Between the Lines

Dreams of empire

Richard Burnett
Commentaires
The American dream to create a mega queer-media empire — the merging of PlanetOut, Gay.com, The Advocateand Out magazines and Alyson Books — was turned on its head down under when the world’s first gay-identified company to go public, The Satellite Group Limited, attempted to create a similar queer-media empire in Australia. Except Satellite went belly up last year, leading to criminal charges filed January 29 against Satellite’s former managing director Greg Fisher. “We’ve decided to focus initially on the gay and lesbian market because we know there’s a huge lack of infrastructure there,” Fisher told Agence France-Presse on the eve of Satellite’s launch in 1999. “The gay and lesbian segment has significant needs that no one has attempted to meet before.”

It may be Fisher was trying to meet his own significant needs: The Australian Securities and Investments Commission now claims Sydney-based Satellite’s A$25 million “float” acquired in 1999 dried up as Fisher — whose personal property was frozen by the ASIC last August - lived life in the lap of luxury.

Satellite, of course, gained international fame (and later infamy) when the property development company acquired 80 per cent of Australia’s gay titles, many of which closed earlier this winter when creditors grabbed what was left of Satellite’s depleted assets. Gone are The Adelaide Gay Times and BrotherSister in Queensland. Meanwhile, former staffers from Sydney’s now-defunct Capital Q and Outrage, Australia’s onetime national gay paper, joined forces in December to publish a new 40-page free tabloid called G.

G is being edited by former Capital Q editor Martin de Courtenay, who recently told The Australian of Satellite’s financial downfall, “I am out of pocket by about $8,000 to $10,000 for my superannuation contributions and nine weeks of holiday pay.”

Not to mention all the other staffers and freelancers who got stiffed.

The question is, could this happen here in North America? Not bloody likely.

But PlanetOut’s proposed merger with Online Partners, which owns Gay.com, is being loudly criticized by Henry Scott, the former president of Out magazine.

“This looks like an amazing concentration of gay media,” Scott - who sent an e-mail to 200 people urging the feds to investigate the antitrust implications of the PlanetOut-Gay.com merger - told Media Bytes columnist Dan Fost of The San Francisco Chronicle (Feb 1). “Where is there going to be this world of different voices?”
But Fost at the Chronicle posits that a U.S. federal antitrust “investigation is probably unlikely on several grounds” because “the new Bush administration will probably not be as aggressive in prosecuting antitrust cases as was the Clinton administration.

“In addition, even with the merger, PlanetOut and Gay.com claim their Web sites would reach 3.5 million unique users each month - but that’s only a fraction of a vast gay market, much of which is still closeted and uncounted.”

PlanetOut CEO Megan Smith said the merger is necessary for the new company to grow (PlanetOut estimates the U.S. queer population at 17 million and claims PlanetOut and Gay.com have spent US$60 million and are still losing money). “We have no desire to go the way of Satellite media in Australia,” Smith told the Chronicle. “We want to make a strong, profitable company.”

Meanwhile, conservative and controversial media pundit and journalist Andrew Sullivan, bemoaning the lack of conservative voices in the gay media, told the Chroniclevia e-mail, “I thought it would be hard for the gay media to get much worse, but this monopoly is a truly depressing development. And where are all the media-skeptical left-wingers who would usually protest such a concentration of power? Oh, they’re all working for PlanetOut.”
In other words, the financial meltdown we saw with Satellite down under isn’t likely to happen here, especially considering PlanetOut and Gay.com’s big-name, blue-chip media and financial partners here in North America.
But gay media across America and, to a certain extent, across Canada are now at the frontlines of the gay community’s old left-right ideological meltdown, the likes of which we haven’t seen since dykes and fags actually protested for their civil rights on the streets of our cities over two decades ago. Problem is we’re forgetting, once again, who our real enemies are.

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Final notes: Six year-old HAF Enterprises LLC, publisher of the national U.S. glossies Girlfriends and bi-monthly On Our Backs, announced its first profit in 2000. “During our first years we focused on growth while staying on track toward profitability,” says owner and Editor in Chief Heather Findlay. “We took Girlfriends monthly in 1997, relaunched On Our Backs in 1998, and won official status for our Inside pride guides in 1999. That was our magic formule for success in 2000.”

Revenue for 2000 exceeded US$1 million. Readership for Girlfriends topped 75,000 and On Our Backs was 35,000. Circulation numbers were not available at press time.

Also, Hamilton-based Levfam Inc (which owns Canada’s Headline Sports TV channel, but I guess most queers wouldn’t know anything about that) and partner AllianceAtlantis (which owns Showtime, which every self-respecting dyke and faggot should know) are preparing to launch Canada’s — and what will likely be the world’s — first 24/7 all-gay TV channel, called PrideVision, on Sept 1.

I say likely because the U.S. Gay Television Network has run into trouble: a press release dated Jan 16 announcing a February GTN launch on the Dish Satellite Network resulted in Dish denying it is carrying GTN. At press time no one seemed to know what was going on.

Canadian viewers, meanwhile, will have to get digital cable — currently in only about 500,000 homes across Canada — in order to get PrideVision. The station will be based in Toronto.

Richard Burnett’s syndicated queer-issues columnThree Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine and The Ottawa X Press, as well as on the web at www.afterhour.com or at www.gaywired.com (click on the “scene” link and scroll down to TDB).