Utah Playboy decision shows local licensing is alive and well


Bonneville International’s NBC KSL-TV 5 in Salt Lake City has declined to carry upcoming NBC Network offering “The Playboy Club.” While there is no reason to expect that the content of the program is going to go over the decency line, the station believes that its values and the values of the community it serves are not in line with the values of Hugh Heffner and Playboy. Christian Science Monitor says the situation demonstrates the continued vitality of the affiliate system.

Watchdogs such as Parents Television Council and Morality in Media have been launching pre-emptive strikes against the planned program before so much as second of material has made it onto the air.
CSM believes that the program, which is said to be about a Heffner-run nightclub during the 1960s, will be no racier than any other edgy network offering.

However, KSL said that it still was not interested in running the program. In a statement issued earlier in June, KSL President/CEO Mark Willes said, “The Playboy brand is known internationally. Everyone is clear what it stands for. We want to be sure everyone is clear what the KSL brand stands for, which is completely inconsistent with the Playboy brand.”

CSM commented that rampant media consolidation has given many the impression that all of the viewing choices they have are under the complete control of bottom-line watching executives in an office that might be thousands of miles away from their own living room. As a result, local tastes are seen as a diminishing factor in what’s available on the tube.

Bonneville’s stance is to be applauded, noted Bill Baker in the CSM article. He said, “Whether or not ‘The Playboy Club’ would offend Salt Lake City’s viewers, KSL’s decision to stick with its values in the face of NBC’s disapproval is admirable and courageous. No matter how profitable it may be for some, I, for one, do not want to live in a world where local communities have no say in what they watch on television.”

RBR-TVBR observation: The network model is built on the concept of delivering as massive an audience as possible to advertisers, and that concept is ill-served when any portion of the market lineup declines to run a given program. It is no accident that an affiliate declining to run a program is a relatively rare occurrence – but we are glad that as licensees they have that right at their disposal.

We applaud KSL for putting the values of its viewers first, and we wish them luck monetizing the hole this will put in their schedule with programming they think is more in line with the tastes of Salt Lake City.

At the same time, we are not particularly interested in having our own program choices dictated to us by the good citizens of Salt Lake City or anywhere else, thank you very much. We are glad that NBC has the right to program what it thinks will entertain a mass audience, within existing content rules. And those rules should be as clear and minimal as possible.