South Africa became the first African country to launch an LGBT network when PrideTV made it debut in August 2016.
Since that time, subscription has increased and LGBT people now have a platform where they can watch programs catering to their community. In an email interview, PrideTV's spokesperson, Joanna Raphael Katz discussed the need for the network, the evolution of the LGBT community and the future of PrideTV.
Windy City Times: South Africa's first streaming channel, PrideTV, made its debut in August 2016. What prompted the creators to move forward with this idea?
Joanne Raphael Katz: The change is technology, the internet. Streaming of entertainment, direct to a consumer who has a wish for his or her choice of content led to the ideation of PrideTV. And with no dedicated LGBT channel available in a country where gay rights are enshrined in the constitution, with almost 60 million citizens, it seemed like an opportunity.
South Africa's growing closeness with the rest of the African continent where some 900 million people live, many of them identifying as LGBTQ, and lacking equal rights and a voice, also counted in the favour of launching PrideTV in the country and continents commercial capital of Johannesburg.
WCT: Have you encountered any problems such as protests or negative feedback?
JRK: In terms of potential negative feedback about PrideTV, it's interesting to note we've achieved good publicity on mainstream media platforms and conducted a number of radio interviews on big commercial stations and there's never been any negative feedback from the public or presenters.
WCT: Despite being the first African country to legalize same-sex marriage, do you find that LGBTQ individuals still encounter discrimination in South Africa?
JRK: Anecdotal evidence suggests there's less and less open discrimination but the freedoms granted to South Africa's LGBTQ community in our Constitution need to be protected. We're getting there. Openly gay LGBTQ individuals who include celebrities and sporting stars, for example, are well-integrated into South African society. You can see this with a cursory glance through our local media on any given day.
The country really got behind Caster Semenya [who won a gold metal in the 800-meter race at the IAFF World Championships in London this past August] when she was trolled by a UK press commentator recently, and days important to the LGBTQ community, like World AIDS Day, are well-supported by corporate South Africa. One way of challenging bigotry is to create familiarity and we believe platforms like PrideTV are helping to create familiarity with the LGBTQ community.
WCT: Were there people who had the attitude of "it's about time," when it came to the channel?
JRK: Right from the outset, people were excited by the idea of a streaming channel dedicated to LGBTQ entertainment. There has been a good uptake. South Africans, in particular, have always been used to a really limited choice of TV entertainment. We only got TV in 1975 and for many years, three mediocre stations were the norm. Only a very limited amount of LGBTQ content finds its way to mainstream TV networks.
The content that is on our platform includes mostly independent studios and is curated to one location. For many, the content on PrideTV is a virtual "window on the world" into the LGBTQ community. Learning about the tastes, preferences, struggles, goals and hopes of on-screen characters could well play a small part in increasing the acceptance of off-screen LGBTQ individuals.
WCT: Have subscription and viewership risen since you launched last year? People can subscribe to the movies on your site, but there is also documentaries and other content that they can watch for free.
JRK: Yes, subscriptions are in the thousands and continue to rise month by month. We are very encouraged by the results. And we have hardly touched the rest of the African base that is out there. PrideTV is about telling the stories of the LGBTQ community. These stories can include messages to do with bigger picture issues like HIV and AIDS, or they can be about the daily, ordinary struggles faced by the LGBTQ community.
By providing a platform for stories about discrimination, acceptance and more, PrideTV can help create a sense of togetherness and understanding between different sexual orientation communities. There are two tiers on the site: Freemium and Premium. In Freemium, we have gathered the best of the web content to offer the community more, free of charge. In Premium it is a subscription based service [at an affordable $6 per month] with hundreds of titles available to watch anytime, anywhere and on any device.
WCT: What are your plans with the channel for the future?
JRK: We are busy with technological developments like an appand are busy acquiring new content for the platform in both long and short form. Short form is best suited to our mobile streamers where we have 11 million smartphone users in South Africa and 300 million in Africa.
WCT: The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has been very vocal about his feelings for LGBT people, calling homosexuality "disgusting." Do you think that, in your lifetime, Uganda ( or another African country ) will ever get its own LGBT channel or if President Museveni will ever change his position on LGBT rights?
JRK: An LGBTQ channel helps familiarize society with the concept of diversity. In our small way, we hope to foster a better understanding and acceptance of the community. We think that democratic societies give rise to greater and greater freedoms for all of their citizens. Once you have that thriving and well-established democratic base, then you start making progress towards LGBTQ rights and so on. From one-party states after independence, practically all of the 54 African Union countries are now democracies. That's real progress and progress will continue to be made. Ultimately, no individual will be able to stand in the way of eventual LGBTQ equality.
To find out more about PrideTV, go to PrideTV.co.za .