Payboxes to lose over $510 mil if outlawed

PARIS — A row continues to brew in France over whether satellite and cable channels should be allowed to show latenight pornography.

TV watchdog the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel and concerned parents are calling for a ban, while politicos are torn as they fight for the moral high ground on the controversial issue that has been gaining ground since summer.

Roughly 900 blue movies are shown every month by payboxes Canal Plus, Canal Plus Jaune, Canal Plus Bleu, Canal Satelite’s Cinecinema Frisson, XXL, TPS’ Cinestar channel, and pay-per-view channels Multivision (also part of TPS) and Kiosque.

And they stand to lose 519 million euros ($510 million) in revenue if porn is outlawed.

Canal Plus and CanalSatellite would be hardest hit, with profits estimated to fall by between $223 million and $297 million (17.5%) over three years due to subscriber dropoff.

Satcaster TPS would also find the going tough, losing about 10% of earnings ($46 million) over the same period.

A ban would spell the end for specialist porn channel XXL (part of the AB Group) which has approximately 1 million satellite and cable subscribers.

Calls for the ban have been gaining pace since July amid fears for the morality of youngsters.

Latest figures from TV watchdog Mediametrie showed that 600,000 minors — 150,000 under 11 — saw porn on the tube in 2001, and the figures are expected to rise this year.

CSA prexy Dominique Baudis is lobbying the government to stick to European directive Television Without Frontiers, which bans TV programs that could have “a detrimental effect on children.”

So far, roughly 100 right-wing politicians have signed a petition supporting a ban already implemented by the U.K., Belgium and Germany.

But Baudis has his work cut out persuading French TV chains to follow his lead.

In July, Canal Plus Prexy Dominique Farrugia said that at least 35% of subscribers watched the chain’s porn films, and that he had no intention of altering his programming.

Farrugia argued that Canal Plus, which claims 4.9 million subscribers, broadcasts porn only between midnight and 5 a.m., and that parents could prevent children watching by unplugging the receiver needed for Canal broadcasts.

The terms of Canal Plus’ programming contract are not up for renewal until 2006. Baudis’ only chance at a ban before then is to persuade the government to change the law.

Traditionally, liberal left-wingers are against a ban, but splits are opening up among right-wing government politicos. Family Minister Christian Jacob supports the ban, while Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon is against infringing upon freedom of choice.

President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin have both chosen not to make their views public.

Raffarin says he will speak out once a government-appointed task force headed by philosopher and presidential advisor Blandine Kriegel publishes its findings at the end of November.

For the moment, Baudis must content himself with trying to find ways of getting TV chains to tighten up ways of keeping porn childproof.

Cinecinema’s head of programming Karine Durance agreed to scale back the amount of porn shown on Cinecinema Frisson following talks with the CSA last month. But she does not think it will solve any problems.

“I have children and they’re in bed before 9 o’clock,” Durance tells Variety. “If a child is in front of the television after midnight, then that appears to be a breakdown in the family.

“We treat pornography as a serious cinema genre like any other,” Durance adds. “We make sure there is nothing shown of a prohibited nature such as acts of pedophilia, incest or cruelty to women.”

The government has rejected any quick-fix fiscal solution by scrapping an amendment to next year’s budget that would have practically doubled the tax, from $45 to $89, each time a porn movie is screened. Budget Minister Alain Lambert defended the decision saying: “It doesn’t seem right that the government should solve problems of public morality by raising taxes.”

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