2 min

Telus should have done it differently

An unreasonable retreat

In January, after noticing that about half of the most popular websites visited by its subscribers are sexy, Telus Mobility logically started to sell its own library of vanilla images and video clips of hot men and women to its customers.

Telus required those who wanted to receive (and pay handsomely) for the steamy material to register for the service, it said, to ensure that those accessing the content were old enough to do so. According to Telus spokesman Jim Johannsson, “thousands” of the company’s 4.5 million subscribers signed up. But after receiving only “hundreds” of customer complaints, and under pressure from the Catholic Church, Telus disappointingly bent like a reed in the wind and cancelled the service.

That there were so few complaints is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that some of the largest mainstream news organizations in North America pounced on the story.

“In the big scheme of things, hundreds is not really a significant number but… in this case we chose to withdraw the service,” Johannsson told me.

Anyone can afford a cell phone and technophiles and gadgetistas are Hoovering-up iPods, BlackBerrys, and diverse other electronic doohickeys that connect to cyberspace, by the millions. Porn has always been the internet’s killer app and worst-kept secret, so queer porn sites around the world have scrambled to ensure that their content can be downloaded and viewed not just on home computers but on mobile devices as well. It is inevitable that mobile users will find ways to access porn from their pockets; early adopters, including Telus customers, have been doing it for years.

“Ironically, the withdrawal of our adult content service does not diminish in any way access to public adult websites,” Johannsson explained. “The reality is that the internet is very open and very public, and it’s protected from censorship.”

Sexuality is a natural and integral part of the human experience. It’s part of the reason why nothing sells more reliably, or at a higher premium, than sex. Advertising and marketing companies seize every opportunity to use innuendo and images of sexy bodies to sell hair conditioner, soft drinks and sports cars simply because it works. Sex engages people and moves product; it always has and it always will.

It seems absurd to me that a very tiny group of whiners with their chastity belts in a twist can scare an $8-billion-a-year communications company into running away from a perfectly natural and lucrative revenue stream. Telus should simply have told the naysayers not to sign up for the service if they didn’t want it.

Johannsson told me the money the service would have raised is immaterial to Telus, but acknowledged that the company’s primary function is to generate a return on shareholder investment. He also acknowledged that Telus’ competitors are likely to experiment with similar services themselves and that Telus may take another stab at porn in the future.

“We’re in a very competitive business,” he said. “If circumstances change, I’m sure we might revisit it. The door is not closed; the market and timing is just not right for this now.”

It’s their brand and their choice I suppose. But what, I asked Johannsson, would happen if a Catholic bishop and a few hundred other sexually repressed fearmongers decided that Telus ought not to buy advertising in queer publications, provide services to queer customers, access to queer websites, or corporate sponsorship to anything remotely queer?

“That’s a really tough question,” he replied. “Let me think how to answer that… It makes it particularly tough because it’s a particular group of people who would be targeted. We’d have to look at each of those on a case-by-case basis. Some of the feedback we received from customers was to do with the morality; whether adult material should be available at all in Canada and whether it should be available on cell phones… I can’t predict how we would respond to that one.”