Sex Channels Booted Off Cable in L.A.

The city’s largest cable operator, Adelphia Communications, has stopped running the lone sex channel on its systems here despite the industrywide trend to offer more of the highly profitable adult fare, officials said today.

Adelphia finished dropping the popular Spice channel earlier this fall from systems that reach up to 1.2 million subscribers in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The company, run by a conservative rural Pennsylvania family, notified city regulators this summer that it would be replacing Spice with the Health Network.

It’s Adelphia’s most sweeping programming change since the firm acquired Century Communications a year ago, becoming the region’s largest cable operator within the greater Los Angeles area.

Company Policy

A customer service representative, who declined to give his full name, said today the company does not offer sex channels in most parts of the country. Adelphia temporarily honors subscriptions to such fare when it acquires other cable services, as was the case with Century Communications.

Adelphia eventually drops the adult channel after several months, the representative said.

The policy is economically risky because the adult pay-per-view business is soaring, with industrywide revenues doubling in the last three years to more than $500 million this year.

Cable operators generally keep 85 percent of the $6 to $8 they collect from each Spice pay-per-view customer. Some adult channels even allow operators to keep 90 percent of the revenues.

By comparison, cable operators keep about 50 percent of the revenues from mainstream pay-per-view movies, which cost $3.99 each. The split is similar for premium channels such as HBO.

Adelphia spokesman Paul Heimel did not immediately respond to interview requests today.

John Rigas, the 75-year-old patriarch of the Coudersport, Pa.-based company, is known for being morally opposed to what he considers exploitative adult programming that undermines core family values.

Playboy: Adelphia ‘Anti-Adult’

Officials with Playboy Television Networks, the owner of two adult brands — Spice and Playboy — that are widely carried over cable and satellite TV, said that Adelphia is the only one of the nation’s major pay TV providers with a policy against sexually explicit fare.

“It has been their long-term policy to be anti-adult,” said Jim English, the president of Playboy Television Networks, which is based in Los Angeles. “The only answer I have for consumers is satellite.”

Industry analysts said the move will likely hurt Adelphia in its competitive battle against satellite services, which generally devote more channels to the sex genre than their cable counterparts.

Some industry officials criticized Adelphia for playing the censor, noting that HBO, Showtime and Cinemax have shows that equal Playboy in raunchiness.

Paul Janis, interim general manager of the city’s Information Technology Agency, said that a handful of Adelphia customers had complained about the removal of Spice.

Cable operators have free discretion over their networks, within legal limits, but are obligated to notify customers and the city in advance of any changes in their channel lineups.