Playing ‘Hot Potato’: Adult Biz Tries Not to Get Burned

Stephen Yagielowicz

Wikipedia will tell you that “Hot Potato” is a fast-paced, high-pressure children’s party game that involves players gathered in a circle, tossing a small object such as a beanbag or tennis ball [originally a “hot potato” it seems] to each other, while music plays. The player holding the “hot potato” when the music stops is eliminated from competition — with the game continuing until only the winner remains.

A similar game once played out in stereotypical shoots, back in the day, where porn producers played cat and mouse with law enforcement: bouncing back and forth from one seedy motel room to another, or to “safe houses” that provided the studio space and shooting locations that they needed — all while trying to stay a step ahead of the vice squad.

Predictably, many of those who are responsible for an adult website’s traffic flow are taking the obvious route of courting Google’s relatively insignificant rival, Bing, as a visitor source.

This story is once again playing out, but on a different scale, as an exodus of adult entertainment firms is travelling across the desert, fleeing an onerous tax and regulatory scene unfolding in Los Angeles for the bright lights and promises of Sin City — Las Vegas, Nevada. It is difficult to deny. While I won’t point any fingers, various principals and stakeholders in a growing number of companies are taking up residence around Las Vegas — where as in L.A., fresh talent and fun times are abundant and in never-ending supply.

While few observers would contend that L.A. lacks hedonistic flair, Sin City takes it to the extreme; oozing sexuality from every pore and exuding an outward vibe that is (at least superficially) conducive to adult entertainment.

If you want to have a good time, go to Las Vegas.

Regardless of any other factors, the change of address will offer a refreshing shot in the arm that many companies and their owners need today, and may invigorate some stagnating operations, bringing new creativity, enthusiasm — and dare I say it, “hope” — to the survivors of the industry’s ongoing shakeout.

It’s that whole “get a fresh start” mentality, where positive thinking can work wonders.

I’ve lived in Las Vegas myself (and would always consider moving back), but this is 2014, and one would be hard pressed to find anyone working in the adult entertainment industry today that is moving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, as part of the general ebb and flow of human migration. For porners, the path has become a one-way street that points east.

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

The adult entertainment industry isn’t moving from “Porn Valley” to Sin City on a whim: it is primarily a response to mandatory “condoms in porn” legislation and other OSHA-related actions that were in large part instigated by activists and special interest groups — whose many arguments could not be overcome by the objections of the industry and its trade group, the Free Speech Coalition, which took up the fight.

It is a complicated question in a litigious age, but the practical upshot is that the industry cares for the welfare of its performers — it has to, these people are the inventory that make up porn’s produce and as such represent an investment, which like any other crop, needs cultivation and protection.

Against this backdrop, it may be hard to reconcile the realities of a business that features so high a level of bodily fluid exchange that hazmat suits would be worn in other industries, with its demands for adults freedom of informed consent, based on effective testing and prevention regimens, and personal choice.

Not everyone supports freedom of choice, however, or more specifically, other people having a choice.

From workplace safety inspections to adherence to the film permit process, general business licensing issues and more, adult companies across California are being chased away from their historic homeland; in part by a well-funded foe that promises to pursue the adult industry and force condom laws upon it, wherever it turns up — whether it is Las Vegas, Miami, New Hampshire, elsewhere in the U.S. or even if it moves overseas.

However well intentioned (or cynically calculated) the intentions of these activists, their meddling in the affairs of private companies in an already well regulated industry is a sign of the times; and while public pressuring of porn is nothing new, the recent uptick in it shows a regressive swing-back of a cyclical pendulum that pits practicality against politics, and progress against Puritanism.

Online Adult Plays “Hot Potato,” Too

While many of today’s adult entertainment production companies also have web distribution channels of their own, there are companies that operate entirely within the online realm that face challenging or contentious issues of their own and are turning to playing Hot Potato as a coping mechanism: exercising speed of action and wishful thinking as an alternative to a more sustainable plan.

Nowhere is this trait more obvious than in the context of the current Google delisting dilemma, where changes in the search giant’s policies are further strangling the flow of quality traffic to adult websites.

Predictably, many of those who are responsible for an adult website’s traffic flow are taking the obvious route of courting Google’s relatively insignificant rival, Bing, as a visitor source. There are two problems with this plan, however: First, Bing has a fraction of Google’s audience, so this swap is akin to putting a bandage on a severed limb. Secondly, the changes occurring at Google are not happening in a vacuum, as the same “morality” activist forces that are taking credit for Google’s pullback from adult also have their sights set on Bing and other adult traffic and revenue sources, echoing the similar “whack-a-mole” approach used by the AIDS activists that vow to push pro-condom legislation wherever producers run.

Of course this isn’t the first time that online adult firms have raced to drop a hot potato, such as the many affiliates and programs that moved away from sagging pay site sales to focus on cams and dating, or those who embraced tube sites (including those operators that publicly decried tubes, while making back room content and traffic deals with them). These maneuvers suggest that the pie really isn’t big enough for everyone to have a share — so if you’re hungry and want some, it doesn’t pay to let others know which slice you’re eyeing.

“Adapt or die” is such an overused sentiment in adult that my use of it here will certainly draw winces from many readers, but the strategic movements exemplified by those operators that are moving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas — or from Google to Bing — are clear signs of corporate adaptation in hopes of future success, while enjoying the satisfaction of “doing something” about their current plight today.

Unfortunately, these at best temporary victories may be short-lived, as one hot potato or another will surely come back around.