Martin Hickman: How TV porn moved into the mainstream

When Richard Timney switched on his television in the Home Secretary's home in Redditch, Worcestershire, his choice of "adult" entertainment would have included films like
Only Fools and Arses and
Filthy British Sluts.

In the multi-channel digital age, pay-to-view pornography is booming, with subscribers able to access 55 porn channels with a credit card and a TV remote control, rather than having to hope for a glimpse of nudity in a salacious documentary or late-night film.

Ofcom says 98 per cent of the British population has access to at least one of the four major media groups who offer pay-to-view: Sky, Virgin, BT and Freeview. These digital broadcasters have 36.8 million customers, all of whom could instantly view pornography should they so choose.

The choice is limited on Freeview; its 17 million viewers watch 48 channels free but can pay to see Television X: The Fantasy Channel, between 10pm and 5.30am.

Cable operator Virgin's 10 million customers can subscribe to watch eight "adult" channels. BT Vision's 400,000 customers can see porn shows for under £1 a time.

Sky, James Murdoch's satellite broadcaster which has 9.2 million subscribers, is the market leader in pay-pornography. Among its 999 channels are 55 flesh channels including Playboy TV, Red Hot Amateur, Xtreme Babes, Viewer's Wives, and seven box office channels showing "18-Plus Movies".

Despite being accorded higher channel numbers (all of Sky's adult channels are in the 900s) and the difficulty of finding details of the programmes on the company websites, their easy availability shows how pornography has moved into the mainstream since the 1990s, when porn channels first emerged on satellite TV.

As a Virgin Media customer, the Home Secretary would have been able – if she had felt so inclined – to pay £11 a month for Playboy TV, the Adult Channel or Television X, or £17 a month to watch all three.

Instead, her husband paid £5 for a night-long subscription to one of eight channels, including the three above, 100 Babes and four Red Hot channels. The movies appeared discreetly as "Additional Feature (18)" on the bill – later settled by the taxpayer. Mr Timney would have found better value for the taxpayer had he pursued his hobby online, where such material is free.

The exact shows he watched on 1 April and 6 April last year were difficult to establish – and Mr Timney's hurried statement outside the family home did not elucidate. Playboy TV's shows are relatively tame. (Episode 13 of Medieval Mischief is billed thus: "The King of Thieves finally catches Robyn and delivers her to the king.")

Television X screens harder material with titles such as Gash for Cash, Gentleman's Relish and Anal Boutique. Ironically, for Mr Timney, if he had been watching Television X, or a Red Hot channel, he would have been funding the Sunday Express, which broke the story of his household's viewing habits.

Portland Enterprises owns Television X, together with the Red Hot group. The company in turn is owned by Northern and Shell Network Ltd, which owns the Express titles, the Daily and Sunday Star and OK! magazine.

Its chairman, Richard Desmond, bought Express newspapers for £125m in 2000 after making a fortune from an earlier form of pornography – magazines, which have suffered from the rise of internet and television porn. In 2004, Mr Desmond sold his adult magazines to concentrate on his newspapers and pay-TV empire.

The profitability of television porn is hard to establish because broadcasters do not separate "adult" shows from sports or movies in their financial results, nor provide subscriber figures.

It is reasonable, though, to assume that porn channels are highly profitable, at least to Sky, given that they constitute 5 per cent of its TV business, which recorded sales of £5bn in 2008.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick