When it comes to telling lurid sex stories, CNBC is no virgin. Tonight, the business channel airs Porn: Business of Pleasure, following on the stiletto heels of The Business of High-End Prostitution from last year. CNBC this year aired a documentary on Nevada's notorious Mustang Ranch and last year ran an expose of hedge-fund manager Seth Tobias, who apparently lead a secret gay life with a guy named "Tiger" and drowned under mysterious circumstances.
But tonight's offering from the General Electric Co. (GE) channel focuses on the very real problems that adult-entertainment companies face. Like mainstream content providers, porn producers face numerous competitors who provide adult entertainment for free. Hustler's Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild impresario Joe Francis even argued -- jokingly, I think -- that the U.S. should bail out the adult industry to the tune of $5 billion. (Now there's a fantasy for you.)
A CNBC rep says it treats pornography -- which generates about $13 billion in U.S. revenue -- as it does any other industry, and denies that the business network is trying to boost ratings with racy programming.
But whether CNBC will inform, rather than titillate, remains to be seen. CNBC is pimping -- promoting, sorry -- the documentary at a volume that made the late Billy Mays seem subtle in comparison. Adult Video News praised the show, hosted by Melissa Lee, as "surprisingly fair."
The channel "actually talked to some of the biggest names in the adult industry, and limited the industry-bashing to brief interviews with former prosecutor Patrick Trueman and self-described 'porn addict' Michael Leahy," according to AVN.
CNBC also touches on an intriguing talking point: Utahans are very horny. The highly religious birthplace of the squeaky-clean Osmonds has the highest rate of subscriptions to adult online services, according to Harvard research cited by the network; other Bible Belt states are also devoted porn consumers. A phone call to one "Sasha" at Salt Lake City's Dollhouse strip club confirms for me that business is good.
"People in Utah like adult entertainment more than people elsewhere, whether controlling for computer usage, broadband, demographics, etc.," says Ben Edleman of Harvard Business School. "Tough laws in Utah make it hard to get adult entertainment in other formats -- via retail stores, for example -- so online services become relatively more attractive to interested consumers in Utah."
P.T. Barnum learned long ago that people want to be entertained by the weird and unusual. That's why cable and broadcast TV "discovers" porn every year or so. So good news for the many porn consumers in Utah: another year -- and another CNBC special -- isn't so far away.
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