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DirecTV cleans up its act

Mar 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Home satellite service DirecTV has been quietly showing free five-minute previews of soft-core adult films in its pay-per-view lineup. The previews, which often display full frontal nudity and simulated sex acts, could be seen by any DirecTV viewer, including children who might accidentally tune in.
But just three hours after an Electronic Media inquiry about the practice, DirecTV on Friday reversed its policy and said it would no longer show the adult previews.
“Obviously, it’s not appropriate for all viewers,” said Bob Marsocci, a DirecTV spokesman.
Mr. Marsocci said DirecTV will continue to offer the films-but without the free previews.
He said no one had ever complained about the free previews. “It’s been a nonissue,” Mr. Marsocci said.
However, the announced merger between DirecTV and its chief rival, EchoStar, is currently under federal review. Several lawmakers and other officials have criticized the deal for a variety of reasons. Disclosure that DirecTV was showing free previews of soft-core porn could not have helped the companies’ cause in Washington.
EchoStar, with a much smaller number of pay-per-view films than DirecTV, has not shown free previews of adult films. EchoStar’s free preview lineup is restricted to mainstream films such as “Pearl Harbor” and “The Fast and the Furious.”
An FCC staff attorney who monitors the cable and satellite TV industries said that DirecTV’s free previews were probably legal. The attorney, who asked not to be identified, said a Supreme Court ruling in May 2000 may have inadvertently provided satellite TV with greater flexibility in how it presents adult programming.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down a law that requires sexually explicit cable TV channels to completely block their signals to nonsubscribing households. The law, which was challenged by Playboy, was intended to protect against “signal bleed”-when a sexually explicit program can accidentally be seen by a nonsubscriber.
But the court said that “cable” operators were required to block a channel if a customer requests it. The old law said any “video” operator would be required to block the channel upon request, which would have included satellite TV.
“Satellite TV would seem to be in the clear,” said the attorney, who added that he has received some consumer complaints regarding the DirecTV free previews.
The new law also says cable operators must provide a free “lockbox” to a subscriber who objects to a nonsubscription channel. The lockbox would block that channel in the subscriber’s lineup. Satellite TV is not required to provide the lockbox, but DirecTV and EchoStar both supply parental control locks that enable viewers to block specific channels.
A spokeswoman for FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who has sharply criticized the court’s decision, said the commissioner was not aware that DirecTV had been showing free previews of adult films. She said Mr. Copps would have no comment until he learned more about DirecTV’s practice. However, she said that Mr. Copps’ statement following the court ruling might have some relevance. In that statement Mr. Copps said, “Right now … the alternatives available to parents are woefully inadequate. It is incumbent upon us to take whatever steps we can, consistent with the First Amendment, to protect our children from sexually explicit programming in their homes.”
DirecTV’s soft-core adult films, which include such titles as “Erotic Obsession,” “Timegate: Tales of the Saddletramps” and “Shandra: The Jungle Girl,” can be seen on channels 171-173 in DirecTV’s pay-per-view lineup. (DirecTV offers pay-per-view films from channels 100-199.) The three channels are often sandwiched by channels carrying films rated PG and G. For instance, in mid-February, the five-minute free preview of “Erotic Obsession,” which showed a nude man and woman having simulated sex while being photographed, aired on the channel immediately adjacent to the channel showing “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the children’s film starring Jim Carrey.
On Friday, a five-minute preview of “All for Lust” starring Jacklyn Lick aired at 3 p.m. (ET) on Channel 171. “Osmosis Jones,” the PG-rated comedy starring Bill Murray, was on Channel 170. The preview for “All of Lust” featured a nude man and woman in a variety of explicit simulated sex acts.
After the soft-core preview was over, a DirecTV subscriber would have to pay $3.99 to continue to watch the film. DirecTV had shown the free five-minute soft-core previews for several years before pulling the plug last Friday after the EM inquiry. DirecTV is now in approximately 11 million homes.
The soft-core PPV films differ from DirecTV’s lineup of hard-core adult channels, which include The Hot Network and a channel from adult film leader Vivid Video. The hard-core channels, whose movies cost up to $10.99 per viewing, have not offered free previews.