Owners brought gay TV network from bland to just fabulous


Malcolm Parry, Vancouver Sun Newspaper

Published: Thursday, July 03, 2008


James Shavick’s own recent life could add at least three plots to the half-dozen or so $2-million movies his Shavick Entertainment firm produces yearly. First, an office fire destroyed all his current business documents, recordSeand other material. Then he married former NDP firebrand Joy MacPhail. Finally, in 2006, he and MacPhail acquired majority control of a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender television network that might otherwise have landed in the ash pit itself.

Not so, it turns out. According to Montreal-raised Shavick, OUTtv? — www.outtv.ca — now has 500,000 subscriberSeand, with a claimed growth of two per cent monthly, “is the fastest-growing television network in Canada.” He said there were 185,000 subscribers when he and MacPhail acquired it to be run as a stand-alone operation by their wholly owned Out Broadcasting Inc.Stacks of videos for editing

The change didn’t just happen. “They were putting absolute crap on the network, and hadn’t refreshed it,” Shavick said of pre-2006 OUTtv. “So we bought thousandSeand thousands of hours of new programming from all over the world.”

Shavick promptly rolled strikes with two British series. The still-running Sugar Rush won an International Emmy award in November 2006. Another lesbian-themed show, the women’s-prison soap Bad Girls, “will be on forever,” Shavick said of the 80 episodes OUTtv acquired.

Still, the network’s growth took more than buying other producers’ material. “There was no advertising, no Nielsen ratings [of viewership], no discipline as to what they paid for shows, and no plans for how they’d distribute the shows they had around the world.”

Right off, Shavick set rates of $800 to $3,000 per half hour for series OUTtv would buy. He also cut a two-way deal with Regent Entertainment, an L.A. based firm whose principals, Paul Colichman and Stephen Jarchow, own the gay-oriented U.S. cable network, Here. Having produced six episodes of a detective show called The Donald Strachey Mystery Series for Here, Shavick is on close enough terms to have had his wedding held at Colichman’s Beverly Hills estate. For OUTtv, he acquired Here’s Hawaii-shot Dante’s Cove series. In return, Here took the Canadian gay reality series ChriSeand John, and the male-modelling series Cover Guy, for which OUTtv has commissioned two new seasons.

“More important for our survival and growth,” Shavick said, was to have staffer Samantha Sowassey “call on and become a colleague of affiliated cable carrierSeand BDU [Broadcasting Distribution Undertaking] providers.”

They included the likes of Bell ExpressVu, Rogers, Starchoice, TeluSeand seemingly unenthusiastic carrier Shaw, “who have the direct marketing connection [with subscribers],” said COO Brad Danks. “So it’s important to have good relationship with them.” Cementing those relationships, Danks said, changed OUTtv “from a fixer-upper to a desirable asset.”

Shavick wouldn’t disclose the worth of that asset, nor its business volume, other than to say OUTtv has gone “from bankruptcy to profitability, worth five times what it was.” Regarding that coyness, former-lawyer Danks quickly added: “We’d worry about being seen as a pump-and-dumpster.”

Nielsen survey results, which are based upon a fairly small sample of reporting television viewers, can swing widely for specialist channels. Still, a year’s worth of results show OUTtv with 20,000 to 40,000 viewers in prime-time to late-night. Unlike most television fare, “late” means going strong to 4 a.m. As well, gay audiences seemingly watch more television on weekends than do straight ones.

“The [World Wide] Web is far more consistent,” said Danks, regarding the viewer rating OUTtv gets from transmitting to 80 nations that way. Canada, the U.S, the U.K., Germany, Russia and Turkey provide most Web viewers. “But we have a steady stream from Iran — where they say they have no gay people,” Danks said, grinning.

“It’s important when you’re improving a brand to spend more on programming than overhead,” Danks said. “So we’re producing a lot of our own.” That means 38 half hours shot in Vancouver this year, 40 more commissioned, and 100 hours purchased, plus 75 more from the Here network. Typical reality shows cost $15,000 to $30,000 per half hour to produce, said Danks.

And shows about gays coming out don’t cut it, he said. “We’ve completed the feedback loop, and we know the community wants to be pictured as it really is, in an authentic manner, and not with stereotypes.”

Still, referring to Cover Guy and the similar, Vancouver-shot How Far Will You Go? Shavick said that includes “reality shows about really good buff guys with their shirts off.”

Not that he and MacPhail should lose theirs. France’s Pink TV and Australia’s Select TV networks failed recently. Still, Shavick said OUTtv has not only sold 80 hours of production to the Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands) market, but has licensed its name to a Holland-based group. More such deals may follow, he said.

Meanwhile, as a change from such OUTtv series as the Vancouver Film School collaboration Hot Pink Shorts, Shavick Entertainment is making the $2-million Red Torrent, a volcano-themed disaster movie in the same genre as its like-priced tsunami epic, Tidal Justice.

HOT HAIDA: Designer-entrepreneurs Dorothy Grant and Gina Mae Schubert have all the go-ahead drive of Haida women, even though neither hails from the Queen Charlotte Islands, aka Haida Gwai. Grant was born in Hydaburg, Alaska, and Schubert — her name and blue eyes inherited from a German father — in Prince Rupert.

As members of the Raven clan and Two-Fin Killer Whale family, the cousins first met in 1994. That was two years before Grant ceased selling her high-end, aboriginal-inspired garmentSeand accessories from a Hastings-at-Granville Sinclair Centre store, and combined design-retail operations on 75th Avenue beneath the Arthur Laing Bridge.

The seemingly out-of-the-way locale didn’t harm sales, Grant said. Nevertheless, she’s now tripled her rent to relocate in a 2,500-square-foot facility on Sixth Avenue off Columbia Street, with contract-manufacturing operations situated nearby. She expects to register sales of $1 million there in 2008, likely with wholesale shipments rising from 15 to maybe 50 per cent of sales. Much of the gain should be carried by her middle-range Dorothy Grant label, where jackets run $350-$450, compared to $2,500 in her couture Feastwear line. Even so, her best-sellers are $125-$145 men’s shirtSeand weatherproof $250 street jackets. There’s also the possibility of a popular-priced DYG label recognizing Grant’s middle name, Yvonne.

Grant’s new studio-showroom-workshop — www.dorothygrant.com — is already something of a museum for art by the likes Alano Edzerza, Stan Hunt and John Livingston, and even sculpted-glass works by Grant herself. There’ll likely be paintings from Art of The Raven Design Co. principal Schubert, who has plenty on her plate in the meantime.

The New York School of International Design graduate undertakes commissions in that state, notably an 18-month contract for a lakeside Bridgehampton mansion. But the one-time Whistler gallerist — www.ginamaeschubert.com — is busier now with spa interiors in Whistler and Courtenay, a multiple-beachfront-home development on the island of Nevis, and a $9-million, native-inspired fishing lodge to be developed at Maiden Harbour by Haida chief Ken EdgarSeand the Langara Fishing AdventureSeand Westcoast Fishing Adventures firms.

She said she and partner Colin Johnson own Nesters Liquor Store in Whistler, and, with Cam McIvor, are developing the 117-hectare Ravens Crest project in Pemberton. Schubert said the 300-lot scheme — www.ravenscrest.ca — will include an equestrian centre and an independent school, the latter in conjunction with Dubai-based Global Education Management Systems.

As for their confident business manner, Grant said the Haida “have always had an ample supply of food and everything else. We’ve had a sense of abundance about us.”

And on them, to judge by the Richard Adkins, Robert Davidson, Carmen Goertzen, Jim Hart, Clarence MillSeand Jay Simeon native-themed carved-gold pieces the pair wore at Grant’s opening reception. “Haida women do not part with their jewelry,” Grant said. “Ever.”

malcolmparry@shaw.ca — 604-929-8456

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply