Smut quickens hearts at cable show

ANAHEIM — Cablers kicked off the annual Western Show confab here by publicly fretting about the coming political backlash, as cable modem subscribers begin high-speed downloading of Internet smut onto their bigscreen TV sets in their living rooms.

This could be particularly troublesome because many of the largest cable companies, including Time Warner, Tele-Communications Inc. and Comcast, are counting on cable modems to provide a healthy new revenue stream. The cable industry promises its modems will provide access to the Internet at 1,000 times the rate of conventional modems. The super fast access will allow subscribers to download full-motion video over the Internet.

PR setback

At the first panel session of the confab, “The First Amendment: Cable’s Content Rights and Responsibilities,” Advance/Newhouse Communications chairman Bob Miron conceded that the high speed delivery of Internet smut to large-screen TV sets could become a public relations problem.

“Hopefully, we will be able to defend ourselves by pointing out that (pornography) would be available by any other means,” he said.

Playboy Enterprises chairman and CEO Christie Hefner predicted the hoopla about Internet porn would eventually die down as other content becomes more widely available on the Web. Hefner noted that pornography was an early driver of the VCR until mainstream content began flooding the homevideo market.

“After the rush of popularity, it then falls to another level,” Hefner said.

There’s the rub

But in the meantime, the high speed cable modem could raise questions “about whether cable TV is coarsening American society,” suggested Court TV anchor Fred Graham, who served as the panel’s moderator.

All the discussion of high speed Internet porn provoked one cabler to suggest from the audience that the industry should consider filtering its high speed Web service to make sure it is family friendly. Conceding that it would make him unpopular at his company and in his industry generally, Stefan Bucek, production and programming manager for TCI of California’s San Jose system, called on cablers to “get out of the video porn business.”

But “Law & Order” producer Dick Wolf, who also sat on the panel, lashed back, saying, “What you are saying is truly horrifying.” Wolf, an outspoken opponent of the V-chip and its accompanying TV rating system said concerns about Internet smut is another example of Washington exploiting concerns about sex and violence for political gain.

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