Indicting Exxxtasy: How The Feds Shut Down A Hardcore Porn Channel

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Indicting Exxxtasy: How The Feds Shut Down A Hardcore Porn Channel

Indicting Exxxtasy: How The Feds Shut Down A Hardcore Porn Channel

Indicting Exxxtasy: How The Feds Shut Down A Hardcore Porn Channel

Porn is back. These days, pornography isn’t hard to find.

The Internet has made it extremely easy for anyone who wishes to see two naked bodies in motion (or more, not judging) to fulfill their desire in a matter of minutes. And many do — studies have found that , eclipsing movie-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and social networks like Facebook and Twitter (the latter of which makes it incredibly easy to connect with hundreds of mainstream and amateur adult stars).

But a quarter of a century ago, porn wasn’t as easy to come by. In the mid-1980s, very few homes had a personal computer and access to the then-largely text-based Internet. To get your hands on pornography took effort: One would have to get in their car, drive down to a video rental store or adult shop, grab a tape off the shelf, have an awkward exchange with the cashier, drive home, rewind the tape and then hit play.

The adult industry realized that there was money to be made if it could beam an adult video directly into the homes of horny men and women with very little effort — and an emerging technology, satellite television, offered just the solution. Until the feds shut them down.

The original dish TV

Satellite television has come a long way since it was first introduced in American homes three decades ago. These days, a small antenna (or “dish”) hard-mounted to the side of a home picks up hundreds of polished channels comparable to what is found on cable. The function is the same as cable, too — punch in a three- or four-digit number, tune to a channel. That’s it.

Things looked very different in the 1980s: Satellite television required a huge three-meter (or larger) antenna often mounted in the backyard of a home that was capable of moving back, forth, up and down to hit more than a dozen broadcast satellites in the sky. And while there were a few channels that were comparable to cable, most of what was found on satellite TV were wild “feeds” intended for cable headends and other television stations. Instead of waiting until 7 p.m. to watch “Jeopardy!,” one could watch the entire program — plus commercials, bumper music, title cards and test patterns — as it was being transmitted to a television station if they knew which frequency to tune to and at what time.

Satellite also offered a way to bypass decryption methods used by cable companies in order to “scramble” certain channels, like the then-fledging Home Box Office (HBO). Eventually, those same encryption methods trickled down to satellite TV, angering some customers and at the same time inspiring the broadcast industry to consider new ways to reach viewers with innovative and different programming — including pornography.

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Teaser technology

In the mid-1980s, the New York-based Home Dish Only Satellite Networks launched what was described as the first pornographic broadcast network. American Exxxtasy was not the first porn TV channel on satellite — since the early part of the decade, many had tried with varying success to beam adult programming into America’s homes, including Hugh Hefner’s Playboy TV — but it was one of the first to air hardcore, raunchy adult movies without editing and completely uncensored.

American Exxxtasy was also different in that most of the programming couldn’t be viewed for free. Taking a cue from HBO and other movie channels, American Exxxtasy transmitted a scrambled signal over the air; customers had to drop around $400 for decryption hardware in order to view the channel.

The channel was hardly a failure; out of the three million homes with satellite receivers, approximately 30,000 customers subscribed to American Exxxtasy. Those who didn’t could still watch one movie a night for free — a “teaser” meant to encourage potential customers to sign up for the channel.

And that’s where Home Dish Only Satellite got in trouble.

Indicting Exxxtasy

Shortly after American Exxxtasy and others began operating, anti-pornography groups worried that adult films would pollute television and successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law in 1988 banning the transmission of “obscene material” on cable and satellite. As it was written, the law not only targeted in-the-clear channels on cable and satellite, but also “subscription services,” making American Exxxtasy an illicit broadcast.

It wouldn’t take long before feds used the new law to yank American Exxxtasy off satellite forever.

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In 1990, federal prosecutor Jimmy Evans of Montgomery County, Ala., used the new law to indict Home Dish Satellite after an investigation revealed teenagers had been taping the unencrypted “teaser” films off the channel, then passing around copies of the movies to classmates at school.

The Department of Justice charged Home Dish Only Satellite with profiting off smut in clear violation of the law. To back their argument, prosecutors cited American Exxxtasy’s 15-minute broadcast of a film called “Hardcore Girlfriends,” a movie with “nothing but the graphic portrayal of sex acts without any kind of dialogue or story line.”

Shortly after the indictment came down, satellite distribution services that did business with Home Dish Only Satellite announced their intention to stop doing business with the company, among them Utah-based distributor U.S. Satellite Corporation and Virginia-based GTE Spaceview, which owned the satellite used to transmit American Exxxtasy. After learning about U.S. Satellite Corp. and GTE’s intention to block the channel, Home Dish Only Satellite broadcast a message to its customers announcing the demise of the channel:

On Friday March 9th, we received a letter from GTE in which GTE has accused Home Dish of transmitting films which GTE says “law enforcement officials have determined to be obscene. We had not been informed of that before. As soon as we read this accusation and other threats by GTE, the board of directors of Home Dish ordered the transmission stopped immediately. Customers who have paid for service are our first concern.

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Later, Home Dish Only Satellite would offer customers a four-month subscription to the Tuxxxedo Channel, a similar service that ran softcore, edited adult films. Both channels would cease broadcasting when the founder of Home Dish Satellite settled with the Department of Justice on the obscenity case — as part of the settlement, Home Dish Only founders Paul Klein and Jeffrey Younger agreed to plead guilty to obscenity charges, , stop all satellite transmissions and turn over their adult film library to the government (it’s not clear what the government did with the films).

Civil libertarians rebuked the settlement, saying it would set a “horrendous precedent” on First Amendment grounds and would chill efforts to innovate throughout the national cable and satellite broadcast industry. With respect to the adult film industry, they were right — while there are a handful of channels dedicated to running softcore, heavily edited adult films today, no company has dared to launch a hardcore adult entertainment channel since American Exxxtasy went off the air.

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