Sex, sex, sex. Have we got your attention yet?

Digital TV is luring viewers with bawdy (and brainy) shows -- all free in January

December 29, 2004
Globe and Mail
By Gayle MacDonald

For 31 days in January, digital TV programmers are banding together to offer viewers -- free of charge -- the brainiest and bawdiest shows they can muster in an attempt to get more Canadians to tune in and subscribe to these niche services.

Since the first digital channel was launched in 2001, more than four million homes have signed up. But the digital channel masters hunger for more, so they've formed a programming posse, of sorts, to lure audiences to their spots on the dial.

And sex is being used as a blatant, hard-core sell by many of the 40 digital players. CHUM's BookTelevision, for instance, is billing its free month as Naughty Librarian Month, and promises "hot movies, steamy series and provocative interviews that will be the best month you ever had at the library."

Under this lust-lit moniker, scintillating titles include Sexual Outlaws (a program that explores sexual groundbreakers in literature, such as Pauline Reage, the author of The Story of O), and a program with clinical sexologist Ian Kerner, who will chronicle a "virtual encyclopedia of female pleasure."

The CHUM digital channel, Drive-In Classics, is touting the free month as Jailbreak January. Some of the more interesting sounding features include Big Bust Out -- seven women escape from prison, only to be captured by a man who sells them into white slavery -- as well as a hospital-themed triple bill, called Candy Stripe Nurses, Night Call Nurses, and Private Duty Nurses.

The Scream channel has a bevy of terrifying and salacious films, including a highlight called Invasion of The Bee Girl, about a powerful cosmic force that turns Earth women into queen bees who kill men by wearing them out sexually.

And the Documentary Channel, which usually has a serious-minded schedule, has added a little spice with Cathouse, a fly-on-the-wall film about a brothel, Moonlite Bunny Ranch.

Alliance Atlantis's Discovery Health Canada (DHC) was going to serve up something called Sex Uncovered Month to January audiences, but has since changed their plans, and is airing those programs in February.

Presumably, they think shows called Sexual Secrets III and Hotter Sex Marathon will be a better fit around Valentine's Day.

Instead, DHC is broadcasting tamer fare, including Marriage for Dummies, Pregnancy for Dummies, and Parenting for Dummies.

At CHUM, vice-president of programming Ellen Baine says her channels have always sprinkled sex liberally through its lineups. "In general, our programming has always been a little sexy. So it's not really a stretch for us," she explains.

Asked why sex sells, she shrugs: "I don't know. It just does. When CITY-TV went on the air 30 years ago we started airing the Baby Blue movies on Friday nights. We've always known sex sells. Maybe now everyone else is just catching up. Luckily we live in Canada where we can sell sex, as opposed to the Americans who get upset at the sight of Janet Jackson's breast."

But if the sexual content doesn't lure you into the digital realm, then the 40 specialty services are hoping their themed weeks will. They've divided the month into four distinct parts.

Starting off Dec. 31- Jan. 2 with marquee programming that can't be found anywhere else on the dial is Family Time (Jan. 7-9); Adrenaline (Jan. 14-16); I.Q., (Jan. 21-23), featuring programs touted as intelligent and thought-provoking.

A quick glance at the 40 digital channels shows they offer a little something for everyone in this promotion, which has been dubbed 31 Days of Great TV, from classic movie titles such as Legends of the Fall, The Usual Suspects, Scarface and Reservoir Dogs, to science shows, surgery shows, programs on weather and identical twins, fashion, food, Pearl Harbour, Everest and Mecca. There will be movies for kids, and for the adventure/thriller aficionados.

The idea to do a free theme month was hatched six months ago by Alliance Atlantis's Norm Bolen and Discovery Channel's Paul Lewis. "Paul called me and said what can we do to lift the digital tier and get more people interested in our channels," remembers Bolen, executive vice-president programming at Alliance Atlantis Communications, whose stable of digitals includes Showcase Diva, BBC Canada, and National Geographic Channel.

"31 Days of Great TV is an extraordinary opportunity to sample the targeted, original and exclusive program offerings across the new specialty channels. Whether they're crazy about animals, mad for Brit-coms or have a hankering for an old-fashioned western, Canadian viewers will find the digital channels have something unique and appealing to offer," says Bolen, who adds that digital is now in 40 per cent of Canadian households.

"The overall digital subscriber universe grew 12.9 per cent in May 2004 compared with the same period a year earlier," he says. "It's grown slightly less, in the aggregate, than we expected, but it's still grown very well. Two of our channels, Showcase Action and Showcase Diva each have a subscriber base of over one million."

Bolen does not think Alliance Atlantis's channels are skewed too strongly in the sexual stream. "Frankly, I don't think programs about sexuality or dramatic programs with sexual content, or programs about sexual health, are anything new in Canadian television. Sex is now mainstream. It's in Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and Desperate Housewives or Temptation Island."Canadians cherish their freedom to watch mature sexual programming. It's now a normal part of the TV landscape. It's an evolution of TV going hand-in-hand with people's tastes and this country's social values."