Is Porn Becoming Mainstream, or Has Playboy Given Up on Porn?

Playboy TV for 2The New York Times recently wrote an article saying that Playboy TV will add couples-oriented programming (called “TV for 2”) to its lineup. The company said it wants to shift from purely male-oriented, soft-core pornographic content to having a mix of female-friendly shows and adult programming. Playboy believes offering shows that focus more on intimacy and learning as a couple will draw more female viewers to the network and lead to more subscriptions.

Just to be clear, Playboy TV is not looking to revamp its entire schedule. The company will introduce the new couples programming as a “block of TV”, which will consist mainly of reality shows.

But will it lead to increased viewership/subscriptions for Playboy TV? My guess is no. It doesn’t matter if Playboy creates new reality shows the company describes as “less identifiable as pornography” because the brand is already identified as pornographic, and has been for decades. A couple of reality TV shows isn’t going to change that.

What’s most interesting is that Playboy is beginning to recognize that it’s in the middle of an identity crisis. Playboy magazine began in 1953, when married couples weren’t even shown in the same bed on television. Today, you can find similar content on premium TV channels that you can on Playboy TV. Even cable TV channels have come a long way in what they’re willing to show, and Hollywood movies aren’t shying away from nudity either. Playboy has also been unwavering in its opposition to moving into hardcore pornography. Although the company has acquired hardcore pornographic companies, the company does not produce XXX-rated content under the Playboy brand.

Playboy Magazine CoverSo right now, Playboy is stuck in a tough (and unprofitable) position: too risqué for Maxim or Esquire, but not bold enough to blend in with Penthouse or Hustler. Should Playboy delve into the hardcore and risk permanent damage to the brand, or should they continue with a strict soft-core-only policy? My guess is that unless Playboy can guarantee the same quality for hard-core porn, they’ll always outsource hard-core content under a different name. Unlike Larry Flynt, Hugh Hefner hasn’t been shunned from society, and I’m guessing he wants to keep it that way. He wants Playboy to have a gentlemanly and sophisticated image, and it does. And I have a feeling he didn’t make an offer to buy up 100% of the company’s outstanding shares so that he could take Playboy in that direction. One thing is clear: Playboy’s current strategy isn’t working and the company needs to carve out a niche for itself. People won’t pay for soft-core anymore and you don’t need to go to Playboy to get it.

My recommendation for Playboy, and other soft-core pornographic companies as well, is to make a big push to move into mainstream cinema. The American Pie franchise has done considerably well for being straight-to-video, and is borderline soft-core already. If Playboy could partner with a movie studio and find decent writers, there’s no reason they couldn’t produce an equally-good product. They could also release R and X-rated versions of the film (like Digital Playground did with Pirates XXX). Hollywood studios and moviegoers have both become more comfortable with on-screen nudity. Maybe it’s time Playboy move into mainstream cinema instead of watching mainstream cinema eat away at its profitability.

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