Just last month, DSTV announced its first LGBTIQ TV channel, OUTtv South Africa, launching as a pop-up channel from 4 October until 4 November.
The channel is based on Canada’s OUTtv, which is also available in New Zealand and Australia.
While the LGBTIQ video streaming service PrideTV.co.za is already up and running in South Africa, OUTtv SA will be the first traditional broadcast LGBTIQ channel in the country.
The announcement took the community by surprise and many of us had questions about the channel. We spoke to Warren-Lee Whitcher, MD of OUTtv SA, for more about how the initiative came about and its plans for the future.
Who is behind OUTtv SA – who are the players and what is their background?
OUTtv SA is made up, mostly, by the same team that applied for a pay-TV license from ICASA back in 2012. This license was finally awarded in 2015. The team is comprised of innovative and talented broadcasting and broader media folk with extensive experience across multiple media platforms. I, myself, am an investment banker by trade, however my first job out of varsity was with the Sabido Group (now eMedia Investments) which managed eTV, eNews, YFM etc. and I have been passionately involved within the broader media value chain ever since.
Are any of those behind the local channel members of the LGBTIQ community?
Yes, our team is highly diverse and inclusive, with a voice from most communities: Heterosexual, LGBTIQ, male, female, white, black, coloured, South African, Canadian… a little bit of everything!
Was there any consultation with the LGBTIQ community before launching the channel?
Of course, over the process of getting OUTtv SA to air – a six-year long process – we have consulted extensively with various bodies, members and allies of the LGBTIQ community, both locally and abroad. We have built a great working relationship with Johannesburg Pride and plan to leverage this relationship to build stronger ties within the local community going forward, especially with regards to local content opportunities, CSI initiatives etc.
Why has it taken so long for DSTV to get an LGBTIQ channel on the air? We as a community have been clamouring for this for many years. What was right about now?
Look, I cannot comment on any of the DSTV specific details, however we have taken the view that we want to ‘be part of the change we want to see’ and are grateful that DSTV have bought into this vision going forward. From a timing perspective, I think there is very strong momentum towards embracing and nurturing the spirit of diversity and inclusion – across many different lines; sexual orientation, gender, race, creed etc. – so I believe the timing to be absolutely spot on for OUTtv SA launching in South Africa.
Why was it decided that OUTtv SA would only be a month-long pop up? Is this a test run with the possibility of an ongoing channel?
OUTtv SA is a premium channel that is extremely expensive to programme. As such, and as is normal for launches of new or niche offerings, it was decided to take the pop-up channel approach first, in order to assess demand and appetite. We are quietly confident that the channel will be very well received and are, of course, hopeful of building it out into a permanent fixture.
A link has been made between the channel and [Gauteng’s] Pride month in October. Is the channel intended to celebrate Pride or is the timing a coincidence?
Yes, October, as Pride month, seemed like a natural choice in which to launch OUTtv SA.
Do you think that the content on OUTtv will resonate with local audiences?
Yes, most definitely. Great stories are universally appealing so we are sure that most viewers will find one, two or ten shows or movies that they will absolutely love! In addition, around 80% of the programme line-up will be premieres within SA, so there is also that to consider.
Will OUTtv SA feature any local content?
OUTtv SA has had a long relationship with the [now defunct] OUT in Africa (OIA) film festival and it was always intended to leverage their extensive library of local content to support the launch of the channel. However, the passing of time has seen the OIA library being donated to the UCT film library, which is great for posterity, however it makes the licensing deals far too complex for a pop-up channel. We will certainly be re-investigating this avenue should the channel become permanent as this is amazing content that fully deserves a national distribution platform. That being said, we have partnered with Johannesburg Pride to develop and produced an extensive list of short-format (10-15 min pieces) episodic content, featuring LGBTIQ community members and allies; that should make for sensational and informative viewing!
What kind of response have you received to the launch? Has there been any backlash from conservative DSTV viewers?
The size and overall positivity of response to OUTtv SA has been overwhelming! We always expected a great response, but even we were blown away! And it’s getting bigger and stronger by the day. As regards negativity or backlash, none that I have seen… and even if it does come, our approach will not be one of defensive explanation. We will simply listen to and try and understand the message or concerns and then encourage everyone to give the channel a watch and embrace the spirit of diversity and inclusion with which it has been launched in South Africa.
Do you ever see the possibility of a channel such as OUTtv SA being offered to the rest of Africa?
That is a far bigger question than I am able answer. Obviously, we would love to distribute the channel as far and wide as possible, however we need to be responsible first and foremost and in some countries, being part of the LGBTIQ community is, literally, a danger to your well-being! Again, in the spirit of being part of the change we wish to see, we will happily play our part in promoting acceptance and positive change across the continent, but only at a pace which makes sense for all parties and stakeholders.
OUTtv SA is on DStv channel 198 from 4 October.