May 31, 2000 02:18pm
AT&T Cable Systems to Carry Sexually Explicit Shows
by: Steve James
(NEW YORK, NY) -- It's enough to make Ma Bell blush. AT&T Corp. (NYSE:T - news) - for decades a symbol of morally upright corporate America through its status as the friendly, local telephone company - said Wednesday it would carry sexually explicit movies on its cable systems.
Not just nudity, but even more graphic sex than the R-rated fare its major cable competitors offer.
``It will be more explicit than you see on the Playboy channel, but not like the (X-rated) stuff you see in the video store,'' said Tracy Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for AT&T Broadband, a unit of the telecommunications giant.
Another official at AT&T Broadband in Denver was hard-pressed to define what activities fell between soft and hard-core. ``People know it is when they see it,'' he said.
Hollingsworth said the programming would be available in a few months on a pay-per-view basis. Digital set-top boxes offer control over which shows are sent into the home, allowing parents to block out particular channels, she said.
Since the breakup of the telephone company in the 1980s, AT&T has diversified into other areas. With its pending $58 billion acquisition of MediaOne Group Inc. (NYSE:UMG - news), it will become America's largest cable TV operator.
The move to offer sexy movies on demand is a 180-degree turn away from the approach taken by Tele-Communications Inc., whose assets formed the basis of AT&T's cable unit. TCI's policy was not to show either extreme violence or sexuality.
Hollingsworth declined to say how much the deal with the Hot Network, a hard-core adult-movie channel, was worth. Many big cable operators, including Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX - news) and Comcast Corp. (NasdaqNM:CMCSA - news) have refused to include Hot Network content on their systems.
Asked if such programming was appropriate for a company of AT&T's long-standing reputation, Hollingsworth declined to comment. But she said the decision to show adult programming was partly to meet the needs of customers and ``remain competitive in the market.''
Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Luftman said the company provided the soft-core Playboy (NYSE:PLA - news) and Playboy-owned Spice channels, but drew the line at the Hot Network.
``We remain uncomfortable providing that kind of programming and we have made similar decisions with some of the more extreme wrestling programs.
``I'm not going to second-guess them (AT&T) but everyone has to do what they are most comfortable with,'' said Luftman. ``I don't doubt there is some demand (for graphic sex movies), but we make the editorial decision not to carry it.''
The Hot Network, whose president, Bill Asher, also runs Vivid Entertainment, a major producer of X-rated videos, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the Parents TV Council, a group with some half a million members who lobby broadcasters not to air shows with sexual or violent themes during the so-called family hour between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., said AT&T's choice was regrettable.
But since the planned sex movies were on cable and on a pay-per-view basis, it was difficult to protest. ``We are not happy, but everyone has the right,'' the spokeswoman, Pam Groover, said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Largent (R.-Okla), who has chaired congressional committees on restricting sexual content on the Internet, is a member of the board of the PTC. A spokesman said Largent was in favor of anything ``to keep this (kind of material) out of the hands of children.'' AT&T's ``parental control'' safeguard was the kind of thing he was advocating, Largent's spokesman said.
Groover said PTC had previously persuaded AT&T to pull its advertising off World Wrestling Federation programs and the communications company had vowed to promote more ``family friendly'' television.