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Gauls think Pink

Gay channel's early figures look promising

PARIS — “Wonder Woman,” “Man From Atlantis” and other kitsch American series from the ’70s are gaining a fresh following in France thanks to fledgling gay cabler Pink TV.

The $12-a-month pay TV channel launched amid much fanfare — and flamboyant partying — Oct. 25.

It is hoping to grab upscale gay and “gay-friendly” subscribers with a mix of movies, series, culture programming, chat shows — and latenight gay porn four times a week.

In keeping with its effort to appeal to a wide audience, the web has nabbed commercial broadcaster TF1’s news anchorwoman, Claire Chazal, as one of its celebrity presenters, while the channel’s gay identity is reinforced by such folk as transsexual sportscaster Brigitte Boreale.

Forty hours of fresh programming a week is paid for out of an $8 million budget.

Early figures look promising. The web claims it will have 50,000 subscribers by January or February, while ad revenues are double what was expected.

“We’ve achieved a third of our three-year break-even target of 150,000 subscribers in four months,” boasts the channel’s gay topper Pascal Houzelot, a former adviser to TF1.

“I’m not naive, I know we’ve probably benefited from all the publicity that surrounded Pink’s launch. But I’m very happy the channel has got off to such a strong start.”

The publicity included a public spat over Pink TV’s use of a billboard showing former President Francois Mitterrand and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl holding hands — a move condemned by some French Socialists.

The son of a bourgeois family from Bordeaux, Houzelot is well-connected to France’s political right, which came in useful in the decade he worked as TF1 broadcasting topper Etienne Mougeotte’s adviser. He quit for the movie biz three years ago, producing a French bigscreen version of BBC sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous” with Nathalie Baye and Josiane Balasko.

Pink was born out of his desire to get back into television.

“After leaving TF1, I missed TV and the way it touches the population,” says Houzelot.

It took three years to get the cabler off the ground but armed with research into the web’s money-making potential, Houzelot eventually persuaded the creme de la creme of French broadcasting to board. Shareholders include the webs TF1, Canal Plus, M6, as well as France’s retail supremo Francois Pinault, and Pierre Bergé, co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent.

Gays represent 7%-8% of France’s population, some 3.5 million people, according to official figures. But a recent survey among gays found 59% were already pay TV subscribers, while 84% quizzed about the launch of Pink TV said they would subscribe to it.

So who are the 35,000 punters said to have already signed up for the web?

“It is too soon for us to know the profile our subscribers, but we’re keenly studying it,” says Houzelot.