Joe Clark: Accessibility ¶ Design ¶ Writing

Intervention in CRTC 2012-1177-1: OutTV

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OutTV is a nonviable business

Yes, OutTV, in current and previous incarnations, has suffered at the hands of the homophobic assholes who run the Canadian distribution oligopoly, especially at Shaw, but let’s get real here: This is a federally-licensed business that has had years to get its act together on every level – and hasn’t. It’s a nonviable business.

OutTV programming amounts to endless repeats of an eldergay’s hazy memories of “gay” TV and cinema

What nobody seems to be pointing out in this process is just how atrocious OutTV’s programming is. The whole schedule seems frozen in time. It seems like the hazy memory of the movies and television shows that an eldergay who came out in the 1980s would have watched. (Takes one to know one.) Plus there are seemingly unending repeats not just each day and week but throughout the year.

Fundamentally, in 2013 nobody needs this many chances to re-rewatch Brideshead Revisited.

Here are just some of the out-of-date, overexposed series and films OutTV keeps playing and replaying and re-replaying. Actually, instead of coming up with my own précis, why don’t I just give you the sorted but undeduped list of shows from OutTV’s weekly programming guide? (Remember: Multiply all these by four for a monthly list.)

Now let’s check the February movie list (deduped):

  1. Better Than Chocolate

  2. Birdcage

  3. Eye Candy: The Crazy World of David LaChapelle

  4. Four Weddings and a Funeral

  5. Heels

  6. Holiday Heart

  7. J’en suis

  8. Kick Off

  9. Leading Ladies

  10. Leslie Jordan: My Trip Down the Pink Carpet

  11. Mulligans

  12. Positive Youth

  13. Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

  14. Sex Positive

  15. Southern Comfort

  16. Thelma & Louise

It’s one stinker after another. Lesbian and gay film festivals have no trouble screening dozens of new feature films each year, but OutTV resides in a permanent 1990s twilight in which management deludes itself that viewers really need a few more chances to watch Thelma & Louise.

The only reason to subscribe to OutTV is to watch RuPaul

In practice, the only reason to subscribe to OutTV is to watch the various RuPaul television extravaganzas. That’s the only reason we subscribe, in fact. Were these shows on any other network, we’d watch them there – and we did that for RuPaul’s Drag Race when it aired on Bravo.

OutTV’s programming is so dreadful there would be no reason whatsoever to subscribe to it without its marquee drag performer RuPaul, who isn’t even Canadian and isn’t even in any distant way on OutTV’s payroll.

OutTV cannot sell a commercial to save its life, literally and figuratively

No civilian knows better than I do the extent to which marketers will lie about the income of the gay and lesbian community. This lie is pretty simple: We’re rich! Except we aren’t, as the consensus of the research into lesbian and gay incomes and earnings shows. (I read all the research.)

Still, it says something about OutTV’s basic competence that it has never been able to spin a tale of gay wealth to potential advertisers. Not even Procter & Gamble advertises on OutTV. There seems to be a Honda commercial on the channel from time to time, but, whaddya know, it’s actually from a single Honda dealer in Richmond, B.C., down the road from OutTV’s glamorous offices.

Nobody goes into the for-profit broadcasting business for any reason other than to turn a profit. Not only can OutTV not manage to do that, it can’t even manage to sell commercial airtime at all.

OutTV’s signal is technically substandard

The worst picture I’ve ever seen has consistently emanated from OutTV. It’s overcompressed in standard definition and, in HD, it’s apparently transmitted in Soviet-like 720p.

OutTV’s captioning deficiencies are surpassed in outrageousness only by its new proposals

OutTV is in material breach of its original licence requirements to caption programming and to be technically capable of passing through audio description. The channel, irrespective of name or ownership, has always been in breach of these requirements. I visited PrideVision in its Toronto offices a good ten years ago (I suppose I could look up the date) to try to talk accessibility with them, which resulted in nothing.

Fundamentally there is no captioning on OutTV. After years of managing to air only the uncaptioned version (the issue revolves around uncensored vs. bleeped audio, but that’s just an excuse), RuPaul’s Drag Race and Untucked are finally, as of this season, airing with captioning. Except captioning invariably dies after the first commercial break. (In fact, the RuPaul episodes airing in the week this comment period closed [2013.02.25] did so with no captioning whatsoever. That’s how incompetent these people are.)

What OutTV calls “captioning” of its own shows involves:

And... nothing else.

Erroneous or false or prevaricating or ignorant claims about captioning in OutTV’s submissions

Squelch OutTV’s “captioning” plans

OutTV must be banned from using any kind of “software” for captioning. Tellingly, no details are given in the public documents, but what they mean is completely automated voice-recognition captioning, which contravenes what passes for CRTC rules about captioning and would trigger a human-rights complaint that would bankrupt the network.

What OutTV must do is what it is supposed to have been doing all along: Caption prerecorded fictional narrative programming in pop-on captioning, with pop-on or scrollup captioning (not produced in real time) for nonfiction programming. And it can’t use the lowest bidder or grasping postproduction houses like Gigecast, either. In fact, while Vancouver makes no sense as the headquarters of any TV network, it has the advantage of a sometimes reasonably competent captioning house right there in the city, namely Line 21 Media Services Ltd.

Also, given how little first-run programming ever airs in any guise on OutTV, it is preposterous to accept the suggestion that OutTV cannot afford captioning. This is a network that airs endless repeats. Caption it once and it stays captioned, assuming technical competence in the control room, which admittedly OutTV lacks.

Further, since the only actually interesting programming on the network consists of those scant few episodes of Don’t Quit Your Gay Job and American shows from the Logo network, OutTV’s captioning costs can be easily reduced by the simple fact that all those American shows are already available with captions. OutTV is too incompetent to get its hands on those captioned versions. That will have to change.

By the way, do you want me to reach back into the transcripts for the original competitive licence hearings for the gay channel and replicate what PrideVision’s would-be owners at the time said about captioning? Spoiler alert: They said they’d do more than CHUM would. Look where we are now.

It’s all well and good to be liberal and support the idea of a gay TV channel, but this one isn’t working

It’s ever so easy for the educated middle-class mandarins at the CRTC to look kindly upon a gay TV channel. If nothing else, CRTC staff want to seem liberal and open. A gay TV channel is a good idea and Canada should have a licensed gay TV channel.

But good intentions and the CRTC’s desire to seem all liberal and accepting are no substitute for a channel people actually want to watch. Nor are they a substitute for a viable business. OutTV is none of the above.

It’s time to deem the PrideVision/OutTV experiment a failure. It’s been a manifest business failure several times over by its current management’s own admission. Let’s all just accept the facts.

Remedy sought

Posted: 2013.02.27

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