June 01, 2000 09:14am
AT&T Carries Adult Channel
by: Seth Sutel
(NEW YORK, NY) -- AT&T Corp., soon to be the nation's largest cable provider, plans to offer a small portion of its customers access to the Hot Network, a pornography channel that other cable carriers have deemed too hot to handle.
AT&T will make the channel available to its 2 million subscribers to digital cable, a next-generation cable service that has greater parental controls over viewing adult material, company spokesman Steve Lang said. AT&T will become the nation's largest cable provider with 16.1 million subscribers once it completes its acquisition of the MediaOne Group Inc.
AT&T and other cable providers offer erotic channels such as Playboy and Spice, which are considerably toned down from the triple-X movies available in video stores. Lang described the Hot Network as falling somewhere in between the two.
Getting access to AT&T's cable system was a coup for the Hot Network, which has been growing rapidly since being acquired a year ago by the privately held Vivid Entertainment, a major producer of adult programming that also supplies shows for the Playboy channel.
Bill Asher, president of the Hot Network, said the pay-per-view channel is now available in some 16 million homes through either satellite or cable, and that number is growing by about 1 million every month.
``This is a program we think consumers want, and it's available in the competitive marketplace,'' said Lang. ``If they don't want it, they have total control over whether they get it or not.''
Lang said the digital set-top boxes have greater security that traditional ones, including features that allow some sets in a home to receive adult programming but not others.
Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 cable provider behind AT&T, said it declined to carry the Hot Network. Spokesman Mike Luftman said the company has also rejected extreme fighting shows and other adult material.
``Like any cable operator, we make editorial decisions about programming that we're not comfortable offering,'' Luftman said. Time Warner does offer its customers the Playboy channel and Spice on a pay-per-view basis.
Time Warner has also been upgrading its systems to offer digital service, but so far it only has 700,000 customers of digital cable versus 2 million for AT&T.
Comcast (NasdaqNM:CMCSK - news), another major cable provider, does carry the Hot Network on some cable systems it inherited by acquisition but is not seeking to expand its carriage, said Victoria Glazar, a company spokeswoman.
Asher said he was not disconcerted by the cold shoulder the Hot Network's programming has received by some cable operators. ``If you want to carry us, fine. We're not a hard sell. We want our distributors to be comfortable with our products.''
Larry Gerbrandt, a senior analyst at the media research firm Paul Kagan Associates, said he was not surprised by AT&T's decision to carry more explicit pornographic material, despite the company's traditional image.
``It's a fairly pragmatic decision economically,'' Gerbrandt said. ``It's satisfying a viewer demand from a segment of the population, and that demand is currently being served by satellite companies in AT&T systems.''
Gerbrandt also said that more accepting social mores may have had something to do with the decision. ``I think Americans are getting a little more numb to some of the (adult) content. What's available on the Internet is much more explicit,'' he said.
Providers of sexual programming got another boost to their business last week when the Supreme Court struck down a law that required many cable operators to restrict adult shows to late-night hours.