MTV skeds coming out for gay net

Logo to bow Feb. 17, draw on music cabler's resources

NEW YORK — Calling it “the worst-kept secret in the business,” Tom Freston, chairman of the MTV Networks, finally unveiled Logo, a cable network aimed at gays and lesbians.

Speaking Tuesday to reporters hooked up to a telephone conference call, Freston said Logo will kick off Feb. 17, armed with a business plan that calls for the network to break even by the end of its third year.

That’s unusually fast, but Freston pointed out that Logo will be able to draw on the resources of MTV Networks for things like ad sales and distribution to cable and satellite providers.

Judy McGrath, president of MTV Networks, said at least 75% of the programming will be acquisitions. Logo has bought more than 100 movies so far from various distributors, including Columbia, Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount, Lions Gate and Strand Releasing, McGrath said. She cited titles ranging from “Gods & Monsters” to made-for “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story” to “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.”

McGrath said Logo will be able to tap into the programming resources of other Viacom-owned networks for original and purchased programming, citing development projects with VH1, Comedy Central, TV Land and MTV.

Basic editing

Since Logo will be advertiser-supported, Freston said it would keep to fairly strict standards of content. For example, if Logo bought rerun rights to “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word,” which run on Logo sister network Showtime, it would have to edit them for basic cable.

MTV’s head of affiliate sales, Nicole Browning, said Logo has already secured carriage deals with Time Warner Cable of New York City; Adelphia Cable of Los Angeles; and RCN in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Atlanta.

Browning said her goal is to clear the network in cable and satellite homes representing between 10 million and 14 million viewers by the end of 2005, a goal that should be attainable due to the distribution clout of MTV Networks.

Strength in numbers

“We look on Logo as one of a stable of growing networks like MTV2, Nick Toons and VH1 Classic,” Browning said.

But Freston acknowledged the difficulty of getting fast penetration of Logo because most cable operators will place it on digital tiers, which often reach only a fraction of the subscriber base. But he also said Logo, because it’s offering something different from most other digital cable networks, could serve as a lure to get more subscribers to rent the digital boxes from cable systems.

Freston said surveys show the gay and lesbian community has $485 billion a year in disposable income to buy products, enticing companies to target specific advertising toward gays and lesbians.