BY ANDREA FIGLER Playboy Television Network’s president wants the cable industry to view his network as a premium channel just like Home Box Office and Showtime Networks, not just as a pay-per-view service. “It is a mission for us,” says Jim English, “to get into a cable operator and out to the public.” Easier said than done. After all, why would a cable operator devote a channel to a subscription network when it can use the same bandwidth for a pay-per-view network that could fetch higher income? English argues that research has shown that cable and satellite subscribers will pay between $10 and $16 a month for Playboy TV — without cannibalizing other PPV buys. But convincing cable operators of this isn’t easy. That’s why Ken Boenish, president of The Erotic Networks, shuns marketing his premium services to cable operators. “For adult services in general, we find that it’s much more profitable to sell the networks on a pay-per-view basis,” he says. EchoStar Communications is the only major multichannel distributor that offers Erotic Networks on a premium basis, Boenish says. The satellite provider didn’t have the technology to offer PPV services early on, and so it offered adult content via subscription. After it brought PPV on board, EchoStar kept its adult subscription service to keep consumers from switching to cable. That’s the same reason DirecTV offers Playboy TV. “I think it’s largely historical and largely for competitive reasons,” says Michael Thornton, DirecTV’s SVP of programming acquisitions. Cable operators tend to offer Playboy TV on a subscription basis, he says. As long as cable offers it, so must DirecTV. While Thornton confirmed that the subscription service doesn’t necessarily cannibalize the PPV buys, he says that adult buys in any format are on the wane and that adult providers need to help multichannel providers be more competitive in the adult market. Playboy’s answer? More original programming. Next up is a 13-week series called Totally Busted, kind of an adult version of Candid Camera, to premiere May 4. A typical scene in Busted has a beautiful naked woman calling a plumber, complaining that her toe is stuck in the drain of her hot tub. The plumber comes to the house and, well, you get the idea. But then the Playboy crew comes out and busts him. The plumber, who’s now also in the hot tub, turns out to be married. Despite more programming, cable operators that don’t have Playboy TV as a subscription service are still slow to add it. For example, Adelphia Communications’ largest cluster, in Southern California, needs new technology before it can offer the service. The technology allows the premium channel to piggyback on the PPV network, saving bandwidth and money. The monthly service, which started in 1982, is available to 28 million households in North America. Kagan World Media estimates 385,000 total monthly subscribers.

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