PORN FREE

When it launches in the UK on November 1, Playboy TV has a remit to differentiate itself from rival porn channels by supplying what it describes as erotic programming to a discerning – and mixed – adult audience.

It’s official: adult entertainment is going mainstream. No longer the secret indulgence of the dirty mac brigade, adult entertainment – otherwise known as porn, which comes in varying degrees from soft to hard – is being redefined as erotic by Playboy TV. The station unveils its launch marketing campaign this week through Saatchi & Saatchi, two weeks before its UK launch on November 1.

Playboy TV’s UK managing director, Rita Lewis, promises to deliver sexy, erotic programming which will be enjoyed by both men and women, watching together or alone. The channel will initially broadcast four hours a night, from midnight to 4am, via the Astra satellite direct to home and on cable.

Programming ranges from erotic movies to documentaries and style magazines, from tips about how to improve your sex life to instructional series on the “erotic arts”. There will also be regular “Playmates” features, a Candid Camera-style entertainment show and even a quiz-show where contestants battle in a sexual general knowledge contest.

All programming will be produced in the US and selected from the American output of Playboy TV, launched 13 years ago and now broadcasting around the clock. Unlike existing UK adult services, Playboy’s emphasis is on glamour and eroticism, Lewis explains. Wary of implying its output is in any way sanitised, she insists: “Existing services are sexist and degrading to women, which is not what Playboy is about.”

She is referring to a number of soft and hard core channels which already broadcast in the UK on cable and satellite. These include The Adult Channel and TVX – The Fantasy Channel, both of which (like Playboy) are licensed by the Independent Television Commission.

Then there are hard-core channels which can be received in the UK, despite being broadcast from the Continent. Services such as TV Erotica, Eurotica and Rendez Vous Television which launched last month.

The Adult Channel and TVX have a small variety of programming that is low on quality and glamour, Lewis claims. “We believe Playboy TV will increase the market for adult entertainment.”

Forget porn, “erotic programming” is the nomenclature preferred by Playboy to fit Nineties’ tastes. Porn conjures up seedy images of blue movies from the Seventies, Lewis says.

The channel is a joint venture between respectable players BSkyB (31 per cent), Flextech (51 per cent) and Playboy US (18 per cent). And despite its obvious remit to entertain and to stimulate, Playboy

TV more than adheres to guidelines laid down by the ITC.

All adult channels originated in, and broadcasting to, the UK must be licensed by the ITC. Aside from The Adult Channel and TVX, the ITC has also licensed Daily Sport publisher David Sullivan to launch soft-porn channel Babylon Blue.

During the summer, it licensed a fourth adult service: Adam & Eve TV. This has led some to question why the ITC feels it is appropriate to licence such services at all.

The ITC explains that while the Broadcasting Act guards against the offence of taste and decency, it does not define terms and that the general principle underlying all UK media regulation – and obscenity law – is that restriction must be related to the likely audience of any product and their expectations.

“These channels are licensed in the same way as any other,” an ITC spokeswoman explains. They must comply with the ITC codes such as those applying to programming and advertising – the former allows adult programming, although scheduling is restricted.

In the case of The Adult Channel, TVX and Playboy TV – all are broadcast encrypted and packaged as a subscription service.

In essence, the degree of explicitness allowed depends on obscenity law and whether sexual acts transmitted are real or simulated. Real sexual acts cannot be broadcast – which is why the ITC recently urged the UK Government to act on TV Erotica – a service broadcast to the UK from Scandinavia. But banning the channel is no easy matter.

Under EC law, the country from which a service is broadcast is responsible for policing its output. This, combined with differing standards of taste and decency within Europe, has made UK regulation of imported services tricky.

TV Erotica is not licensed by the ITC and does not need to be. However, the UK Government can act to prevent the services being received – by issuing a proscription order banning the advertising and marketing of the channel and decoder equipment needed to receive it here. It took this step to ban porn channel Red Hot Dutch in 1993.

The Government has now formally warned TV Erotica (and notified the EC) that its output is unacceptable for the UK. TV Erotica had until September 29 to respond (MW September 29). The Department of National Heritage is now deciding whether – and when – to implement a proscription order. Meanwhile, the ITC’s attentions have shifted to Rendez Vous TV – another Continental import which, sources suggest, could soon provoke a similar move.

In spite of all this, the ITC continues to licence new adult services and expects to receive further applications from this autumn onwards. “There certainly seems to be growing interest in this area,” the ITC adds. And surprisingly, those ITC-licensed services already on air have attracted only limited public complaint.

“There is a difference between channels – like terrestrial broadcasters – which everyone can see and those adult services which are scrambled and available to subscribers only,” she explains.

“We have had some complaints, but mainly from those who object to the fact we licence them at all… and from actual viewers who were disappointed the channels didn’t deliver more.”

At Playboy TV, Lewis explains precautions are being taken to protect the programme environment: Playboy TV will carry no advertising at launch, although there are plans to do so eventually – an attempt to avoid the sleazier end of the adult advertising market.

“We will not carry ads until we build our subscription base with audience figures and profiles and have a real advertising story to sell,” she says. “The type of advertising we carry will be very important to maintain the environment of the whole channel.”

The time is right for the launch of a more upmarket, more mainstream adult service for the UK, she believes. “To some extent, UK terrestrial TV has paved our way. There is now a lot of erotic programming sometimes dressed up as education – such as The Good Sex Guide – or as provocative drama.”

It is a growth in demand, and willingness among British consumers to admit interest in adult entertainment, rather than merely increased supply, that is stimulating the market, she believes.

“Look at what has happened with women’s magazines: women are much more comfortable with more sexually explicit material. In men’s titles it’s the same story.”

It may be fashionable to talk of a backlash against the high sex quota peddled by Cosmopolitan and Company, but criticism more often focuses on editorial content which fails to live up to the raunchy headlines, she adds.

There will always be a market for hard porn, Lewis reckons. But Playboy’s proposition is very different – aimed to appeal to women as well, with a non-intimidating yet erotic approach.

Whether such distinctions are taken on board by the British viewing public will become clear after November

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