In the 31 years since Playboy launched its first television offering — the Playboy Channel — in 1982, it has continually taken advantage of consumer tastes and mores to satisfy its viewers.
In the early years, Playboy Channel would show R-rated movies with all the real sexy stuff edited out. Later, more explicit programming was added to the mix as the network became a pay-per-view offering.
The latest shift came about four years ago, when the company began focusing more on couples and women in an effort to align with the more mainstream premium channels on the dial. And the strategy is paying off with big dividends, the company says.
“We found we weren’t connecting with viewers as well as we had in the past,” Darren Turbow, vice president of Playboy Media, says. So the network went back to the drawing board and began to create programming that could be enjoyed by men, women and couples. Shows depicted mostly real people doing real things that might involve sexuality, but could just as easily involve other types of interactions.
“Playboy always recognized that one-third of its audience were women, but in recent years, the channel has been making a conscious effort to elevate that priority much higher,” Turbow says. “Women are half the viewing population and network executives felt they could no longer just pay lip service to that audience.”
Wendy Miller, vice president of development and current programming, says: “Inviting women to the party doubled our outreach. And it’s had the biggest impact on the network.”
Playboy TV’s programming is unique. It has high production values and more appeal to women than the more hard-core adult offerings found on pay-perview, but it’s still more edgy and revealing than a lot of other premium programming. Thus, it’s the perfect mix for distributors that want to give customers every option possible, executives said. Many distributors are increasingly aligning Playboy TV alongside other premium networks. Part of that has to do with Playboy TV’s original programming lineup, but it also has to do with cultural shifts in what is acceptable these days. Nudity isn’t novel anymore. Tune into any premium channel and you’ll see things you would have only seen on Playboy TV or other pay-per-view channels a decade ago.
What differentiates Playboy TV from those other channels, Turbow says, is the fact that most of its programming involves real people. “If people see other people who look like them, doing things they’ve always wanted to do, it’s comforting,” he says.
“Research has shown that couples who have more sex are happier,” Miller adds. “Our shows aren’t about having or a precursor to sex, per se. They are about starting a conversation and keeping couples together and connected.”
Swing, for instance, takes married couples and puts them together with other seasoned swingers and viewers get to see what happens. “It’s a psychology experiment, and you just can’t stop watching,” said Miller. “We are currently casting for Season 4. We’ve had people from small communities and large cities.
“We take real people and put them in the context of the story. It’s not your typical staged reality TV. It’s a true reality docudrama and it appeals to both men and women.”
The network is also in the process of filming the first season of Sexcape, a show that sends couples that want to reconnect on trips to exotic locations. The show gives Playboy TV another reality docudrama, but it also presents viewers with a series that showcases amazing places around the globe.
Each episode of Sexcape features a different couple sent to a different country. One episode follows married U. S. Army veterans traveling through South Africa and reconnecting after dealing with the stress of combat.
“This adventure brought them back to together,” Miller says. “Couples are getting a trip of a lifetime and also enriches their relationships. That appeals to our viewers, especially our female viewers.”
Playboy TV has long used reality shows to lure viewers. Night Calls, a live call-in show that invited viewers to discuss sexual issues, debuted in 1995 and ran until 2007, spawning several spinoffs.
The network’s top-rated current day show, Swing, also has a live aftershow. Playboy TV launched Swing Nightcap: Live last year and it was an immediate ratings success. The concept is similar to AMC’s Talking Dead, where viewers call in to talk about that week’s episode of The Walking Dead.
Playboy’s version has been very popular with viewers and gives the network a whole new way to connect with the people who watch its programming, Miller says.
The Stash is a popular satirical look at the ridiculousness of adult entertainment. The show is all about having fun, Turbow says.
“Adult stars love coming on the show and lampooning themselves,” he says. “And comedy helps round out the variety of programming, along with being another reason women are comfortable with the channel.”
Says Miller: “We are trying to be sex positive. No judgments. It’s all about putting things into context and having interesting stories behind it. And it’s working.”