15,000 subscribers [in its first year]. You wouldn’t see that many people for ROB TV if it was paid. It’s not that gays aren’t interested. It’s all a function of a raw deal. When I saw that, I cringed,” says Craig. “This is going to work and it’s going to work beautifully.”
Though he has to be cagey about revealing his plans until he’s got the deal approved by the CRTC, Craig says he expects to increase staff to as many as 20 people and get the station back into producing programming. He envisions a studio in the Church-Wellesley Village (though not the small storefront occupied by PrideVision in its start-up heyday) where news and live call-in talk shows can be produced. He also sees scripted drama and comedy programming, though he’s going to be careful not to overextend.
Headline Media “spent a lot of money for programming up front. They really blew their brains out... but they had to cut back to make it break even,” says Craig. “We see ourselves dramatically increasing the amount of money spent on programming.”
Headline Media Group owner John Levy didn’t return Xtra’s call by press time.