German TV's hard-sex sell

25th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

German TV has never been shy about indulging in little bit of erotic programming to boost its audience ratings in Europe's most competitive television market. Ernest Gill reports how it has now gone one step further and quietly broken the final taboo: showing hard-core porn.

Channels are in search of new revenue sources - such as hard-core porn

Breaking a taboo, hard-core pornography has quietly taken to the airwaves nationwide in Germany in a move keenly watched by the more than 20 networks which compete fiercely in Europe's toughest television market.

With little fanfare, Germany's Premiere World pay-TV broadcaster has launched two channels offering up to four movies of graphic sexual nature daily on a 24-hour basis to the network's 3 million subscribers.

"With this new service, we aim to maintain our position as the most innovative, ground-breaking broadcaster in Germany," said Georg Kofler, head of Premiere World, in a tersely worded statement. "Digital television is the future of television, and we are digital television in Germany."

Industry analysts meanwhile say other German networks are closely watching Kofler's gambit to see if hard-sex really sells on TV.

While full-frontal nudity has been a staple of prime-time for years, and soft-porn sexual situations abound on late-night television in Germany, no broadcaster has ever dared to air hard-core sex — until now.

At issue were strict broadcast regulations prohibiting networks from airing anything of a pornographic nature that could be construed as accessible to children.

But now, thanks to digital encryption devices, the authorities in recent weeks gave approval to subscription pay TV to offer a hard- core porn "media service" on a pay-per-view basis to subscribers who provide proof-of-age in advance of keying in two series of personal identification numbers.

The emphasis is on the words "media service" since that is the legal loophole under which porn is making its debut in Germany.

Technically speaking, this cannot be called a "channel" or "station" or "broadcasting company" — since pornography is clearly banned on any of those under German law.

But the law does not prohibit a "media service" from providing porn to its adult subscribers on condition that minors are barred from gaining access to it.

So Germany's Premiere World pay TV digital subscription platform is offering a hard-porn "media service" to its viewers, supplied by a Swiss programming company called Erotic Media. Note that the words "channel" and "network" are nowhere present and that the stress is on "media" and "service".

*quote1*As with special sporting events, premium movies, live concerts and other pay-per-view services available on Premiere World, viewers must sign up in advance to see hard-core films on the new porn service.

Once registered and having logged on to their choice of film, subscribers who have proof-of-age on file with Premiere World will be able to watch their chosen film — but only after keying in two PIN codes.

Germany's major commercial networks are keenly watching the debut of porn as a "media service". All of the major networks — RTL, SAT-1 and Pro 7, among more than a dozen others — have their own digital platforms. They all have ambitious plans for dozens of specialty channels.

And what's more, the commercial channels are desperately in search of lucrative new revenue sources — such as hard-core porn.

Premiere World, with nearly 3 million subscribers Germany's largest and oldest subscription service, has good experience with Erotic Media, the company that is supplying programming for the new hard-core service.

With Europe's largest erotica film archive, Erotic Media has television rights to more than 3,000 movies. Since 1991, Erotic Media and Germany's Beate Uhse sex boutique chain have operated a soft-core porn outlet on Premiere World.

One of the last unsold fragments of the once-mighty Kirch broadcast empire, Premiere World has fought its way back from the Kirch collapse to begin looking toward the future again.

Germany's sole pay-TV outlet, Premiere World was a cornerstone of the Kirch empire in its glory days in the 1990s.

Leo Kirch funnelled billions into Premiere World, which operates a series of digital platforms offering an array of subscription services, including recent release movies, sports events, concerts, per-per-view specials, digital radio stations and premium channels such as German versions of the Discovery Channel, the MGM Channel and the Sci-Fi Channel.

With the collapse of the Kirch empire, Premiere World was placed in receivership and has undergone austerity cuts and programming reforms under Kofler.

Some 1,000 staffers were laid off. Premiere World CEO Georg Kofler says the reforms have succeeded in reducing the company's operating losses from about EUR 225 million to about EUR 15 million.

And the number of subscribers topped 2.8 million this autumn, heading toward 3 million at year's end, he said. Kofler has estimated that Premiere World needs 2.9 million subscribers to break even.

March 2004

Subject: Life in Germany, television

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