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Playboy Preaches Control

5/19/2006 8:06 PM Eastern

Christie Hefner is about to launch a crusade: Teaching Americans how not to watch TV they might find offensive — such as Playboy TV's sexually-seasoned programming.

Playboy Enterprises Inc. is about to begin cultivating video- and communications-industry support for a long-term educational initiative — in both English and Spanish — that will teach parents how to use various content-control devices and ratings guidelines. And it intends to gain air time on cable-television channels to do so.

The purpose? To help parents keep unwanted programming from the eyes of children.

The campaign is supported by a slick, visually rich, interactive Web site that is already in operation at www.takeparentalcontrol.org. Its video clips and step-by-step instructions cover content-blocking techniques on media that include cable and satellite television, the Internet, wireless mobile phones, video games, satellite radio and portable media players, according to Playboy executives and what's present on the site.

It's unusual — and responsible — for a company that offers explicit, adult programming to spearhead such a multifaceted anti-indecency campaign, according to Playboy Entertainment Group president Jim Griffiths.

“What's important to us is that people understand that we are supporting our programming, but also supporting a person's right to choose not to see our programming,” Griffiths said.

At the forefront of Playboy's good-citizenship effort is Hefner, the business-savvy daughter of Playboy magazine and empire founder Hugh Hefner. Griffiths said Christie Hefner is fully behind the campaign and will also be its point person.

Griffiths said Hefner plans to be front and center in Playboy's effort to lure telecommunications conglomerates such as Comcast Corp., Time Warner Inc., Microsoft Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom Inc. to join its cause — as well as lawmakers.

“Christie Hefner spends a great deal of time in Washington D.C., so when she has conversations with legislators, you can bet that she'll be talking about this campaign,” added Griffiths.

The campaign, developed for Playboy by Long Island, N.Y.-based marketing and promotion company Team Services, does not prominently feature Playboy's famed bunny logo. Except for a tiny credit line at the bottom of each Web page, Playboy's bunny prints aren't visible anywhere.

Our Right, Our Responsibility

The tagline for the campaign is “Parental control. Our right. Our responsibility.'' And the site that supports it attempts to be the most in-depth and informative source of technology and ratings-control options available on the Internet.

Besides its own content, for instance, the site provides links to the various ratings boards and parental control organizations within the Internet, video gaming, cable, direct-broadcast satellite and satellite-radio space. One link, for instance, is to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's controlyourtv.com.

Want to know how to keep your kids from watching Naughty Amateur Home Videos? The site's cable/television page shows you how to employ the V-chip. Not sure if your teen should be playing Halo 2 on his Xbox video-game console? The video-game page provides a link to the Web site of the gaming industry's Entertainment Software Ratings Board, for the latest ratings definitions.

The site also features a media download page where operators and other industry companies can access TV spots, ad slicks, direct-mail pieces and Web banners for distribution via various media.

“You have to give them credit because they recognize that their programming isn't meant for people of all ages, and so, to their credit, they are stepping up and engaging in this type of campaign,” one cable-industry lobbyist said, on condition of anonymity. “They're assuming a lot of responsibility on their behalf.”

It's also smart business. Playboy's move is similar to those of cigarette and alcohol companies that run public-service announcements calling for the responsible use of their products. Anheuser-Busch Inc., for example, sponsors the www.beerresponsible.com Web site, to illustrate its commitment to tempered drinking.

But Playboy is the first adult-oriented network to bankroll a cable-based educational initiative that targets its own business. The site will include ready-to-use 30-second TV spots, 60-second radio spots and a variety of print and direct-mail ads. Playboy said it will try to get cable operators to donate time to air the spots for the parental-control campaign.

In The Money

Adult content can be a very lucrative business. Kagan Research LLC estimated that in 2006, adult-oriented videos will generate some $290 million of the $1.12 billion overall on-demand revenue garnered from cable and satellite TV customers.

Protecting its ability to use new media is also important to Playboy. Playboy Entertainment Group, which includes its various cable-based video-on-demand networks, as well as its digital content, supplied 62.3% of all the company's revenue in the March quarter and the lion's share of profit during its most recent financial quarter, which ended in March.

Also, FCC chairman Kevin Martin and conservative groups have been, in effect, lobbying the cable industry to give more control to parents by allowing them to buy channels in a la carte fashion. That is something the industry has resisted, because of the technical and economic difficulties of doing so. An effective campaign of educating parents would help cable's position that sufficient controls already exist.

Still, Griffiths said the company would have pursued its parental-control campaign even if indecency on TV hadn't become such a political issue, since Janet Jackson bared her breast during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004.

“This has always been a passion of ours. The current political environment is what it is, but we think this is a product that works today and works five or 10 years from now, regardless of the political environment,” he said.

The company is also moving forward despite a similar, ongoing parental-control campaign offered by the NCTA. That campaign, “Take Control, It's Easy,” also features V-chip and ratings information for cable programming. Launched last year, the campaign has secured funding through free on air commercial time and in kind print advertising valued at $250 million, according to the NCTA.

While not officially supporting Playboy's campaign, NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said the effort “shows that Playboy is stepping up and taking responsibility to educate consumers that their product is not meant for all viewers. The more efforts that can be made to control content and using parental controls the better.”

Playboy plans to roll out its campaign over the next few months, with Hefner simultaneously — and somewhat ironically — waving the flags of both First Amendment rights to free speech and parental responsibility for controlling what's seen in any given household.

“From a point of view of having people take advantage of the parental control options that are available to people across all platforms while preserving our legacy and our belief in and support of the First Amendment, it made perfect sense that we be should be one of the key leaders in this campaign,” Griffiths said.

September