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Playboy ‘is not for sad and lonely single men’

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), October 26, 1995

The Playboy Channel, due to launch in the UK on November 1, is trying to position itself as being a cut above the existing sex channels with which it will compete for subscribers. 

The channel, which is running an advertising campaign costing more than £1.5 million, believes that its big budgets and slick production values will attract viewers who have hitherto been uninterested in so-called “adult” entertainment. It hopes to win an audience among women as well as men. 

Managing director Rita Lewis dismisses the other sex channels as being aimed at people who are “a bit sad and on their own”. The channels promote “deviant” behaviour. 

Playboy hopes to attract happy, heterosexual couples who will treat the channel as an aid to foreplay: “We hope Playboy will lead to couples’ making love,” said Lewis, who believes that women, as well as men “are happy to consume erotic imagery like pin-ups.”

In the USA, according to Lewis, 70 per cent of the audience for the channel comprises couples. 

She said that the UK Playboy will run programmes that have more in common with programmes like Channel Four’s The Good Sex Guide. “These days, a whole bunch of people are sampling erotic programming like The Good Sex Guide. It is very sexy programming with mass-market appeal.”  

Playboy’s movies would have a high standard of production, she said, very different from what she claims to be the cheap programming made for the other channels, often home videos and often shot with hand-held cameras. 

Playboy’s programming will comprise sex films, interviews with “centrefold” models, documentaries on the sex industry and general-entertainment programming such as quiz shows. 

The rival channels claim that Playboy will not be a big threat to them. The Adult Channel’s Wren says that all the new channels “hype the market, which helps us.” In any case, adult entertainment consumers have already been weaned on a harder mix of programming and do not want something that offers little more than what Channel Four shows. 

The UK Playboy Channel, which is owned by UK programmer Flextech (51 per cent), British Sky Broadcasting (30 per cent) and Playboy Enterprises (19 per cent), will transmit from between midnight and 4am on the Bravo transponder on Astra 1c. 

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Read more on the 1990s sex economy here: From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report On The Sex-For-Money Revolution

Update: It is over 20 years since this Special Report was published. The Internet now plays a significant role in the growth of sex content and the sex industry and vice versa. Here is an interesting overview of the situation in 2020. The Internet is for Porn – It always was, it always will be.

“One of the biggest and most interesting things happening in the consumer web right now is running almost completely under the radar. It has virtually zero Silicon Valley involvement. There are no boastful VCs getting rich. It is utterly absent from tech’s plethora of twitters, fora and media (at least, as they say, “on main”). Indeed, the true extent of its incredible success has gone almost completely unnoticed, even by its many, many, many customers.

I’m talking, of course, about OnlyFans.” 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

October 26 1995

Is the UK rushing to watch TV porn? 

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), October 26, 1995

The aspect of satellite and cable programming most feared by the British government when it pushed the development of new media in the mid-80s looks set to become firmly entrenched as a part of the emerging television era. 

Next Wednesday, the USA’s most famous soft-pornography channel will arrive in the UK, almost certainly heralding a satellite porn war for the eyes of the British public. 

The Home Office, which used to look after televsion, was worried that porn would be one shock too many for the British and would create havoc with British television laws. But the mores of the marketplace have changed the climate, although the Broadcasting Act and the Independent Television Commission (ITC) still create limits that are stricter than in most other countries. 

Hard-core pornography – such as that shown on several continental channels which can be picked up in the UK – remains out of bounds, as evidenced by the Department of National Heritage’s recent proscription of the hard-core TV Erotica. 

But the drawing of the line between hard-porn and soft-porn changes over time: the programming now permitted by the ITC is a lot stronger than many might have thought likely a few years ago. The porn channels have learned how to push the boundaries of acceptability and, with competition increasing, are likely to push their luck even further.

Politicians, journalists and old-fashioned new-media programmers – for instance, the United Artists people who were dismayed at the decision of parent company TeleCommunications Inc to bring Playboy over to the UK – may believe that porn channels serve only to cheapen the quality of life. 

But the supply side of the marketplace detects that there is a widespread demand for porn and (ironically) religion and so programmers will follow the demand by supplying suitable programming. 

The soi-dissant “adult” channels estimate their potential audience at between 7 per cent and 30 per cent of cable and satellite homes – between 400,000 and 1.7 million homes at present penetration levels. 

Their main target market is the consumer of “top shelf” magazines which range from the glossy, even glamorous Playboy to the more downmarket magazines of the “reader’s wives” variety.  According to the Campaign Against Pornography, the top six pornographic magazine titles sell about 2.5 million copies a month. Altogether, there are about 200 pornographic titles on sale in the UK. 

Deric Botham, programmer at the recently-launched Television X – The Fantasy Channel  and a porn-industry veteran, estimates that the total UK sex industry – from videos and magazines to sex aids, but excluding prostitution – generates revenues of £4 billion a year, a figure which is difficult to substantiate but is equivalent to 10 times the investment in the UK film industry in 1994. 

According to Botham, “our research shows that people want this thing and the majority of people want it to some degree.”

The porn channels are finding it relatively easy to find satellite capacity, largely because they are forced by the rules to operate at a time of day (i.e. night) when most channels have quit their transponders and are only too happy to find someone to sub-lease them to. 

The first of the new porn channels will be the Playboy Channel, which likes to think of itself as being a cut above the others. The others, it claims, are for “sad, lonely men”. Playboy, on the other hand, is for “happy, heterosexual couples”. 

The channel, probably the softest of the genre, will be launched on November 1 by Flextech, BSkyB and the US Playboy Channel. 

It will be followed by the not-so-soft Penthouse which is being launched in the UK by a joint venture of Penthouse magazine owners General Media and Graff Pay-Per-View, which already owns the UK Adult Channel. 

Two other channels have received licences from the ITC – David (Sunday Sportnewspaper) Sullivan’s Babylon Blue and the Adam and Eve Channel. With the Adult Channel and Television X already broadcasting, there could be six porn channels on offer to UK viewers. 

But two other channels are beamed into the UK for those willing to pay the cost of extra reception equipment: the continental pirates, Rendezvous and Eurotica. There is also the now-banned TV Erotica. 

Cable and satellite was bound to be an attractive medium for the porn channels, given the possibility of encrypting the signal and imposing a subscription fee and, as a consequence, benefiting from the lighter regulation that has seemed likely. Sex-channel executives say that the ITC has become increasingly flexible in what it will allow. 

Three other factors have fuelled would-be channels to turn to cable and satellite: 

  1.  The replacement of the independent high-street video store by big video superstores has robbed the porn industry of a key outlet. 
  2. New-media distribution should bring in consumers who are embarassed to hire a porn video from a shop. Yet buying a subscription to a porn channel may be a more embarassing act within the family environment. 
  3. The Adult Channel is regarded as demonstrating that there is an audience for porn in the UK: it is thought to have about 224,000 subscribers. 

Cable and satellite has far more potential for the porn industry than the traditional-format channel. The prize, which will make everything worthwhile, is pay-per-view (ppv). Bill Furrelle, Playboy Channel’s sales director, said that he had been asked by several UK cable operators about providing a ppv service next year. The operators want Playboy, the Adult Channel and Adam and Eve to contribute to the Home Cinema ppv service which they hope to put together. 

Do TV porn channels degrade and humiliate? 

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), October 26, 1995

Susan Sontag, the renowned American essayist, described pornography as a “crutch for the pyschologically deformed and brutalisation of the morally innocent.” The Campaign Against Pornography in the UK believes that pornography exploits women and children “in a degrading and humiliating way, often with the message that we enjoy this and want to be abused.”

The campaign encourages its supporters to take direct action against any distributor of pornographic material as part of its wider campaign to put the industry out of business.

The porn channels dismiss arguments that they degrade women and encourage male violence against women. Playboy managing director Rita Lewis argues that “women are happy to consume erotic imagery like pin-ups. Women are not hung-up by this anymore, they are not threatened by the fantasy women we show in our programming. We hope Playboy will lead to couples’ making love together.”

Andrew Wren, financial director of the Adult Channel, also dismisses the link between pornographic programming and sexual violence. “I don’t think there is anything in programmes that would encourage men to go and rape. Women are interested in sex as men are.”

Television X’s (Deric) Botham says that porn programmes are “a bit of titilation” in the fine, upstanding tradition of the British Carry On films. None the less, he admits that “I wouldn’t want my daughter to get involved in pornography.”

He says that the women involved in the programmes, some of them housewives, are willing participants and enjoy the opportunity. “I don’t produce anything that is against the law. We speak to the individuals concerned. If you have a reluctant model, it doesn’t work – I just won’t buy the video.”

The Campaign Against Pornography sees it all rather differently. Ann Mayne, a member of the campaign’s management committee, was particularly critical of two programmes on Television X – Shag Nasty and Mutley and Fly on the Wall.

She said that Shag Nasty and Mutley, in which a presenter approaches women in the street or in supermarkets and offers them £25 to look at their knickers, or £50 to be filmed having sex with him, gave the message that women were simply objects and that it was acceptable to harass them.

“It is complete prostitution of female sexuality,” she said. “Botham wants full-on, across-the-board prostitution of women. In his view, every woman must have a price.”

Mayne said that Fly on the Wall, in which real-life couples are shown having sex, was an open invitation for men to coerce their partners into being filmed, possibly to the point of abuse.

UK laws on satellite porn among toughest in Europe

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), October 26, 1995

UK regulations on what can be shown on sex channels are tougher than in most countries of the European Union. Channels such as the hard-core Swedish TV Erotica and the recently-launched French Rendezvous are licensed in their respective countries and transmit explicit scenes of sexual intercourse, straight and gay, featuring close-up shots of copulating genitals. 

Graff Pay-Per-View, the experienced US sex channel operator, consciously decided to exclude the UK as a market for its hard-core Eurotica channel which is licensed in Denmark and, like the other hard-core channels, transmits via a Eutelsat satellite. But pirate smart cards for the channel, as for the other channels, are available in the UK in specialist satellite shops. 

Graff’s seeming respect for the UK regulations may not be unconnected with the fact that it owns the Adult Channel and would be wary of upsetting the ITC. Broadcasting unacceptable material into the UK could provoke the ITC into seeing Graff as a body unfit to hold a licence, thereby threatening the Adult Channel. 

The ITC’s guidelines on sexually explicit material state that representations of sexual intercourse can be shown only after 9pm and that “the portrayal of sexual behaviour, and of nudity, needs to be defensible in context and presented with tact and discretion.”

There has been some relaxation of the rule. The ITC will, on an experimental basis, allow the watershed to be broken by a ppv or video-on-demand service. It is not, however, prepared to give this freedom to a porn channel, at least not in the early days, because it does not want to be seen to be licensing pornography. The relaxation will affect only general services. 

The ITC will also monitor any ppv service to ensure that there are no cases of children accessing the programming before deciding if the programme code should be revised. 

The transmission pf 18-rated films on terrestrial or new-media channels is not permitted before 10pm. Films with a 15-rating are not allowed before 9pm on terrestrial channels such as BSkyB’s Sky Movies or the Movie Channel. These are minimum requirements. Some 15-rated films, for instance those which show scenes of sexual intercourse or drug-taking, would not be deemed suitable for transmission even on an encrypted channel at 8pm. 

In practice, the ITC does not permit depictions of erect penises, anal intercourse, close-ups of genitalia or ejaculation. 

Where channels have overstepped the mark and gone abroad to get licences from less strict authorities – the late Red Hot Dutch and TV Erotica – the ITC has recommended that the channels be proscribed, action which has subsequently been taken by the Department of National Heritage. The ITC is now monitoring the Rendezvous channel, which shows a mix of gay and heterosexual hard-core pornography with graphic scenes of sexual intercourse. 

The DNH issues proscription orders under Sections 177 and 178 of the Broadcasting Act. The orders make it a criminal offence to supply equipment to receive the channels or to market and advertise them. 

The European Union directive on transfrontier broadcasting lays down that one country cannot prevent the reception of channels licensed by other European Union countries. However, it allows individual governments to take action against any broadcast which could damage the physical, mental or moral development of minors. 

Playboy ‘is not for sad and lonely single men’

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), October 26, 1995

The Playboy Channel, due to launch in the UK on November 1, is trying to position itself as being a cut above the existing sex channels with which it will compete for subscribers. 

The channel, which is running an advertising campaign costing more than £1.5 million, believes that its big budgets and slick production values will attract viewers who have hitherto been uninterested in so-called “adult” entertainment. It hopes to win an audience among women as well as men. 

Managing director Rita Lewis dismisses the other sex channels as being aimed at people who are “a bit sad and on their own”. The channels promote “deviant” behaviour. 

Playboy hopes to attract happy, heterosexual couples who will treat the channel as an aid to foreplay: “We hope Playboy will lead to couples’ making love,” said Lewis, who believes that women, as well as men “are happy to consume erotic imagery like pin-ups.”

In the USA, according to Lewis, 70 per cent of the audience for the channel comprises couples. 

She said that the UK Playboy will run programmes that have more in common with programmes like Channel Four’s The Good Sex Guide. “These days, a whole bunch of people are sampling erotic programming like The Good Sex Guide. It is very sexy programming with mass-market appeal.”  

Playboy’s movies would have a high standard of production, she said, very different from what she claims to be the cheap programming made for the other channels, often home videos and often shot with hand-held cameras. 

Playboy’s programming will comprise sex films, interviews with “centrefold” models, documentaries on the sex industry and general-entertainment programming such as quiz shows. 

The rival channels claim that Playboy will not be a big threat to them. The Adult Channel’s Wren says that all the new channels “hype the market, which helps us.” In any case, adult entertainment consumers have already been weaned on a harder mix of programming and do not want something that offers little more than what Channel Four shows. 

The UK Playboy Channel, which is owned by UK programmer Flextech (51 per cent), British Sky Broadcasting (30 per cent) and Playboy Enterprises (19 per cent), will transmit from between midnight and 4am on the Bravo transponder on Astra 1c. 

Read more on the 1990s sex economy here: From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report On The Sex-For-Money Revolution

Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report On The Sex-For-Money Revolution.

Update: It is over 20 years since this Special Report was published. The Internet now plays a significant role in the growth of sex content and the sex industry and vice versa. Here is an interesting overview of the situation in 2020. The Internet is for Porn – It always was, it always will be.

“One of the biggest and most interesting things happening in the consumer web right now is running almost completely under the radar. It has virtually zero Silicon Valley involvement. There are no boastful VCs getting rich. It is utterly absent from tech’s plethora of twitters, fora and media (at least, as they say, “on main”). Indeed, the true extent of its incredible success has gone almost completely unnoticed, even by its many, many, many customers.

I’m talking, of course, about OnlyFans.”

More from the Financial Times here:

Opinion Inside Business

OnlyFans shows how the creator economy is shaping media 

Porn is a kind of paradigm for broader changes for publishers and musical labels

https://www.ft.com/content/4be047b7-0517-403a-9374-c6ea317b1b7e?segmentid=acee4131-99c2-09d3-a635-873e61754ec6

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

Categories
Archive Blogroll

Undercurrents: A Cancellation At CBC TV Raises A Host Of Issues For The Future

By David South

Scan Magazine (Canada), April/May 1997

The screensaver on an Undercurrents researcher’s computer terminal bears a maxim that might strike a chord in a lot of CBC units these days: “Only the paranoid survive.”

The quirky media and technology show will fade to black at the end of March. Its cancellation raises a host of issues for a CBC deeply troubled by budget cuts, an ageing audience, a dearth of alternative programme concepts and an inability to plan for a future.

In the show’s pilot, Wendy Mesley – Undercurrents’ host and progenitor – set the tone for this accessible look at the relationship among technology, media and society: “Like it or not we are living in a wired world where OJ Simpson, Big Brother, even your bank machine, all converge … we’ll explore all the issues, the undercurrents of the information age.”

To those who loved it, Undercurrents was a program that satisfied a vital public need, and an ambitious concept for a public broadcaster that some say had grown a little musty. The show promised avant-garde production and investigative journalism that critically explored today’s new media and technology culture. Youngish researchers and producers were hired from outside the CBC. They brought with them experience and new ideas from specialty channels, TV Ontario and CTV. Some came straight out of journalism school.

Critical reaction to the first programs was mixed. John Doyle, a critic with the Globe and Mail’s Broadcast Week, lauded Undercurrents when it launched, calling it “a superb example of  solid CBC-TV journalism and original reporting.” Others were less flattering. The Toronto Star’s Greg Quill accused the show of “flirting with infotainment.” At the Vancouver Sun, Alex Strachan wasn’t impressed by a report on a weekend conclave of computer geeks in the California desert for a kind of Hackerstock. “It sounds interesting,” he wrote, “but it isn’t.”

What hurt more was schedulers playing musicial chairs with the show’s slot. Switching Undercurrents from Tuesday at 7 pm to Friday at 7 pm midway through its life left viewers confused and sent ratings plummeting just as network programmers were casting about for places to apply a whopping 30 percent budget cut. As a result, some feel the show never had a fighting chance.

In the end, it was the show’s precarious financial arrangement that killed it. Undercurrents was never funded from the general current affairs budget. Instead, it drew on a special reserve of cash created by the network. When it came time to mete out the cuts in December, the special funding bubble burst. Rather than cut further into the budgets of flagship current affairs programs, executives chose to drop Undercurrents.

Executive producer Frances Mary (FM) Morrison acknowledges that gratitude for her program’s special funding obscured a recognition of its fragility. “That was really our Achilles heel,” she says. “We were just this little orphan that didn’t have its own money. We weren’t adopted into the larger family.”

With the network funding gone, Undercurrents’ budget (rumoured to be over a million dollars per season) was nowhere to be found. Discussions about chasing a corporate sponsor went nowhere because the show needed more money than any sponsor could have provided. “It was never an issue of $100,000 or $200,000,” says Morrison. “It was the issue of our entire budget. [CBC] would still have had to come up with the rest of it.”

CBC TV’s news, current affairs and Newsworld director Bob Culbert and former current affairs head Norm Bolen both say they wanted the show to stay on the air but couldn’t find a way to fund it withou seriously hurting programs like The Fifth Estate, Marketplace and Venture.

Bolen, now VP of programming at the History and Entertainment Network, says it came down to choosing between The Health Show and Undercurrents. The Health Show won because it had a “bigger audience, a broader demographic and was bringing in revenue from sales of programming to the specialty channels.”

Mesley has another theory. “The majority of people who worked on this programme are not traditional CBCers… They can’t bump, they don’t get huge severance packages. Of course, if you want a future, those are the wrong reasons for letting people go.”

With its intensive focus on issues like the abuse of computer-morphed images, surreptitious “data-mining” of consumer purchase records, or media “freebies,” there’s no question that Undercurrents has met a need in this media-saturated world. But controversy over the cancellation centres on the age-old question of CBC and the youth audience.

Morrison and Mesley both say they intended the show to appeal to a younger-than-usual CBC audience. But CBC executives weren’t convinced it was an audience the network could, or should, go after. According to Culbert, a youth mandate was something the production team brought to Undercurrents. “It started as a media ethics show targeted at a classic CBC audience. Nobody sat around one day and said ‘let’s invent the show that will go after younger viewers.’”

Bolen expresses a profound lack of faith in the under-30 audience. “People under 30 don’t watch information programming, okay? Let’s get that straight. I sure wouldn’t spend the rest of my life trying to get an audience that doesn’t watch a certain genre of programming. This is a business where you pay attention to reality. People under 30 watch trashy American sitcoms, which I’m not in the business of doing, and which the CBC isn’t in the business of doing.”

“I think that’s bullshit,” says Reid Willis, producer and director of CityTV’s Media Television. “People under 30 are interested in what’s going on in the media. The 20 to 30 group is more media savvy than the generation that preceded them.” But Willis thinks the lack of information programming pitched at a young audience is down to a lack of interest from advertisers.

Mesley and Morrison remain convinced Undercurrents did appeal to a younger audience, but felt it was sabotaged by the schedule shuffling. In the show’s first slot, Tuesdays at 7 pm, its average audience was 499,000. The biggest night came on Sunday, October 22, 1995 when a repeat aired at 9:30 pm got an audience of 865,000. But Undercurrents’ debut in the 96/97 season in its new 7 pm slot on Fridays was demoralizing for the crew. Morrison reports the audience for the season opener at 438,000 and 434,000 for a strong programme the following week.

She says the numbers built as audiences found the programme’s new location, peaking at 678,000 on December 6. According to CBC audience research figures, average minute audience for the 96/97 season to February 2 stood at 518,000 viewers.

“Friday at seven was not a good place for Undercurrents,” claims Morrison. “It’s an older audience. In fact the audience for Air Farce [which followed Undercurrents at 7:30] is quite old, surprisingly old. I was actually astonished to find out how old that audience was.”

CBC audience research bears Morrison out, reporting that the 18-34 demographic for both Air Farce and Undercurrents has been identical this season – a mere 14 percent of the total audience.

Fridays at seven is also a heavily competitive slot packed with overhyped American tabloid TV shows like Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Hard Copy and A Current Affair. Morrison says focus groups told her that audiences in that time period surf around looking for stories they like and then switch around with no loyalty to a particular programme.

“People build a menu. We took a leaf out of the tabloid book in terms of our presentation in order to survive in the seven o’clock environment.”

Undercurrents’ jerky camera work and flashy graphics didn’t endear itself to everyone, a fact the show’s producers recognized early on. “I can point to stories where we sabotaged ourselves with stylistic extremes,” admits Morrison.

But Mesley bristles at accusations the show was all style and no content, or a clone of Media Television. “We are the antithesis of Media Television. Obviously everyone has adopted their style from rock videos.  But they get nearly all their video as handouts. We are not saying, ‘This is hip.’ We are not saying, ‘This is the latest consumer thing you can add to your collection.’ We are saying ‘Think about this.’”

Undercurrents’producers express pride in the show’s innovations. They cite its lead role in web page design at the corporation., its efforts at promoting a more playful visual presentation, and its success in promoting an acceptance of media stories elsewhere in news and current affairs. But what seemed to enliven everyone interviewed for this story was a love of the public broadcasting ethos, where stories are told because they are important, not because advertisers say they are important. Many of the young researchers and producers at Undercurrents had done time at the privates, and appreciated the freedom and extensive resources offered by the CBC. But they felt they had come to a CBC whose values were in peril.

“It will be like C-SPAN here,” quipped an Undercurrents freelancer who has done time at the specialty channels.

Others who thrived in the upbeat atmosphere at Undercurrents say they’re not too keen to look for work elsewhere in the CBC. One such is 25-year-old researcher Bret Dawson. “It’s not a happy place,” he says.

It’s not clear what, if any, programming will replace Undercurrents. If the current trend prevails, it looks like any new programming will have to survive on a smaller budget, generate outside income and prove it can draw in viewers in short order. Under those conditions, people at Undercurrents and elsewhere wonder how long CBC’s commitment to innovative new programming  can hold out.

CBC TV’s Undercurrents host Wendy Mesley. Scan Magazine was published in the 1990s for Canadian media professionals.

In 2021 Wendy Mesley commented on the story in a Tweet.

More from Scan Magazine:

The Big Dump: CP’s New Operational Plan Leaves Critics With Questions Aplenty

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021