Internet TV to Be Platform for All-Porn Network

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c. 2005 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) A pornographer wants to be the next Time-Warner, and the Internet is ready to oblige.

Thousands of subscribers have started tuning in to XTV, a fledgling all-porn television network delivered via the Internet. The company, which offers 50 channels with names like “amateur” and “hairy,” also has plans for mainstream programming, like cooking channels or music.

“I want to build a cable company,” said Charles Prast, chief executive at XTV Inc.

Both unknown startups and established media conglomerates plan to use the Internet this year to sell everything from pay-per-view movies to vegetarian cooking shows.

Most American consumers have barely heard of Internet protocol television service, or IPTV. But in the next few years, IPTV broadcasters plan to compete directly with cable, satellite and the public airwaves. They will redefine the television station.

IPTV delivers shows to a television set the same way cable or satellite service does, except that the broadcasts come through broadband Internet connections instead of digital cable wires or satellite signals.

IPTV companies will use Internet technology to deliver programming in a way most providers won’t. They will sell almost all of their programming on-demand, meaning customers pick shows from an on-screen menu and watch when they want.

Some IPTV companies won’t even bother with traditional television schedules.

“If you start to think about it like `Is there any way to get “Sopranos” or “Friends,”’ that really isn’t where we are going to differentiate ourselves,” said Jim Funk, vice president of product marketing at Akimbo Systems Inc., another IPTV provider. “We don’t say, `Here’s something you can already do.”’

Akimbo sells a set-top box that downloads television programs to watch any time. Its service includes some cable station regulars plus niche programming like a middle-school science and math channel and one station filled completely with Asian-language soap operas.

Another service, Dave Networks Inc., will offer a way for individuals and small movie houses to distribute their films via DaveTV’s IPTV network. Consumers soon should be able to download free software from the Web site Dave.tv that will let them watch the company’s free channels on their computers.

“If you look at the content sold on Amazon and Netflix, where they sell traditional DVDs, it’s the (niche) content that makes up most of their sales,” said Ken Lipscomb, chief executive at Dave Networks. “Niche content is important.”

IPTV will allow such niche programming to thrive. And XTV may be Internet television’s most ambitious, unpredictable and controversial offering.

XTV sells porn. Hordes of it. Its 50-channel alphabetical menu of channels is listed according to fetish. The network also features a voluminous pay-per-view movie service that lets customers watch each film as long as they subscribe to XTV.

Another section lets viewers select recorded interactions between various performers, as well as talk with and direct live adult entertainers.

XTV’s rudimentary remote control comes with a giant red PANIC button that shuts off the broadcast. “Just in case the wife walks in,” Prast said. The remote can also adjust the amount of Internet bandwidth its broadcast uses to accommodate other Internet users in the home.

Analysts said the adult industry has driven most cutting-edge technology, from the VCR to DVDs to Internet streaming that lets video clips play online.

Prast says being among the first IPTV broadcasters on the market will help him expand into the mainstream.

“Nobody wants a lot of boxes in their home,” he said. “They only want one. You’re not going to get one box for adult, one box for cooking, one box for movies. You’re only going to want one box that does everything.”

XTV plans later this year to add a “boys toys” channel featuring everything from classic films to Ultimate Fighting matches. If he builds a core of 250,000 subscribers, he will try to add traditional cable channels.

“Look beyond the porn,” Prast said of his service. “This is just a box, and I can send anything through it. If I have to do porn to get the box in people’s homes, I’ll do porn.”

Analysts say companies like XTV and Akimbo are just opening acts, warming consumers up for the main show.

By the end of the year, SBC Communications Corp. will distribute its own IPTV service in select markets. Telecommunications giants Verizon and BellSouth Corp. plan similar services.

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SBC won’t provide many specifics on its service, but it will try to include a massive on-demand library filled with major movies, which is a direct challenge to cable companies.

Eventually, SBC will offer a complete alternative to cable service, said Laura Behrens, a senior analyst for GartnerG2, a research firm that follows Internet television.

IPTV may initially spark a whole series of new media offerings, but some analysts say only conglomerates like SBC will survive.

It will be too difficult and expensive for small, stand-alone companies like Akimbo to acquire new customers, predicted Herve Utheza, an analyst for the Diffusion Group, a consumer technology think tank. Telecommunications companies, on the other hand, will easily recruit customers using their phone or Internet services, Utheza said.

Behrens, too, questioned the chances of small start-ups, including Prast’s XTV. While porn does drive new technology, Behrens said, the amount of porn on other networks will grow to the point that it could dull the enthusiasm for an all-porn operation.

“I think first box in the door is a bad advantage,” she said. “First box means first expensive box with the least number of features and the most number of glitches.”

Behrens wonders if even SBC can make Internet television work. IPTV companies have to explain a brand-new approach to television to a country used to TV guides and programming grids.

They need to convince customers that their product _ delivered in a way most people may not understand right away _ is better than what they already have.

“If they really succeed to sell a service divorced from time, it can be huge,” Behrens said. “But I don’t know if they can do that.”

MO/PH/JL END SEPER

(Chris Seper is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.)

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