The Adult Channel Ads Of The 1990s

The magazine advertising from the early days of adult cable and satellite TV channels.

These days, the bottom end of British satellite and cable TV’s EPGs are awash with low-rent ‘adult’ TV channels, many of them chat channels where viewers can call in and pay a small fortune to talk to the girl on-screen (or some approximation thereof). These channels come and go with remarkable frequency, often as a result of OFCOM sanctions for going too far – because as we all know, people watching erotic TV channels at 3 in the morning are surprisingly prudish and will immediately complain should anything too rude be shown (a more cynical explanation for this odd phenomenon is that rival channels monitor each other’s broadcasts looking for a chance to cause problems and perhaps have a rival closed down, because as we’ve discussed before, the British sex industry is more concerned with one-upmanship than in joining forces to fight the bigger fight).

Things were rather different in the 1990s, when there were just three channels broadcasting. The Adult Channel was the pioneer, launching amongst some controversy in 1992 as an offshoot of the always-amazing HVC, and in 1995 it was joined by Television X, which as also called The Fantasy Channel just to confuse viewers. That same year, Playboy TV launched as – initially at least – a more upmarket affair that mixed sexy programming with films and comedy shows. The Playboy channel was financed by Flextech and British Sky Broadcasting, making it a much more mainstream affair, but it struggled to find an identity that worked for everyone – it was, after all, lumped alongside the other two channels on the EPG and had similarly restrictive broadcast hours (generally midnight – 4am) which didn’t allow for much variety of programming or wider impact. By 1998, the channel had been bought by HVC and quickly became just another smut channel in what was about to become a very cluttered market.

By 2000, the legalisation of hardcore started to bite into the audience for these channels, all of which were forced by OFCOM rules to remain resolutely softcore. The expanding popularity of the internet just made things worse – why subscribe to compromised soft broadcasters when there were seemingly endless amounts of free porn available online? Against all the odds, the adult channels are still out there – the premium rate chat lines offering a relatively unique USP until fairly recently, though these days cam girls and OnlyFans are probably making the likes of Babestation also seem a bit redundant for many viewers. Ironically, Playboy TV pioneered the chat concept with the Night Calls show, though the idea was perhaps ahead of its time in the mid-1990s.

All three channels would advertise in the printed cable/satellite TV guides that proliferated at the time (and which would also be made redundant by the internet). Somehow, I can’t imagine that happening now, even though the advertising was, of course, very tame. It’s interesting to see the different approaches taken. The Adult Channel and Playboy went for an upmarket vibe, emphasising the big names and a sense of stylish erotica. Television X’s advertising was cheap and cheerful, very tabloid in design. In truth, there was little difference between The Adult Channel and Television X’s output – if anything, the latter had better production values for its home-grown content. Somewhat surprisingly, both channels are still going, with various off-shoots.

Here then, for your delectation, are a selection of mid-1990s ads from the early days of adult TV in the UK.

The Adult Channel/Playboy

Television X

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