Gay Themed TV: Logo Turns One

Jun 26, 2006  •  Post A Comment

This month marks the first anniversary of the launch of Logo, MTV Networks’ channel for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender audience.

Along with here! TV and Q Television Network, Logo was one of three programming services targeting LGBT viewers that debuted last year, and is one of two currently in operation. Logo has generated interest with viewers through its reality and documentary programming, plus the drama “Noah’s Arc,” the first season of which is soon to be released on DVD.

On June 14 the network announced four new projects in development, including a series based on the feature film “Sordid Lives,” a sitcom about a family haunted by a gay ghost and a reality series that profiles people looking to rebuild relationships that ended when the person came out as a homosexual.

TelevisionWeek Senior Reporter Christopher Lisotta talked with Lisa Sherman, Logo’s senior VP and general manager, about Logo’s anniversary, the nature of programming for a diverse audience and the challenges and successes Logo has faced over the past 12 months.

TelevisionWeek: It’s the one-year anniversary of Logo’s launch. What is the state of your channel?

Lisa Sherman: I couldn’t be happier, because when we launched the channel a year ago … we set the bar really high. We said we would measure our success on a couple of measures. One would be the bond with our audience, [two] would be the advertising support that we would get, and the third would be how quickly and how broadly could we penetrate both cable and satellite homes. By every one of those measures we are exceeding expectations. Research that we released last month revealed that there is an amazing bond between Logo and our audience. People are watching the channel for over an hour at a time. Ninety-six percent rate it as one their favorite channels already.

We have grown from three charter advertisers at launch, and now we’ve got over 50. And the brands that are really on the channel are brands we are very proud to be affiliated with-American Express, General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, real significant brands. And then, finally, we are in over 20 million homes, double where we thought we would hope to be at launch, and still growing.

TVWeek: Knowing what you know today, what would you have loved to have known back when you started?

Ms. Sherman: How tired I was going to be in a year. … What’s really interesting about what’s happening in the industry, and what I’m learning as I go, is just how quickly the industry is changing. Our Logo content is being consumed across so many different platforms. A year ago we launched on television, but now you can see Logo online. We’re launching our first “Noah’s Arc” DVD in just a couple of weeks. You’ll be able to see us on iTunes. We’re on some wireless platforms. It’s really the appetite that our audience has for this content.

TVWeek: Are you still in an education phase with cable operators? Do you have to explain what you are, or do people get the picture?

Ms. Sherman: It’s been an education process from the beginning, and we have really secured the majority of our major cable deals. We’re in the process of one final deal, and they are very well up to speed on the value of this audience. Now we can actually bring them the proof that the audience is loving us, and they can see the content. It’s a story easily told.

TVWeek: Could you have done this without the backing of Viacom, or was that the only way in this marketplace to get an ad-supported channel on the air?

Ms. Sherman: The nature of this underserved market is pretty clear. The gay audience is incredibly brand-loyal and have been really seeking out these stories. The notion of an ad-supported channel with content that speaks authentically to the audience and is ad-friendly just made sense.

TVWeek: Do you question what gay programming is? I was just watching “Lovespring International” on Lifetime. It’s produced by Eric McCormack, who starred in “Will & Grace,” it features out actors and actors familiar to gay audiences, and the show has many gay themes.

Ms. Sherman: The truth of the matter is, as I talked about all the different platforms-hundreds of channels and iPods and Web content-our audience is just hungry for fresh and original stories. “Brokeback Mountain,” when you think about it, was an amazing phenomenon, and it proved that it was [an] untold story of an [LGBT] experience. It was hugely powerful. Our approach has always been to just tell authentic stories, and that’s really what sets us apart.

TVWeek: The old joke was that The WB programmed for teen girls and gay men. Are straight women watching Logo? Is your audience more diverse than you thought initially?

Ms. Sherman: We’re not rated, so we don’t really have a great handle on exactly who’s watching. I would love honestly to know the breakdown of age, demographic and gender. But we’ve targeted adults 25 to 49. We program to a core gay audience. But I would tell you I know lots of people, including my mother, who watch the channel. I do believe, at the end of the day, people will watch it because it is just good programming. As a surrogate for having ratings, I get to read a lot of viewer e-mails, because it gives me a good sense of what’s going on. I’m finding that a lot of our gay viewers watch with their friends and their families who are not gay. That is a hugely powerful statement about what the channel offers to people.

TVWeek: You started with a pretty healthy mix of reality, mixed in with selected original scripted programming. Do you see that programming balance changing over the next year?

Ms. Sherman: One of our challenges is to appeal to the diversity of the gay audience, and it’s a very diverse audience, whether it be gender, age, geography or just interest. So we decided to have a general entertainment channel, and you’ll continue to see that. We’ll continue to have scripted series. We’ve got some great stuff in development. We’re about to launch our first sketch comedy [series] with Rosie O’Donnell. We’ll see some animation next year, which we haven’t seen before. Stand-up has a place on the channel; news has got a place on the channel. Movies and documentaries will continue to have a place on the channel.

TVWeek: Q Television Network has gone away. Does that hurt your brand?

Ms. Sherman: A year ago when we were launching, I was asked the question how I feel about there being three gay channels launching all around the same time. I said then and I believe that the fact that there were three of us really spoke to this audience and the underserved nature of this audience. While we all programmed to that audience, our business models were very different. Q’s business model was different from ours, and we went down a different path. I’m sorry they didn’t make it, because I wanted us all to be successful. I don’t think it’s a reflection of the audience, it’s a reflection of the business model.

TVWeek: Here! TV is still around. They have done a lot with video-on-demand and subscription VOD. Do you see incorporating those kinds of platforms into your model?

Ms. Sherman: We couldn’t be happier with the ad-supported model that we’ve got. There is Logo available free on-demand on a couple of our cable operator systems, and that’s great promotion for our channel, and our advertisers love that.

TVWeek: Is there one piece of programming from Logo that really sticks out as outstanding?

Ms. Sherman: The program I’m most proud of is “Noah’s Arc.” We launched our very first scripted series about four African American gay men. That is a story that just doesn’t get told. And I will tell you that the audience just flipped over “Noah.” They had a Web write-in campaign trying to advocate for a green light for season two. We were flooded with e-mails and phone calls. For our first time out for a scripte
d show, we were thrilled.

TVWeek: Are you integrated with the other Viacom entertainment channels, or are you independent and off by yourself in terms of schedule, programming and integration?

Ms. Sherman: I can call on any one of my colleagues for help, whether it’s resources or programming ideas. There is a lot of collaboration. Something like the GLAAD Media Awards, as an example, aired both on Logo and VH1. When there are opportunities to share things, we would do that.