New channel touts growth, original p'gramming

If Paul Colichman’s here! network isn’t exactly a household word, from a distribution and programming standpoint, the subscription service appears to be making all the right moves.

The channel, whose programming caters to gay and lesbian audiences, is experiencing approximately 15% weekly growth via its different carriage platforms, according to CEO Colichman.

Being available on DirecTV, the nation’s No. 1 satellite provider, as a monthly subscription or in three-hour blocks has proved vital for the network’s growth. Here! also can be found on Time Warner and Adelphia’s video-on-demand service. And, in what might prove to be a carriage arrangement that propels the net even further into the public consciousness, are just-signed deals with cable ops Comcast and Cox.

“We’re way ahead of where we thought we would be at this point,” says Colichman, who founded the net with partner Stephen Jarchow. “By being neutral technologywise, our distribution happened much more quickly.”

While heterosexual auds may not be aware of here!’s ascent, gay consumers have gotten word via Colichman’s targeted ad spending. Instead of advertising in more mainstream publications, such as the national news and entertainment weeklies, in addition to big-city daily newspapers, here! reaches out via the gay press and over the Internet, and is the sponsor of 55 gay film festivals.

One of the messages they’re stressing to would-be viewers is that rather than airing recycled films, the channel is committed to original programming. The net currently has six original series in production, as well as a handful of telepics, which cost in the $2 million-$3 million range. There’s also 1,000-plus titles in the library.

Colichman is quick to credit pay cabler Showtime for being one of the first nets to develop gay-oriented programming. Showtime, under former entertainment topper Jerry Offsay (Robert Greenblatt currently occupies that post), launched “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word” over the past five years, and both helped establish the net as a destination for gay programming.

“Matt (Blank) and Jerry were absolute pioneers. They paved the way for us,” says Colichman, who owns the Regent Showcase theater and adjacent Pig restaurant on La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, as well as a theater in Dallas. “Pay service networks have been at the forefront of all of this.”

Other gay-themed nets trying to make headway include Q and Canadian-based PrideVision.

The two may be joining forces soon. They recently signed a letter of intent to merge and may take advantage of joint programming initiatives and a potential equity investment in the Canadian Television service.

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