Leading Edge: Studio Executives Stress Quality Is Key to Survival
Where does the porn industry stand, commercially speaking, in mid-2015? It’s been accepted for some time that the adult video market has largely moved from stores to online and that the Internet rules. But do enough of the older markets exist to make the operations of porn studios and production companies still viable?
Questions, questions. For answers — or at least, opinions — XBIZ contacted 10 studio heads and/or company owners and put it to them: What’s the state of porn in mid-2015? What’s selling best, what niches are hottest, and are there any surefire ways for a porn manufacturer to stay on a profit-making path?
At consumer-savvy Adam & Eve, General Manager Bob Christian told us, “We are still selling a variety of niche and couples-based content. Features and educationals keep selling. Parodies, not so much now. MILF for sure. The faux taboo does sell well for us, but we don’t offer a lot of it, because of our internal standards.
“We have three upcoming episodics. ‘The Young and the Rest of Us,’ directed by Will Ryder, ‘Confessions of a Sex Surrogate’ directed by Luc Wylder, and ‘Love Anonymous,’ directed by Skye Blue. All three will be releasing in September.”
Rachel Vigneaux, Adam & Eve’s head of production, expanded on that. “We are continuing to make a variety of content to satisfy our current customers, and we are always looking for new ways to reach new customers, including our new subscription site, AdamandEveTV.com, where we will be releasing our content first before going to DVD. We will also be releasing exclusive content on this site.”
Christian added, “As adult material becomes more mainstream we hope to be part of that wave while continuing to create quality content that satisfies customers and brings them back for more. But the current state of adult content is simple — it is hard to make money when people can get so much for free from the Internet. The challenge of the studios is to make their movies desirable and special enough that people will pay for them.”
Steven Hirsch, founder and cochairman of Vivid Entertainment, offered a no-nonsense overview of his storied company. “Next year will continue to see a decrease in DVD sales. The Internet, although difficult, will continue to be profitable for those with truly unique content.
“TV and VOD will be our main source of income. OTT services will continue to grow, and positioning ourselves to take advantage of that opportunity will be key to long-term growth. Vivid clubs and Vivid radio will also continue to bring us brand recognition, which helps to fuel our other businesses.”
At the equally storied Evil Angel, owner and founder John Stagliano was emphatic. “We focus on good content in whatever delivery system. Adam Grayson does a great job delivering this content to all markets. Taboo is selling for us. We have the talented Dana Vespoli and Joey Silvera who do this very well. But our expert anal guys, Jay Sin and Mike Adriano, still are the best revenue-getters.”
He is bullish on the upcoming debut of BAM Visions (Mick Blue, Anikka Albrite, Maestro Claudio). “BAM is very talented, and I really like these three personally. Anikka and her surprising verbal skills, Mick with his great gonzo energy, and Claudio with his POV-plus camera style, bring innovative talent to graphic anal fun.”
As for his own work, “I am just releasing ‘Buttman Toy Master,’ one in July, and ‘Toy Master 2’ probably in September. These are really fun to do. But I am not through making features. I love hard sex: extreme performers doing amazing things. Unfortunately, most of those things are not allowed on cable, so that important revenue stream is lost. But for years I have been able to afford to do movies I really want to do, rather than focusing on what the market wants. I am a stubborn old man.”
Few porn moguls know better what the market wants than Steve Orenstein, president and owner of Wicked Pictures. “While I can’t speak for the industry as a whole,” he told us, “parodies are continuing to sell well for us.” He pointed to his two high-profile imprints. “The most recent parodies we have done — both in Axel Braun’s Wicked Fairy Tale series as well as his Wicked Comix imprint — are performing very well. Similarly, we also have great expectations for Brad Armstrong’s ‘Magic Mike XXXL: A Hardcore Parody’ with Jessica Drake and Asa Akira.”
He added that unlike many studios, original features continue to sell for Wicked, “especially our bigger movies like ‘Pretty Dangerous,’ ‘Aftermath’ and ‘Holly … Would. Stormy Daniels continues to earn Editor’s Choice reviews with her Wicked Passions releases like ‘Waiting On Love’ and ‘When It Comes To You.’
“We have completed shooting on a big-budget western written and directed by Stormy called ‘Wanted,’ which is a co-production with Adam & Eve, and we›ll be going into production shortly on Brad Armstrong’s ‘Star Maker’ with Jessica and Asa.”
At Axel Braun Productions (ABP), its eponymous owner said, “Anything that’s taboo is selling really well these days. And luckily for me, parodies are still doing great when they’re well done.” As for episodics, “I’ve always liked the idea of a series with a continuous storyline, because that’s what I like to watch on TV, and yes I do have one planned for the near future.”
His view on the viability of parodies: “Like with all trends, once too many people jump on the bandwagon and start churning out low-end product, the result is a general audience turn-off. The genre might not be as relevant as it was, but the extraordinary success of the Wicked Comix and Wicked Fairy Tales imprints is tangible proof that if you can reach a demographic outside of the typical porn audience, your sales are gonna skyrocket.”
Moose, the owner of Girlfriends Films, is bullish on episodics. “In the same way Girlfriends Films carved a very specific niche for girl-girl content, we are seeing episodic features make their way as a current trend, and we’ve been producing and relying on this format for almost a decade. Many of our most popular series, like ‘Road Queen,’ ‘Please Make Me Lesbian,’ ‘Twisted Passions,’ ‘Wet for Women’ and ‘Lesbian Psychodramas,’ are episodic features, which draw viewers into exciting plot lines and fascinating characters. This has been true since our very first series.”
Beyond that, he added, “The studios we distribute offer Girlfriends Films consumers a wide variety of adult content, as well as merchandise, such as the clothing line from James Deen Productions.”
For Howard Levine of Exile Distribution, “The Taboo genre seems to still be doing very well. Since I introduced Forbidden Fruits Films there has been an influx of other companies producing this type of content. I also am now distributing the original ‘Taboo’ series, which outsells new releases month after month.
“I am always on the lookout for great online content to convert. I just found a company that I do believe will be the next big thing: Pascal’s Sub Sluts. The content is very hardcore and fulfills the fantasy which many men will never be able to experience.”
At Smash Pictures, Wyatt Case, vice president of sales, said that “Interracial, taboo, MILF and parody are the four strongest selling genres at Smash currently.
“As far as our game plan, we are looking at ramping up great diverse new release titles and content shot in 4K throughout the coming year. I recently brought Brandon Iron into the fold and we are open to working with other hungry, new or longtime veteran directors that may be available and have something different and exciting to bring to the table.”
On the East Coast, Airerose Entertainment recently completed its first year of operation. According to Adam H., vice president of Airerose and the distribution hub Pure Play Media, the label “finished its first year stronger than we could have ever asked for. Sales are great, and the performers and directors have been incredibly enthusiastic.
“Pure Play Media,” he added, “continues to grow as we are attracting new studios every day. More and more, studios are recognizing that we are a great resource for distributing their content on DVD, and retailers are looking to us for the specialty content they can’t find anywhere else.
“Desperate Pleasures has quickly become one of the most popular specialty studios for Pure Play. Featuring exclusive Taboo content, their titles have been big winners for our customers.” (Current release is “DNA 2: Daughters Need Anal.”)
So, besides filling all the right niches, what is the surest recipe for a studio’s survival in today’s rocky porn business landscape?
For ABP’s multiple award-winning Braun, it’s simple: “Quality, quality, quality.”
Adam & Eve’s Vigneaux advises, “The success key remains the same: provide your customers with a quality/value proposition for what they want, plus a sprinkling of what you think they will want.”
Girlfriends’ Moose opines that “Darwin said it best: the one who is the most adaptable to change is the one who will survive. The ability to adapt and evolve is the key to success, and here at Girlfriends Films, we are not afraid of change — it’s one of the reasons we grew to become a leading distributor for production studios other than our own.”
Smash Pictures’ Case has some tips worth heeding. “You must have three important revenue streams maximized. DVDs, licensing VOD/broadcast deals and company membership Internet and VOD must all be maintained to their fullest potential.
“As far at the current state of porn I just think it’s really important to listen to your customers’ needs and work with each and every one of them individually to fill the voids and gaps of what they might need to diversify their store shelves or web store so they can be competitive in their respective marketplaces, and business on both ends is maximized to its fullest potential.”
Exile’s Levine’s personal prescription is “to be very selective about what I distribute. I am not the guy that wants 150 studios that sell 200 of a number each. I am the guy that wants 10 great studios that sell 1,500 of a number. We sell on every platform, so things are going pretty well.”
Let’s leave the final word on the current state of porn to Will Ryder, co-owner of X-Play and one of the most successful creators of XXX parodies. For him the good news is that men and women are watching porn in record-setting numbers. But (the bad news): “Nobody under 32 has ever purchased porn… . That is our customer of the future and they are gone forever as a traditional paying customer.”
“What will save porn production,” Ryder insists, “is revenue sharing. Currently the main players are the free sites and the production companies that have some sort of broadcast channel. The other smaller players are the ones with specific niche product or a special presentation, and those guys are destined to come and go with each new act. As a new curtain goes up, one falls, so it really is not a long-term business plan for lasting success.”
In the not-too-distant future, he foresees that all porn will be distributed “for free, either by the current free sites or directly from the producer / label / distributor. … What I also predict will happen in eight years is that Coke will put up their first advertisement on a free porn site, quickly followed by Pepsi, General Motors, Apple and AT&T. The game will be changed forever.
“There will be a system put in place much like how iTunes tracks plays and pays money to the songwriter, publisher, artist, the producer and to the label and/or distributor. This practice will be so common in a decade that we will scratch our heads and wonder why we wasted so much time being angry, writing DMCA letters and listening to outdated ‘pay for your porn’ campaigns.
“It will become completely common for each production company to have a media agent working to enhance their standing on free sites and to attract ad revenue there and for their own in-house free sites. Hustler Free, Adam & Eve Free, Evil Angel Free, James Deen Free, or something similar, will be the norm. The only goal will be to attract viewers not buyers.”
Ryder’s crystal ball shows the adult biz having “a massive rebirth… . This industry will be a different animal. But the main activity of shooting people having sex will remain the same with or without condoms, dental dams, goggles and trips to Las Vegas.”