XBIZ World's Top 100 Newsmakers of 2007
2007 marked the 10th year of operation for live-feed provider 2Much, and the company's forward- leaning marketing, active development of its video-delivery platform throughout the year indicated that 2Much plans to be around for years to come. 2Much's LiveCamNetwork.com was recognized as the Best Webcam Site at the 2007 Best Adult Awards, as well as a finalist for the Live Video Chat of the Year, at the 2007 XBIZ Awards.
It was a year of major growth for the Australian amateur website abbywinters.com. In July, the company opened a second office in order to double its output in terms of content production, having signed a U.S. DVD distribution deal with TightFit in April. The company's all-female, always enthusiastic staff of performers and professionals delivers an authenticity that is tough to match for its more "corporate" competitors in the amateur sector, giving abbywinters.com an advantage that will serve them well in 2008 and beyond.
ADAM & EVE
This longtime industry player bucked the downward revenue trends experienced by many of its peers in the adult retail sector, posting record sales in both the first and second quarters of 2007. Exemplary of Adam & Eve's charitable efforts –for many years it has actively contributed to a variety of worthy causes – the company shared the benefit of its success with the community, launching a special October promotion to raise funds for breast cancer research.
ADULT FRIEND FINDER
If public relations were a pendulum, tracing the PR swing of this major adult dating service in 2007 would make any observer dizzy. On the upside, AFF stepped up with major support for the FSC and ASACP. On the downside, the company found itself square in the crosshairs of many critics for accepting traffic from BitTorrent sites and its use of the controversial adware program Zango. Also putting AFF on the news map this year was the incident in which a 24-year-old student arrested in Utah for disseminating harmful materials to a minor claimed to have met the 17- year-old girl on AFF.
This year marked AdultDVDEmpire's 10th anniversary – and a major strategic for the company. In September, ADE and GameLink announced in a joint statement that both would no longer carry the DVDs of companies that cut exclusive VOD deals with other online providers, saying that such arrangements limit the purchasing options for potential customers. Was this move a harbinger of things to come, as consolidation of the offline and online sectors of the adult industry unfolds, and video companies consider exclusive vs. nonexclusive deals? Perhaps 2008 will tell.
ADULT WHO'S WHO
Envisioned as the MySpace for the adult Internet industry, AWW this year added significantly to its friends list, so to speak. Though it was launched in December 2005, 2007 was a breakout year for the site, driven by active marketing, high-profile participation in industry events and the frenetic energy of its front man, Derek Meklir. The well-traveled Meklir was near-omnipresent at industry events throughout the year, expanding awareness of AWW as he racked up frequent flyer miles.
January's merger with NakedSword set the tone for a year chock full of new deals, expanding markets and shrewd moves for VOD giant AEBN. From AVStage.jp – a new effort catering specifically to the Japanese market – to its affiliate deal with adult social networking site CrusingForSex.com, expansion and acquisition were the names of the game for AEBN in 2007. The company's non-VOD ventures, like xPeeps and PornoTube, also made the news regularly this year, settling in to the growing Web 2.0 trend.
2007 was a banner year for the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, the adult-industry- supported effort to combat child exploitation and child pornography. A host of new sponsors came on board to chip in toward the laudable efforts of ASACP, efforts which began to bear fruit in 2007 as never before. After years of working to increase the profile and credibility of ASACP in the mind of power brokers who operate inside the "Beltway," 2007 likely will be recalled as a true breakthrough period for ASACP.
Beate Uhse CFO Otto Christian Lindemann called 2007 a transition year for the German retailer, citing a financial turnaround that began with improved performance through the first half of the year. Central to this turnaround is the revamping of Beate Uhse's image and brand identity, as the company works to expand its appeal among women and couples to combat sagging adult DVD sales. In effect, the company's retooling could prove a case study for adult companies seeking to modernize in response to a changing market.
The year kicked off for Booble inauspiciously, when CBS rejected the adult search engine's bid to advertise during the Super Bowl. Booble played the rejection for all the publicity it was worth within the adult market, demonstrating a talent for turning lemons into lemonade. Booble's Girl of the Month competition racked up thousands of votes from surfers, and founder Bob Smart credited the contest with the company's best performing month to-date in July. The contest climaxed when Lisa Sparxxx won the Girl of the Year award in August – but not without some extracurricular controversy (see Lisa's entry on this list for more information).
It was a busy year of business deals, site launches, departures and homecomings for this Montreal-based affiliate program, starting with the return of Bruno B in January. While adult star Peter North got a new start with FameDollars, BrainCash and its subsidiary PremiumCash were at no loss for star power, launching new sites for director Jules Jordan, performer Jenna Haze, and sites in collaboration with popular adult studio Elegant Angel. The company's existing products got makeovers, as well, with new tours and promotional materials coming online for BrainCash's solo girl sites.
BRYAN KOCIS, HARLOW CUADRA AND JOSEPH KEREKES
Unquestionably one of the worst pieces of news to stem from the adult industry in 2007, the murder of Cobra Video owner Bryan Kocis has been pinned by prosecutors onto rival producers Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes. How the facts will play out remains to be seen, but even at this early stage, the sad saga has seen strange twists and turns – like Kerekes' claim that a potentially damaging conversation was captured by an electronic bug planted in a pair of Kocis' sunglasses.
With the number of billing services that have come and gone during the history of the adult Internet industry, the mere fact that CCBill continues to thrive arguably is reason enough for its inclusion on this list. CCBill also was on the industry's radar plenty in 2007, as the company continued high profile sponsorships at industry events. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also delivered CCBill some welcome news in March, when the court ruled that the company had not engaged in contributory copyright infringement as asserted in a lawsuit filed by Perfect 10 against multiple companies.
Best known for its eponymous TGP gallery submitting software, Chameleon Submitter had an active year in terms of development and new releases. In February, the company released version 4.01 of its submitter software, and followed with the release of its new Link List Submitter software, an update to its link confirmer software and a set of interactive tutorials released by the company in August. Each of the tools represents a major time-saver for the working webmaster, automating mind-numbingly tedious tasks into a straightforward and easy-to-use package.
ASSEMBLYMAN CHARLES CALDERON/ASSEMBLY BILL 1551
One of many non-adult entries on our list of newsmakers, California Assemblyman Chuck Calderon proposed AB1551, a proposal to tax virtually every manner of adult business located in the state, citing a need to raise funds to offset the "negative secondary effects" of such businesses. Staunchly opposed by the FSC and adult businesses throughout the state, the bill is currently idle – but far from dead – according to FSC Executive Director Diane Duke. As we turn the corner into 2008, even those industry players located outside of California should keep an eye on this bill; if passed, its impact undoubtedly will be felt far beyond the borders of the Golden State.
CITIZENS FOR COMMUNITY STANDARDS/ DANCERS FOR DEMOCRACY
These two groups fought a pitched battle with anti-porn forces in Ohio this year, a fight that lamentably included the invalidation of signatures gathered in an attempt to force a referendum on the so-called Community Defense Act passed by the Ohio Legislature in May. The effort was harshly criticized by the Ohio-based anti-porn group Citizens for Community Values, which among other things asserted that the CCS had adopted its name in order to confuse the public of the effect and intent of the petition they were being asked to sign.
Few adult companies got more attention from the press – adult and mainstream alike – in 2007 than COLT. In recognition of the studio's 40th anniversary, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome started a firestorm by issuing a proclamation celebrating the milestone, only to be pilloried by critics, especially from the far right of the political spectrum. "COLT Studio Day" was far from the only reason COLT was in the news this year, but the incident underlined in emphatic fashion how far mainstream acceptance of the adult industry has come – and just what the limits of that acceptance may be.
The runner up for the 2007 XBIZ award for IPSP of the year, CommerceGate struck deals throughout the year that expanded its reach considerably and poised the company to become an even more significant player in the months ahead. The company was particularly active in shoring up its presence in the GLBT sector in 2007, signing deals with industry leaders ManCheck, Cybersocket and Pistol Media.
CONNECTION DISTRIBUTING/MIKE MURRAY
Prior to October, much of the online adult industry likely had never even heard of attorney Mike Murray or his client Connection Distributing. Following the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling declaring 18 U.S.C. 2257 unconstitutional as a result of a lawsuit filed by Connection in 1995, however, Murray and Connection were on everybody's lips and minds. Murray's tireless work on the case, and Connection's commitment to keep that fight funded, benefited an entire industry in selfless and exemplary fashion.
With roots that reach back to 1997, Cybersocket has long been at the forefront of the gay sector of the adult entertainment industry, and in 2007 the company demonstrated once again its preeminence. The company's consistent sponsorship and hosting of industry events, its coveted web awards and established leadership in the GLBT sector clearly place Cybersocket among the most highly respected and most frequently referenced resources for information in the adult entertainment industry, bar none.
The beloved 'dirty old man' of porn just keeps coming – so to speak. It was Cummings' off-screen work in 2007 that distinguished him, however, as he worked the message boards to inspire webmasters to submit comments to ICANN as it considered approval of the .XXX ill-fated top-level domain. He also engaged in the same manner of grassroots campaigning to inspire comment to the Justice Department about the newly proposed 2257 regulations. Cummings' stumping for causes that benefit the whole industry is a perfect example of the application of enlightened self-interest – an example it would be nice to see followed, far and wide.
DIANE DUKE/FREE SPEECH COALITION
While Duke's tenure at the FSC began in late 2006, 2007 was her first full year at the helm of the adult industry's premier trade association – and a topsy-turvy year it was. While FSC lobbying efforts have begun to bear fruit and the organization is being heard within legislative halls as never before, Judge Walker D. Miller's administrative closing of the FSC's lawsuit challenging 2257 – paired with the 6th Circuit's ruling in the Connection case – contributed to a perception by some that the FSC has "failed" in its fight against 2257. As Duke and others at FSC have noted, the battle over 2257 is far from over, and the FSC most likely will head into court again relatively soon to take up that fight on the industry's behalf. All criticism aside – valid or otherwise – the FSC remains the industry's most viable representative on such issues, and the affable, even-keel Duke has demonstrated amply that she is well-suited for the difficult job of piloting the FSC ship.
Recognized for its filmmaking excellence by numerous organizations, Digital Playground continues to lead the way as an early adopter of communications and video technology. DP was among the first to announce the availability of content specifically geared for the iPhone, and in October the company announced its first release to be carried on a dual-layer, 30GB HD DVD disc. Of course, none of that would matter if DP did not also make movies that fans want to see – but if the reported sales of groundbreaking titles like "Pirates" are any indication, DP's pornographic appeal is every bit as strong as its technical excellence.
ActiveDuty.com and its owner Dink Flamingo are no strangers to controversy, particularly controversy surrounding men in uniform. Again this year, a soldier was discharged from the U.S. military after admitting that he had performed in a video published on the site; in 2006, seven paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were discharged for appearing in ActiveDuty.com videos. It wasn't all discharges and discipline for Dink this year, though, as evidenced by the debut of the FlamingoBucks affiliate program in August and the deal inked with NakedSword/AEBN in October.
If it seemed like you couldn't turn around without this leading adult novelty company releasing a new product in 2007, you are not alone. From waterproof vibrators designed for girls on the go to anatomically exact pussy and ass molds based on stars like Jesse Capelli and McKenzie Lee, Doc Johnson issued new products at a frenzied pace in 2007. On top of the new products, the company announced that it would be incorporating its proprietary antibacterial agent 'Sil-A-Gel' into its entire product line by the end of the year.
This full-service digital content encoding company struck several major deals in 2007, landing new clients like WantedList.com and NichePay, and partnering with MediaKey Inc. to allow Encoding.tv to offer the Microsoft-licensed digital rights management solution to its client base. As digital distribution increasingly becomes the name of the game in the adult content dissemination game, new clients are likely to be lining up at this service bureau's door, in lieu of facing for themselves the significant infrastructure costs necessary to perform encoding on a massive scale.
Epoch kicked off the year by announcing that it had at last acquired Epoch.com – a key branding maneuver that the company hoped would resolve some confusion over its dual operations on EpochSystems.com and Paycom.net. Other key acquisitions this year came in the human realm, where Epoch added years of experience in the form of two longtime industry figures director of business development Rainey Stricklin and affiliate manager Holly Ruprecht. Expanded business hours also were part of the mix for Epoch, a move designed to better serve its growing European customer base.
Little known (and little reported on) in the U.S., the Eros Foundation essentially is the Australian equivalent of the Free Speech Coalition in the U.S. As anybody who followed the developments with respect to the adult industry in Australia this year can probably guess, 2007 was a busy year for Eros, as it fought to beat back a proposed ban on adult content (and alcohol) in Australia's Northern Territories. Ironically, it was Eros that first reported to the Australian government that unlicensed and illegal adult content was turning up in the area, only to have the government turn around and propose a ban on legal adult content.
It was an active year in terms of product launches and promotions at EuroRevenue, as the program steadily added marketing tools, a new pay-per-signup payout option and a slate of new websites. Among its most interesting (and possibly eyebrow-raising) new additions was HeidiPorn.com – built around Eastside Studio's "Heidi" adult DVD series that was inspired by the Swiss literary character of the same name. In July, EuroRevenue announced that it had struck a deal with RevShare Hosting, securing instant growth through exposure to RevShare Hosting's dedicated webmaster base.
Although there was little development in its potentially momentous federal obscenity case, Extreme Associates still made plenty of waves in 2007. Owner Rob Black's announcement in September that the company would henceforth discontinue production of DVDs in favor of producing content strictly for online distribution sent shockwaves through the video sector, and left a lot of adult companies wondering if they should perhaps follow suit. Extreme met with disappointment when Judge Gary Lancaster (who had previously dismissed the case only to be overturned on appeal) declined to dismiss the case in August.
FALCON FOTO/ROB APGOOD
In a year in which copyright violation and what to do about it weighed heavily on the minds of many within the adult industry, Falcon Foto's legal action against Noble Developments (Porn Kings) showed that taking action through the courts is not always a futile endeavor, as some have suggested. As a result of the lawsuit, handled on behalf of Falcon by attorney Rob Apgood, virtually all of Noble's assets were acquired by Falcon Foto in partial satisfaction of a judgment that totaled $3.2 million.
FEDERAL APPELLATE COURTS
It was a particularly active year for adult industry-related legal action, and the nation's second-highest courts – federal appellate courts – fielded a variety of cases that greatly impacted the adult industry. To name just a few of the significant rulings this year, there was the 9th Circuit's rulings in the TorrentSpy case and in multiple cases brought by Perfect 10 (see P10's entry further down this list), the 6th Circuit's ruling striking down 2257 as unconstitutional, the 10th Circuit's ruling that use of the Internet is not sufficient to demonstrate engaging in "online commerce" and the 11th Circuit's decision upholding Alabama's ban on the sale of sex toys.
A 2007 XBIZ Award finalist for Affiliate Program of the Year in February, FetishHits continued to be a strong presence throughout the rest of the year, steadily adding new sites and promotional tools, frequently backed by aggressive bonus payout structures. FetishHits' new additions in 2007 included the program's first live show site at ItsLive.com and a BBW site built on exclusive hardcore content, BBWHunter.com. The program now offers 86 sites across 45 categories, including three sites aimed at the chronically under-served market for bisexual content.
FIVE STAR VIDEO/JEFFREY DOUGLAS/RICHARD HERTZBERG
One of the year's most significant legal stories turned out to be almost anticlimactic – in a good way. A combination of errors on the part of the prosecution and expert argumentation on the part of Five Star's attorneys Douglas and Hertzberg led to the dismissal of all charges against Five Star co-owners Ken Graham and Chris Ankeney, leaving just the two corporate entities (Five Star Video and Five Star Video Outlet) facing charges. The jury ultimately found one of the four DVDs they reviewed to be obscene (JM Production's "Gag Factor 18"). As of press time, the amount of the fine faced by Five Star had yet to be determined, and it is not yet clear whether the defense will appeal the verdict.
It was a tumultuous year for the company behind the popular gay voyeur feed site CocoDorm.com. The company sadly lost its vice president, Dekenric Wiley, who passed away in July. Legal wrangling with the City of Miami over the location of the CocoDorm house heated up in August, with the city and FlavaWorks filing opposing lawsuits; the city claims the dorm violates local zoning ordinances while the web company asserts that the city is seeking to impinge on its 1st Amendment rights.
After more than two years of absurdly difficult tribulations, Fred Salaff finally got his trial – and ultimately, his freedom. The American producer was jailed in Panama in 2005 on a set of dubious charges stemming from an adult video shoot for which Salaff believed he had secured all the necessary permission to conduct. After months of delays, governmental stalling and assorted forms of continuing harassment, Salaff finally got his day in court in June, during which he was found not guilty.
A year that began with the disappointing cancellation of its SnowGathering in Iceland took an upturn for FreeOnes.com, as the popular site proceeded to hit a number of impressive milestones in 2007. In May, the site posted it 100,000th link, followed by hitting the 2,500-site review mark in July and adding model No. 9,000 to its database in August. Along the way, FreeOnes made it into Alexa's Top 300, putting the site well on its way to its next goal cracking into the Alexa Top 100.
As ever, 2007 was a year of wheeling and dealing for GameLink, as the company struck new deals with Vivid-Alt, Kim Chambers and VideoSecrets, to name a few. In September, the company issued its joint statement with AdultDVDEmpire saying that neither company would carry the DVDs of companies that cut exclusive VOD deals with other online providers – a major strategic shift for the massive online retailer and VOD network. In October, the company announced that it had hired industry veteran Kevin Blatt to serve as GameLink's director of public relations.
GARY KREMEN/STEPHEN COHEN
Will the saga of Sex.com never end? It looked like 2007 might bring some closure to the affair when Stephen Cohen was brought into custody in late 2006, but at a hearing in February, Cohen continued to claim that he was destitute and had no money to satisfy the $65 million judgment that has been entered against him. For his part, Gary Kremen isn't buying Cohen's poverty claim, and has no intention of relenting in his pursuit of Cohen's assets. The story was given new life by the U.K. release of the book "Sex.com" in May, author Kieren McCarthy's take on the long, twisted tale of one of the Internet's most valuable domain names.
The trial of so-called "S&M Svengali" Glenn Marcus, the webmaster behind the BDSM site SlaveSpace.com, was in part a case study in how well juries sometimes do in separating out legal issues in a complex trial. While Marcus was found guilty on charges relating to sex trafficking and forced labor, he was found not guilty on obscenity charges. The prosecution's novel application of the forced labor and sex trafficking laws at trial, later upheld by a district court, has been appealed to the 2nd Circuit.
While the search engine – whose brand has become a verb – faced stiffer competition in 2007, especially from the aggressively marketed Ask.com, Google remains the most-used search engine in all of creation – which means that it remains the crown jewel of SEO experts, as well. Google continued to pile up major acquisitions in 2007, snatching up digital advertising mammoth DoubleClick for a reported $3.1 billion in April. Google continued to pile up wins in court, too, including more rulings in its favor in the Perfect 10 case.
The year began with HotMovies announcing that its collection of videos had surpassed the 60,000 title mark, with more than 1,400 studios represented, and the company continued to pile up new partners and new content as the year progressed. A couple of the more notable additions over the year included streaming the high endurance game show "Strip for Pain," and offering Sabrina Deep's 77-man gangbang on a VOD basis. HotMovies was generous in sharing the wealth, particularly where the FSC was concerned, raising nearly $30,000 for the trade association through its FreedomStreams promotion and direct contributions.
Hush-Hush started off the year with a branding facelift of sorts, changing the name of its affiliate program from HoDough.com to HushMoney.com. Numerous site launches and new contracts with directors, performers and other studios followed, as Hush-Hush announced deals with Black Market to promote that studio's content on new sites under the HushMoney label, and an arrangement with GameLink to provide the online store for Hush- Hush. More recent news involved possible legal action, as Hush- Hush took exception to the launch of HushEntertainment.tv – a site launched by the unrelated but similarly named Hush Entertainment.
The brand name iBill remained in the news in 2007 for all the wrong reasons. After a flurry of default judgments had been entered against the deeply in debt IPSP, parent company Interactive Brand Development began looking to unload the company. Thus far there have been no takers on that sale and the default judgments continue to rack up, including a judgment of $83,000 (that has ballooned to more than $100,000 with interest and attorney fees) awarded to Mana Internet Solutions in August. So far, there reportedly have been more than $52 million in lawsuit claims filed against iBill and $9 million in accrued judgments.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest stories over the last several years has been ICM Registry's ill-fated attempt to establish an .XXX sponsored TLD. After believing that it had secured approval from ICANN, and that final approval of its contract was a mere formality, ICM had its hopes dashed in March when ICANN voted to reject the ICM contract at a meeting in Lisbon, Portugal. ICM's severely disappointed president, Stuart Lawley, vowed to fight on by any means necessary, stating that the board's decision "makes a mockery of ICANN's bylaws' prohibition of unjustifiable discriminatory treatment."
2007 marks the year in which the best-known name in the business took a bow and exited stage left. Jameson announced in August that she had filmed her last adult video, ending a 14-year career that began with a 1993 appearance in Randy West's "Up and Cummers" series. Jameson might be done as a performer, but she has hardly left the adult industry, announcing in October that she will make regular appearances on Playboy Radio in a recurring role as cohost of a segment called the "Pa-Jenna Party."
JIM SCHAFFER AND JEFF KILBRIDE
This pair of adult Internet industry veterans was convicted in June on counts of conspiracy, fraud and transportation of obscene materials in connection with a large-scale spamming operation. Kilbride was sentenced to 6 ½ years, while Schaffer was hit with 5 ¼ years. Both were fined $100,000 and forced to forfeit $1.1 million in ill-gotten gains. Both have appealed their sentences and hired new attorneys in the case. Attorney Gary Kaufman, who now represents Schaffer, said he is "optimistic that our clients will be vindicated."
JM PRODUCTIONS/LOUIS SIRKIN
The lead-up was immensely longer than the trial in the JM Productions obscenity case. After months of anticipation and preparation, the government simply failed to make a case against JM Productions and its owner Jeff Steward. Once all the evidence had been put on the table, the government had to acknowledge that it simply had insufficient evidence to show that JM had sold the videos in question to Five Star, who shipped the copies of the indicted DVDs to FBI agents posing as customers. "We did what we were supposed to do as lawyers," Sirkin told XBIZ at the time. "We knew more about the law than the government did."
Unfortunately for Joe Francis, when he was depicted in the media in 2007, it was his mugshot more than his headshot that accompanied the story. The year opened with Francis being sentenced on 2257-related charges (he received fines and community service but no jail time), which was followed by being jailed for contempt of court, being indicted on tax evasion charges and criminal sexual battery charges, and facing multiple lawsuits. October finally brought some good news on the legal front for Francis, when it was announced that two of the women who had filed suit against him were dropping the lawsuit.
Derided by some as merely a self-promoter, Blatt did more of what he does best in 2007 – generate buzz. Making multiple appearances in the mainstream media, including appearances on CourtTV and the "Montel Williams Show," screening his movie "American Cannibal" and inserting himself into the mix in more celebrity porn tape scandals as a prospective broker of the goods, Blatt kept himself on the radar. In his professional life he made the transition from vice president of sales for PureVanilla to director of public relations for GameLink.
The announcement that Kink.com had acquired San Francisco's historic State Armory and Arsenal on Mission Street was met with decidedly mixed reviews. While some hailed the purchase as a shrewd acquisition of a valuable piece of real estate and prime location to film its BDSM content, some neighborhood activists were not so thrilled with the idea. There were plenty of other developments for Kink.com in 2007, as well, as the company unveiled live hi-def streaming of action direct from the movie set, appealed a patent office ruling holding that one of the company's domains (FuckingMachines.com) could not be trademarked because it was "obscene," and shot the comeback performance of legendary porn star Ginger Lynn in July.
Porn's most notable provocateur was at it again in 2007, outing more hypocritical Congressmen for their extramarital affairs by offering up millions in reward money for people to come forward with evidence showing they'd engaged in hanky-panky with a high-ranking government official. Flynt also made the media rounds after the death of friend and one-time courtroom rival Jerry Falwell, delivering thoughtful, forthright and at times touching commentary on the deceased preacher. After decades of industry leadership, Flynt remains at the forefront of the battle for acceptance of adult entertainment, putting his endearing audacity to good use at every opportunity.
If it had been up to Lisa Sparxxx, one of the primary reasons her name was in the news never would have come to be. Following the XBIZ Summer Forum in July, it was asserted that Sparxxx had stolen a wallet from one of her fellow attendees and attempted to use his credit card to pay her hotel bill. After a flurry of denials, accusations and counteraccusations, it appeared that the attempted theft had been, most likely, simply some manner of error on the part of hotel employees. While all the facts surrounding the incident still are murky, and may never be known in their entirety, Sparxxx went on to experience much better news winning the $5,000 grand prize in Booble's Girl of the Year contest.
What are a major media distribution company, a hotel chain and a Republican presidential candidate doing on our list of Top 100 newsmakers? Ask the likes of Citizens for Community Values – because it was the vocal complaints of social conservatives that equated all three with the adult industry in 2007. Marriot, through LodgeNet, offers adult movies in many of their hotels, meaning that both parties profit from the distribution of adult content, which has led some social conservatives to label them "white collar pornographers." As Romney used to have a seat on Marriott's board of directors, he remains directly culpable for Marriott's involvement in the porn business – or so goes the rather jumbled logic of the CCV, anyway. The CCV and other groups continue to pressure LodgeNet and Marriott to cease their adult-tolerant policies, but thus far the companies are unmoved and continue their highly profitable – and perfectly legal – distribution of adult content to their willing customers.
While LoveHoney's launch of Sex Toys TV and initiation of the Rabbit Amnesty recycling program certainly were noteworthy, the biggest story of the year relating to the company was Procter & Gamble's claim that the company's references to the Oral-B electric toothbrush in advertising for the Tingle Tip Electric Toothbrush Clitoral Stimulator and Brush Bunny Electric Toothbrush Rabbit Vibrator constituted trademark violations. While the company thought the P&G claim was a stretch, it agreed to drop reference to Oral-B in its advertising as a precaution.
This year may have been the last in which adult fans will see frequent blogging on industry-related subjects by the dean of porn gossipers. Luke Ford announced in October that he was selling his LukeIsBack.com domain and distancing himself from the adult industry, saying his life was stuck in a rut. "I need to shake things up and go in a new direction," Ford said. Earlier in the year, Ford talked blogging with the L.A. Times and was profiled by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
It was a year of many significant business deals for the gay adult pay-per-view service, as MaleFlixxx inked deals with the likes of Titan Media, Adam Male, Manhunt.net, Lucas Entertainment, Private Media, BelAmi, Lucas Kazan, Factory Video and COLT Studio. The were also the first gay adult company to mount a major advertising campaign on billboards in Toronto, coinciding with the city's Gay Pride Month celebration in August. Maleflixxx also stepped up its support of industry associations like the FSC and ASACP, hosting fundraisers, making direct donations and encouraging others in the industry to adopt the ASACP's Restricted To Adult (RTA) label.
Paul Little, better known as Max Hardcore, again found himself in the crosshairs of government prosecutors in 2007, who entered a 10- count indictment against the adult producer in May. The government has made it clear they're out for blood in the case and are seeking forfeiture of a variety of Little's assets and property, including his home in Altadena, Calif. Little was unflinching in decrying the indictment, asserting that "all Americans, whether they watch adult material or not, can rely upon our vigorous defense in this case, fighting for the rights of all adults to view material they so choose."
This irrepressible gay adult star was at his audacious best in 2007, even as he faced trademark and copyright infringement claims from International Media Films over his movie "Michael Lucas' La Dolce Vita." Anyone comparing his "La Dolce Vita" with the 1960 Federico Fellini film of the same name "would hardly confuse me with Marcello Mastroianni," Lucas said, and the "half-naked kissing guys around my image" also might provide a clue that the film is not a mainstream production, Lucas said at the time.
One of several high-profile obscenity indictments to occur this year, MoviesByMail.com was indicted just days after Max Hardcore was indicted on obscenity charges in relation to some of the same videos. The Cleveland, Ohio-based owners of the site find themselves facing charges in Utah, where according to court documents, MoviesByMail delivered some 683 packages in 2006. Those deliveries, said MoviesByMail co-owner Sami Harb, "tells me somebody [in Utah] wanted them … I guess the people who want to buy [adult movies] don't count."
While its site launches, awards received and new business deals were plenty newsworthy, what really caught people's attention where Naughty America was concerned was the announcement in October that a representative of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration had visited the set of a Naughty America production. NA's Dusty told XBIZ at the time that people had blown the news out of proportion. "They came over, they asked us [for] what it was they wanted to see, we provided that and everybody was happy and went along their merry way." Still, the incident might prove a troubling harbinger, according to attorney Michael Fattorosi, who told XBIZ that it was "basically a matter of time until California gets its head out of the sand and starts looking at this industry."
It was a year of ups and downs for Boulder, Colo.-based New Frontier in 2007. While the company reported a net income increase in June, it reported a decline in first-quarter revenue for the year and saw the departure of a key management figure when CFO Karyn Miller resigned in May. According to CEO Michael Weiner, the company remains on solid ground, and the company continued to strike major deals, including an agreement to broadcast the entire library of Private Media's content on its VOD and PPV properties.
NORM ZADA/PERFECT 10
It was a tough year in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for Perfect 10, as the company and its founder Norm Zada had decisions go against them in several major cases. In March, the court upheld a lower court's ruling that CCBill and CWIE had not engaged in contributory copyright infringement. In May the 9th Circuit issued another ruling largely unfavorable to P10 and lifted a temporary injunction preventing Google from displaying thumbnail images of P10 content via its image search function. In July, the court issued a divided ruling in which the majority absolved VISA, MasterCard and other credit card companies, holding that they too were clear of liability for contributory copyright violation. In a strongly worded dissent, Judge Alex Kozinksi derided the majority's ruling as "some very new – and very bad – law" and predicted that the "opinion will prove to be no end of trouble."
While PimpRoll regularly made the news with its frequent launching of new sites, unquestionably the biggest news relating to the company this year was the acquisition of Porn.com by PimpRoll affiliate MXN Ltd. Purchased at a reported price of more than $9 million, Porn.com figures to be a major part of the company's future efforts. "There are estimates that Porn.com gets 50,000 unique hits a day through type-in traffic alone," Don of PimpRoll told XBIZ. "The name brand is so strong in itself; it's the ultimate portal."
For adult Internet "old-timers," one acquisition that really caught the eye was the purchase of Mark's Bookmarks (Book- Mark.net) by PlatinumBucks owner Platinum Dave. The long-running free site reportedly clocks more than a half-million unique clicks per day – a serious amount of traffic by any measure. Dave also acquired the domain Bookmark.com, which is currently being operated as a mirror of Book-Mark.net. While Dave has big plans for the sites, he told XBIZ he isn't going to rush anything. "I'm trying not to tip the boat too much at first to preserve the surfer's experience," Dave said in March. "I'm aiming to turn the site into more of a portal with chats, reviews and other sticky activities. It will be a slow transition."
If Playboy's marketing efforts were a presidential political campaign, the motto might be "It's the brand, stupid." As the definitive adult lifestyle publication continues to struggle somewhat in its publishing and broadcast divisions, Playboy's licensing revenues have climbed steadily. As the company looks to expand further into international markets, capitalizing on its globally recognized brand elements – both the Playboy name and the omnipresent bunny logo – appears to be central to the future of this venerated adult industry trailblazer.
PORN POKER TOUR
What happens when you mix adult webmasters, alcohol, poker and cash prizes? Boatloads of fun, huge crowds and the occasional stiff left hook to industry veteran Ramos' face. The PPT is doubtlessly among the most popular recurring events to accompany adult tradeshows in the industry's brief history, right up there with winging around foam boobs on the last day of Internext Expo. This happy conversion of major entertainment trend and networking event looks to be going strong as we head into 2008. All in!
PRIVATE MEDIA GROUP
Europe's best-known adult brand continued to do what it does best in 2007 – make great movies featuring some of the hottest women in porn and sell them all over the planet. Private struck deals to increase the scope of its mobile distribution, bolster its VOD presence in the U.S. and improve its IPTV development prospects in Europe. All the while, Private continued to report strong revenue performance, despite a drop in its DVD and magazine sales.
A new arrival on the adult scene in 2007, Pulpo says it aims to bring mainstream production values to the world of X-rated features, and its initial releases exhibit every indication that they are succeeding in that goal. The critically acclaimed "Black Worm" wowed the crowd when it was first shown at the Adult Entertainment Expo in January, and by all accounts, its follow-up, "Dolores of My Heart," is equally impressive.
What began as a hopeful year of new acquisitions and key hires appeared to turn south later in 2007 for the anonymous billing solution Pure Vanilla. When the service hit the 10,000 member mark in June, Pure Vanilla took on a healthy outlook – until September, when it was announced that the company had set a freeze on new customers and would not be processing rebills using credit cards until it had investigated what the company described as violations of its merchant agreement by multiple merchants. Scant details concerning the situation were made available by Pure Vanilla at the time, and as of press time, there has been no further word on the outcome of the company's internal investigation.
The last bit of major news out of PurePlay in 2006 related to a 2257 inspection conducted of the company by the FBI late that year, an audit which happily went very well. The outlook for PurePlay continued to be sunny in 2007, as the company struck deals with SilverCash/Silver Sinema, HomeGrown Video, Score and HellHouse Media. Pure Play was recognized as Best New U.S. Distributor at Berlin's Venus Fair Awards in October.
To give some idea of the runaway pace of this company's growth, ImLive.com celebrated its 9 millionth member in early July, and by late October, the company already was celebrating the site's 10 millionth member. The rapid growth can be attributed to the company's continued aggressive marketing posture, including a long-running bonus payout rate of $125 per signup for the site and regular giveaways of such high-ticket items as Porsche Boxsters – a car valued at just under $50,000.
RAY GUHN/LARRY WALTERS
While the case still has not gone to trial, there was plenty of action in the criminal case against Clinton McCowen, better known to the adult web industry as Ray Guhn. Thus far, little has gone McCowen's way, as the court has denied motions to dismiss, motions opposing Florida State’s change of venue to Santa Rosa County and motions arguing that the state lacks jurisdiction over McCowen's websites. Despite the setbacks, McCowen's attorney Larry Walters told XBIZ that he is optimistic about his client's prospects, and believes that a higher court will overrule some of the decisions made by Judge Ron Swanson in the case so far. "I do not see how the Florida [obscenity] statute applies to the Internet, at all," Walters told XBIZ.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
The acquisition of new celebrity sex tapes and the launch of a new affiliate program marked the highlights of 2007 for Red Light District. In August, RLD rolled out RedLightRevenue.com, an effort headed up by industry veterans Laurel Hertz (director of marketing) and Jon Berg (vice president of Internet operations), themselves relatively new arrivals to RLD. In late October, RLD announced that it had obtained a sex tape featuring the infamous Amy Fisher, dubbed the "Long Island Lolita" by the mainstream press back in the 1990s.
Although the operational details of strip clubs might not be deemed newsworthy by many in the adult industry, the financial performance of this publicly traded company could say a lot about the growing acceptance of adult entertainment nationwide. Rick's representative Allan Priaulx told XBIZ that new acquisitions are a large part of the equation, as the "gentlemen's club industry is in a roll-up model, with independent clubs being sold to larger groups … We're leading the way there, having acquired six clubs in the last year."
RON JEREMY/XXX CHURCH
While it was their debate series held at colleges and other venues across the country that grabbed most of the headlines relating to Ron Jeremy and the XXXChurch in 2007, one particular post-debate incident drew the most buzz. After a drunken driver caused an accident by swerving in front of the bus carrying Jeremy and his debate adversaries, Jeremy posed for a quick snapshot with one of the Massachusetts state troopers called to the scene. The trooper subsequently found himself in hot water with the state police, who were said to be "reviewing the trooper's behavior."
While this large adult dating service should be enjoying the spotlight for its tremendous revenue growth over the years, the primary reason for its inclusion on this list is a lawsuit that appeared to have some frightening potential implications – until the court threw it out for lack of an actionable claim, that is. When attorney Dean Boland first announced the lawsuit, which was brought by an adult male who had been arrested for having sex with an underage girl he met through the dating site, some wondered whether the case could blossom into serious trouble for the entire adult dating sector. The court did not find Boland's arguments persuasive, however, and tossed the case out in August. The plaintiff appealed the case to the 6th Circuit; as of press time, it is not clear whether the appeals court will take the case.
While the year was chock full of business developments for Shane's World, including the company's new foray into the gay market, undoubtedly the biggest story surrounding the company in 2007 was legal at heart. When the FBI dropped by for an inspection of the company's 2257 documentation in May, by all accounts the company sailed through without a hitch. Given that out of the 29 companies inspected through press time, only four have come away with no violations cited by inspectors, Shane's World had reason to pat itself on the back for its diligent record-keeping habits.
While it had to be disappointing to be ruled against by the 11th Circuit, and to have her case denied certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court, Sherri Williams remains undeterred in her long-running battle for the right to sell sex toys from her Alabama storefronts. In October, Williams told XBIZ that she would continue to sell sex toys in violation of the law, as a form of continued protest, and she hopes that when she begins her next round of litigation, some of her Alabama adult store peers will chip in on the effort. "[They] basically have been riding on my shirttails for 9½ years," Williams told XBIZ. "It depends on them."
A longstanding leader in the adult affiliate program sector, SilverCash made serious strides in other markets in 2007, starting with the launch of its Silver Sinema DVD line in April, the company's first foray into the arena of hard goods. More recently, the company announced the addition of mobile content on its membership sites, allowing users to download content from the program's 100-plus websites to their mobile phones through the MobiMetrix platform. Under the guidance of a senior management staff with decades of combined experience, SilverCash appears well-placed for continued growth in 2008.
There was a decidedly classic feel to the news from SmashBucks this year, as the company struck content deals with Caballero and Legend Video, bolstering its collection of popular titles from yesteryear. It was not a year without controversy for the program, though, as SmashBucks' Mike Hawk was smack in the middle of the hubbub surrounding apparently false claims that Lisa Sparxxx had stolen a webmaster's wallet at the XBIZ Summer Forum in July.
Online sex toy retailer Stockroom.com expanded its reach significantly in 2007, both by advertising in non-adult publications like the satirical newspaper The Onion and through strategic acquisitions. In April, it was announced that Stockroom had acquired the San Francisco-based fetish clothing and toy store Stormy Leather, and later the company opened a Stockroom/Syren storefront on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The L.A. store kicked off in impressive fashion, with a grand opening gala featuring a latex show put on by burlesque performer Diamondback Annie and fetish model Courtney Cruz.
was all about celebrities for SugarDVD, as the company bid on multiple celebrity sex tapes and even generously offered to assist one rapper to win his wager with a rival emcee. The Kim Kardashian tape was the first that SugarDVD bid on this year, ultimately losing out to Vivid, who snared the tape for a reported $1 million. Next up was SugarDVD's attempt to acquire a tape created by "Laguna Beach" reality show participants Lauren Conrad and Jason Wahler (the company later withdrew its bid for the tape), followed by the company issuing a lifetime SugarDVD membership to Flava Flav. Finally, in September, the company offered to buy 250,000 copies of rapper 50 Cent's album "Curtis," to assist 50 Cent in his bet with rival rapper Kanye West, if 50 Cent in return would agree to wear a SugarDVD T-shirt (at all times) for a year.
Having already conquered the adult website review space, in January TheBestPorn announced a new venture that would put the reviews in the hands of the people whose opinion matters most – the customers. With the launch of PornUsers.com in January, TBP opened a direct line into some of the most valuable feedback available for paysite operators and a mere three months later the site had reached the 1,000-review mark. It's no accident that XBIZ now features a section dedicated to data obtained through PornUsers.com, given the value of the information. As VegasKen, marketing director for TBP, told XBIZ in April, "Our users are active purchasers of online adult content and are looking to find their next purchase. When webmasters or affiliate managers are consistently active on the site, they are giving themselves a definite competitive advantage."
While ThePirateBay.org name doubtlessly was uttered by many an adult webmaster in 2007, odds are that it was preceded or followed closely by a string of expletives. The Swedish BitTorrent site was pilloried for everything from widespread dissemination of copyrighted adult content to carrying ads for adult sites in connection with search strings clearly related to child pornography.
In a year in which content theft and copyright violation were on the minds of many in the industry, gay content studio Titan Media was among the most active in terms of enforcing its intellectual property rights. Titan announced in January that it was pulling its content from NakedSword, citing a conflict of interest because of an ongoing legal action against AEBN, with whom NakedSword had recently merged (Titan and NakedSword later were "reunited" in a VOD deal struck in June). In February, U.S. Marshals raided two New York video stores following a successful lawsuit initiated by Titan and several other studios. Finally, in October, Titan filed suit against Gilbert Michael Gonzales and 21 John Doe defendants for copyright infringement.
For this respected affiliate program, the year began with owner Kevin Ho receiving the XBIZ Award for 2006 Businessman of the Year, and through the course of 2007 the company continued to exhibit the qualities that garnered that recognition. Between its flagship affiliate program and its bustling DVD-sector branch Pink Visual, the company released a flurry of new products, and a new beta version of the TopBucks program itself. On the legal front, the company continued to battle the federal government over allegations that the company had violated the CAN-SPAM Act. A federal judge has ordered the two sides to come to an accord to settle the action. According to a quarterly FTC litigation status report dated Sept. 30, the negotiations had not concluded as of that date.
TotemCash hit several major milestones this year; including reaching the 15 million downloads mark for its VirtuaGirl2 desktop software, and a to-date aggregate of $20 million in affiliate payouts. The company and its affiliates also reaped the benefit of Totem's proprietary geo-targeting platform this year. According to Totem owner Rex Excoffier, application of its geo-targeting system improved conversion rates for VideoHub.com, VirtuaGirl2.com and VirtuaGuy2.com by 7 percent, across the board.
Major growth in personnel, revenue and reach marked the year for one of the industry's most enduring and respected traffic brokers, as TrafficDude made key hires and struck new deals that substantially increased its portfolio of publishers. Included in the new personnel were industry veterans Danielle "Twinkley" Waid, Patrizia "Trixxia" Gentili and Lucie "Lulu" Drouin. TrafficDude co-founder and CEO Scott Rabinowitz continued to be in demand as a speaker at industry trade events, where he consistently delivered well-reasoned advice based on well-documented data.
It was in large part a year of brand-maneuvering for Twistys in 2007, as the company in March trademarked the Twistys.com name, and later the same month announced that it had changed the name of its affiliate program from TwistysCash to ShapCash, to better reflect the extent of the program's offerings. The company also made a key acquisition in June, purchasing the long-running TGP Babes4Free.com from Dream Media Inc.
Between the continuation of 2257 inspections conducted by the FBI, the FTC's enforcement of the CAN-SPAM Act and the Bush administration's behind-the-scenes meddling in ICANN's review of the proposed .XXX top-level domain, 2007 saw a level of interaction between the U.S.-based segment of the adult industry and the U.S. government on a level that unlike any since the close of the Reagan administration. Some of what used to be entirely hypothetical fodder for attorneys speaking on adult industry seminar panels crept into the real world as never before this year, especially where 2257 was concerned. Despite the victory for Connection Distributing in their 2257 case before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, all indications are that the larger 2257 battle is far from over, and 2008 is shaping up to be another year in which the industry and the government become better acquainted – whether we like it or not.
While 2257 and obscenity cases grabbed the most attention among legal issues facing the industry in 2007, so-called "Child Protection Registry" proponents like Unspam Technologies continued to push for more states to adopt legislation establishing do-notemail lists – and new contracts to operate the registries. The FSC lost a round in its lawsuit against the Utah CPR in March, when U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball declined to issue a temporary injunction prohibiting the Utah CPR from operating until the case had been fully litigated. FSC was undeterred by the ruling, and Executive Director Diane Duke told XBIZ at the time that the organization was "not content to let the CPR decision stand."
The "old" met the "new" for VCX in 2007, as the company continued its acquisition of classic adult titles, including a deal struck in January in which the company obtained the rights to NuTech Digital's Cal-Vista line, covering 63 classic titles. In July, the company officially launched its affiliate program, VCXCash, kicking things off with a bikini contest at the XBIZ Summer Forum. In September, the company took its classic titles to the pay-per-view market, launching VCXLive.com in conjunction with the Evotum video platform.
VS started the year in grand fashion, launching a revamped version of its affiliate program coming off its 10th anniversary celebration at the Playboy Mansion. Later in the month, VS announced that it was expanding its relationship with Playboy, incorporating promotion of PlayboyLive.com into the VS affiliate program. In July, VS announced that it was partnering with fellow industry pioneer GameLink to establish GameLinkLive.com, GameLink's first foray into the live chat market. In October, the company doubled its broadcast staff and increased the size of its customer and affiliate support staff, as well.
The winner of the 2007 XBIZ Award for Web Retailer of the Year, WantedList garnered mainstream media attention from VH-1, which in January featured the company's co-founders Anh Tran and Danny Ting on its celebrity lifestyle show, "The Fabulous Life." Partnerships with the HeatSeek adult browser to set up an online store and the retaining of encoding service Encoding.tv signaled a desire to expand the company's horizons, adding new hard product sales and VOD/PPV to its revenue streams.
One of the adult video world's best-known brands, Wicked made headlines regularly throughout 2007, starting in January when the company became the 10th adult producer to have its 2257 records inspected by the FBI. In March, the company made its long-anticipated plunge into the affiliate-driven online market with the launch of WickedBucks, offering sites built on exclusive content featuring Wicked's popular contract stars. In April, Wicked made news on the media technology front, when "Curse Eternal" became the first 1080p HD DVD adult title to hit the market.
WORLD WIDE CONTENT
WWC significantly expanded on its list of content sources in 2007, signing new deals with the likes of Video 10 Distributors, Celestial Productions, Shots Video, Erotic City Entertainment, Rapture Entertainment, Venom Inc., Net Video Service, Latin X and Bohemia Studios. In July, WWC launched version 3.0 of its website at the XBIZ Summer Forum, adding substantially improved search functionality and augmented order tracking to its catalog site.
XOnDemand got the year started by announcing that it had partnered with long-running affiliate program Adult Revenue Service to launch XXX Streams Unlimited, giving ARS site members access to the full run of XOnDemand's VOD library. Later in the month, the company announced a partnership with another industry old-timer, InterClimax, in launching the new movie site SinCityFlix.com.
While OCCash made the news in its own right many times throughout the year, it was the company's irreverent madcap front man, XXXJay, who was a one-man promotional machine in 2007. While many of his efforts had no direct commercial application, Jay stayed on the radar in a big way in 2007, plying his penchant for partying into an entertaining (and, at times, alarming) series of blog posts that proved to be engaging reading for webmasters and the general public alike. Love him or hate him – there appear to be few opinions that land between the two – Jay's antics definitely made him one of the top attention-grabbers of the year.
"Zango" – the very utterance of the word is enough to make many adult webmasters erupt in a profanity- laden tirade. While the adware product wasn't directly in the headlines of the adult media much in 2007, it was a near-constant topic on webmaster boards and behind-the-scenes discussions between webmasters pondering just how much traffic and money they may have lost due to the widespread distribution of Zango.