Sex Channels Free To Air At Any Time

Posted: May 23, 2000

For operators of sexually oriented cable TV channels, the nation's highest court has just unscrambled their business prospects.

Playboy Television, Spice and the Hot Network all cheered the Supreme Court for striking down a law that forced many cable operators to restrict adult material to late-night hours.

The law required cable operators to fully block this programming to nonsubscribers during daylight hours. But since many cable systems lacked the technology to guarantee that their sound and pictures would be completely scrambled, they opted to restrict these networks to airing only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Since cable systems could effectively air the channels only eight hours a day, many decided it was more profitable to air networks with no restrictions, said Tony Lynn, president of the Playboy Entertainment Group.

"It put carriage of our network in jeopardy in a number of places," he said.

Playboy operates four separate adult-oriented stations, including Playboy Television and Spice. The largest, Playboy TV, is available in 20 million homes, 13 million with cable and the rest with satellite dishes, Lynn said. There are roughly 100 million television homes in the country, 76 million with cable or satellite dishes.

The law didn't affect what the stations put on the air. However, Playboy TV had to make certain it had programming that started at 10 p.m. in every time zone so no one was joining something in progress, Lynn said.

About 26 million homes - 10 million of them cable - get The Hot Network or The Hot Zones, channels operated by Vivid Entertainment.

Bill Asher, company president, said the law caused some cable operators to shy away from his programming.

Partly as a result, Vivid has tried to grow its business among satellite customers or on cable systems with up-to-date, digital technology that could be more effectively scrambled, he said.

"For us, this was a nuisance," Asher said. "We believe the new technology will solve our problems better than the Supreme Court will."

Asher said he expected his competitors at Playboy to see the most immediate benefits from the court decision. Since Playboy airs less explicit material than Vivid's channels, its networks will be more attractive to cable systems that have shied away from the programming, he said.

It was not immediately clear how quickly cable systems that carry these networks would begin showing them outside the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. time period.

Clean-air review

The high court agreed to decide whether the government went too far in adopting tougher nationwide clean-air standards, setting the stage for a major environmental ruling.

The justices said they will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules it adopted in 1997 to reduce smog and soot. A ruling is expected sometime in 2001.

The dispute carries "profound implications for the health of the American public," government lawyers told the court.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, had challenged the regulations it said were "pulled out of nowhere."

"Once and for all, the Supreme Court can put an end to EPA's unconstitutional attempt to extend their regulatory power and ignore the will of Congress," Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said. "If EPA isn't stopped, the proposed standards will be a crushing federal mandate on U.S. businesses, with no scientifically proven benefit to human health."

The American Lung Association defended the rules.

"These standards are essential to protecting the health of millions of Americans, especially children, the elderly and those with lung and heart disease, from exposure to unhealthy air pollution levels," said John M. Coruthers Jr., the association's president.

Pennsylvania and seven other states filed a brief in January supporting the EPA's rules and urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Airbag ruling

The Supreme Court says millions of Americans who drive or ride in cars built before federal regulations required airbags cannot, if they get hurt in accidents, sue automakers for not installing the safety devices.

Voting 5-4 yesterday, the court said federal regulation of automobile safety pre-empts, or blocks, lawsuits in which people invoke state product-liability laws and contend airbags could have saved them from harm.

The decision killed the lawsuit of a District of Columbia woman who suffered serious head injuries when she crashed her 1987 Honda.

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