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CABLE TV; Concern grows that 'adult' programming may be reaching more American homes -- and children

By Susan GarlandStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 21, 1982



Boston

On Jan. 22, Playboy magazine leaps from behind the drugstore counter onto the cable television screen in what will be called ''The Playboy Channel.''

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The channel features the type of material for which the publication is known: everything ''from automobiles to erotica, stereos to sex,'' according to the slick, classy promotional package. Adult movies and filmed photography sessions for centerfold ''Playmate'' models also will be included and will be accessible in at least 200,000 households throughout the United States.

This is the latest example of inroads into the cable market being made by ''adult'' cable services with names like ''Eros,'' ''Escapade,'' ''Private Screenings,'' and ''Adults Only.

At the current rate of growth, nearly 50 percent of the US households with televisions will be wired for cable by 1989, according to projections made for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). During the past few years, well over half the cable-TV viewers in some urban areas who were given the option to purchase an additional adult channel did so, according to several cable franchise operators.

To some parent and religious groups, this trend underscores the potential for widespread distribution of everything from soft-to-hard-core pornography via cable. They are concerned that the moral fiber of their community could fray if other parents choose to expose their children to adult programming.

''The ability (the cable industry) will have to put on hard-core pornography frightens me,'' says Robert Ward, vice-president of the Boston chapter of Morality in Media, the largest group opposing adult programming on cable. The chief reason for his concern -- and one that is shared by many other observers -- is the effect of such programming on children.

''It's not a matter of kids learning about sex earlier than you might want them to,'' explains Kim Hays, executive director of the nationwide Action for Children's Television (ACT), ''it's howm they learn it.''

Adult programming represents a small amount of the total cable programming being produced. Some who have studied the cable industry say estimates on the potential market for adult channels are inflated, as are reports of the amount of adult material now being distributed. Most local cable operators, concerned about community backlash, steer clear of airing anything that smacks of ''hard core'' pornography.

But a writer for a trade publication of satellite-TV and other cable industry observers indicate that ''pay-TV'' services and late-night cable ''add-on'' channels are growing bolder in the amount of sexually explicit or violent material they offer.

There is a variety of adult-oriented services. Some are clearly identified as adult fare, ranging from R-rated box office hits to low-budget films. There are all-movie channels and those that combine cartoons, adventure features, and comedy-variety shows with sexual themes.

Other services provide a variety of entertainment, but often include material that some parents would not want children to view. Home Box Office, for example, features R- and PG-rated films such as ''Kramer vs. Kramer'' (which includes a brief nude scene) and ''10'' (which has nudity, profanity, and sexual themes), as well as cartoons for children.

In areas where adult-oriented cable channels are available, they are almost always an add-on option for an extra few dollars a month. Cable companies receive the programs from satellite services and split the revenues. Very little is locally originated.