Between the LInes

Merger Mania

Richard Burnett
Commentaires
No one will ever mistake The National Post as a bastion of small-L liberal values, even though Canadian media baron Izzy Asper recently bought a controlling interest in former Canadian media baron Conrad Black's onetime flagship newspaper. But don't worry about Conrad - this boy has scraped back from the depths before and no doubt will again. No, I'm more worried about the place of gays and lesbians in papers like the Post where, in its Nov 11 weekend edition, the entertainment section story was headlined, "Has prime time gone completely gay?" with a big-ass picture of comedic actor John Goodman as a queer, bearish father in the miserable FOX sitcom Normal, Ohio. "No doubt, this is the Year of the Queer, with an unprecedented 23 prime-time programs featuring homosexual characters," the subhed screams breathlessly. "And they aren't all over-the-top fabulous either! In fact, some are as ordinary as heterosexuals."

Well, we all know hets are just a plain ordinary lot (not to mention growing numbers of boring homos who are starting to give the rest of us a bad name). But the implication here is that queers are invading livingrooms across America and there's no way to turn off the TV. As if the gay and lesbian (and mostly supporting) characters in those 23 shows will ever supplant straights who flat out dominate the thousands of other TV shows on the air.

"Perhaps the ultimate attempt to accurately reflect the gay lifestyle," the Post reports, "comes from MTV, where casting directors have carefully (yet quite blatantly) incorporated homo- and bi-sexual characters into almost every season of its popular reality program The Real World."

Ultimate attempt? Honey child, I don't think so. And, for the last fucking time, being gay is a life, not a lifestyle.
This is the kind of news and entertainment coverage that makes me truly appreciate queer rags like Fugues, Out, Xtra and The Advocate, as well as TV newsmagazines like Sortie Gaie, QT-QueerTelevsion and In the Life. The latest round of gay-media mergers, though, has pundits wagging their tongues, and rightly so. After all, we've already seen what the concentration of media in the hands of a few can do to slant fair and thoughtful coverage of issues important to the queer community (anyone remember His Highness Conrad Black?).

But queer merger-mania continues unabated. Glossy industry mag Silicon Alley Reporter, in an autumn cover story, profiled the nasty public relations battle for readers between PlanetOut and Gay.com. Now reports claim the two web sites plan to merge, and this on the heels of the Liberation Publications (Out, The Advocate and Alyson Books) and PlanetOut merger.

"Gay.com and PlanetOut are on the verge of merging or forging a close alliance, according to sources close to the companies," CNET News.com reported Nov 12. "Discussions between the competing privately held start-ups, both based in San Francisco, began in September and are nearing completion, sources said.
"The two sites lead the pack of affinity portal sites catering to lesbians and gays. Each has garnered tens of millions of dollars from investors placing their bets on the potentially lucrative gay and lesbian online advertising market.

"PlanetOut executives declined to comment. Gay.com executives could not be reached for comment. But sources familiar with the negotiations confirmed that the companies are focusing on two potential alliances. One would merge the companies in a roughly equal merger. The other would create a strategic alliance whereby the companies would share content and technology."

CNET reports that Gay.com is the primary holding of Online Partners, which merged Gay.com and Gay.net in March 1999 to form the Gay.com Network. "This [past] February the site attracted 2.3 million unique monthly visitors who made 9 million visits lasting an average of 33 minutes each, according to Gay.com."
Then, CNET points out, Gay.com secured a significant round of funding just before the April downturn in investors' enthusiasm for dot-coms. The start-up in March raised $23 million from investors including Flatiron Partners, Chase Capital Partners, Macluan Digital Partners and Times Company Digital, the Internet division of The New York Times. Baroda Ventures' David Bohnett, who founded GeoCities and oversaw its sale to Yahoo, is chairman of the Gay.com board.

As for PlanetOut, launched in 1995, the web site has 700,000 registered members. The company raised $10 million in September in a third round of funding. Investors include the Mayfield Fund, America Online Investments and Eden Capital, based in the United Kingdom. Individual investors include RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser.

"While targeting the same demographic," CNET reports, "the sites bring potentially complementary assets to the negotiating table. PlanetOut has a strong content identity, especially with its pending acquisition of gay print media company Liberation Publications, which publishes The Advocate and Out magazines. PlanetOut recently completed the acquisition of gay and lesbian travel site Out and About."

This comes at a time when there are more gay and lesbian publications in Canada and the United States than ever before, although one must point out that many of these community-weekly-styled newsapers are barely able to pay their bills, never mind their freelancers. Publishing-industry bible Editor & Publisher, in an October 3 feature headlined "Farewell to the Gay Nineties: Gay, Lesbian Newspapers Struggle to Survive," quotes Todd Evans, founder of the New Jersey-based Rivendell Marketing, the major U.S. ad rep firm for gay newspapers.
"At our last count, there were 237 local gay and lesbian publications," says Evans, "and when we started out (in 1979), we counted 25. So there's a plethora of gay and lesbian papers out there."

Overseas, in Britain, London's main gay weekly newspaper, The Pink Paper, is also feeling the pinch, and will transform itself into a glossy newsmagazine that will be sold at newsstands instead of being distributed for free.

"We are changing the Pink Paper from a tabloid newspaper to a glossy, full colour current affairs magazine similar to Time, Newsweek and the New Statesman," the editors stated in a recent issue. "Although The Pink Paper is one of the most well-known community newspapers in the country, ironically, we're also the most invisible. Only those who visit gay bars and clubs ... get to read our coverage. Every other community newspaper from the Voice and Asian Times, to Irish World and Saga magazine is on sale in the high street. As the nature and scope of the gay world in the UK changes, we want to take our place on the news shelves too."
This new up-market trend, along with the new concentration of media, is of course meant to cut costs and competitively position oneself to fend off other prospective media empires, not to mention maintaining relevance in a media world where alternative weeklies and "straight" properties like The National Post are eating up the readership of gay publications.

In other words, business is business: media moguls may not likes dykes and fags very much, but they sure do love our money. After all, they have their straight lifestyle to maintain.

Richard Burnett's nationally synbdicated queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine and The Ottawa X Press.