They've read a few stories about Pink TV's original programming, which takes mainstream formats like soap operas, game shows and reality programs and makes them hardcore entertainment. They've heard about the crumbling Miami warehouse turned into a gleaming production facility where naked girls hang out in the Voyeur Lounge. They've read news of the launch of PinkTV.com.
And they've seen lots of references to Jan Verleur, the boy wonder who, at 27, has already been through a lifetime's worth of sales and IT careers and now claims he's creating "the HBO of adult entertainment" and plans to take over the world with an army of naked women.
Pretty big talk for a guy whose U.S. distribution of original programming is currently limited to a few hotel chains and a website. But the more you learn about Verleur, the less grandiose and the more attainable his vision seems.
Anyone as advanced as Verleur in empire-building is blessed with brains, ambition, imagination and luck. The Netherlands-born Verleur, who grew up outside Philadelphia, certainly hit the jackpot in the gene pool: His father, a Ph.D. in physics who developed innovative systems for a Fortune 500 company, contributed tech genius, and his mother, who owns a chain of high-end boutiques, provided the business savvy.
"I got the best of both," Verleur said.
Mom and Dad shared the wealth, though. Verleur's siblings all hold advanced degrees and include a doctor, a corporate executive and the owner of an engineering firm.
Verleur left high school at 15 and attended Penn State, but, too antsy to sit in a classroom, he left college after a couple of years and went into business, moving from straight sales jobs to fields that brought together his marketing skills and computer know-how. By 20, he was selling complex IT systems in Florida and supervising a crew of men in their 30s.
"I'd sell stuff based on what the company could afford because nobody knew how the hell to price anything," Verleur said. "Then the engineers would have to build it."
Verleur's youth turned out to be a business asset. "I'd go into a corporation and not get taken seriously," he said. "That was the perfect part because if they don't take you seriously, they don't see what's coming."
By the time Verleur began to explore the adult industry, he had started a company to develop high-end business software and had spent time in India as an outsourcing consultant. In 2003, he opened Verleur Capital Ventures in Miami, with holdings in several industries, including concert promotion and real estate.
The following year, Verleur invested in a friend's adult production company, Single Cell Entertainment, which produced hardcore scenes for websites, and added the company to his fund. As he investigated the adult industry, though, he realized that the new acquisition was a money loser. With investors anxious not to have a dud in the portfolio, Verleur needed an idea that would make Single Cell viable.
He bought the production company outright in December 2004 and came up with his concept for Pink TV weeks later.
"I began to get more and more enthralled by the industry and realized there was a space for us," Verleur said. "Between August 2004 and March 2005, I went from one foot in the door and one foot out to 'I am Pink TV' and a lot of people thinking I was nuts."
Verleur liquidated all his other investments and poured $2 million of his own money into Pink TV. Then he persuaded other investors to kick in millions more.
"All these guys who wouldn't have touched adult with their third cousin's money said, 'Wait a minute.'" Verleur said.
"We were put off at first and didn't want to be associated with it," one of Verleur's investors said. But the tune of those familiar with Verleur's track record changed as they came to understand the profits to be reaped in the adult world, which Verleur presented to them as recession-proof and spacious enough for new ideas. Besides, they knew Verleur, and they knew where he came from.
"What we were looking at more than anything was Jan Verleur," the investor said. "He has a brilliant intellect and a knack for making money — he's the Bill Gates of porn."
In fact, as he is for so many in tech circles, Gates is an important role model for Verleur.
"I've read all his books," Verleur said. "Anyone in the tech world should look to Microsoft; it is great technology and a great business."
Step by step, since early 2005, Verleur has been turning his vision into reality.
"I've always been a big aficionado of the convergence of the television and the computer," he said, an interest he claims goes back 10 years. "We want to offer true convergence," with eventual TV viewers able to click on a Pink TV ad and purchase the product at that moment or chat live with girls as they hang out in the 25,000-square-foot Miami studio.
Verleur said he prefers living and working in Miami because he and his partners are "all Miami guys." Also, Miami has become a hub for the adult industry. After scouting such cities as Los Angeles and Budapest, he also established a Pink TV office in Prague, which Verleur called "the European capital of adult," filled with production companies, talent agents, support staff and "the most beautiful girls in the world." The Prague installation, though, contains the nuts and bolts of Pink TV's technical operations, Verleur said, while "Miami is our showroom."
PinkTV.com went online earlier this year and currently offers live chat, time with girls in the studio's "voyeur rooms" and video from a large library of hardcore scenes and Pink TV's original programming. It's constantly evolving, Verleur said, with an ever-changing team of designers charged with bringing his ideas to life.
"A website is a living entity," he said.
The Pink TV website averaged about 4,200 unique visitors a day in October, and has had around 450,000 since its May 1 launch. So far, about 2,300 visitors have become paid members, Verleur said. PinkTV.com has partnerships with 18 major ad sites and has opened portals for a few of them. So far, Verleur has resisted the idea of signing up affiliates.
Under the name Heat TV, Verleur's company has obtained a broadcast license for hardcore porn that gives him access to the majority of European markets, where Pink TV's original films and episodic series are shown on a pay-per-view basis. Verleur said he plans to have the programming on European subscription cable channels within six to eight months. Pink TV also has seven hotel chains, including three in the U.S., under contract to offer the programming as video-on-demand.
Although earlier reports had Pink TV beaming into American homes by the end of this year, Verleur said his target date for launching Pink TV on American cable is now pegged at around mid-to-late 2007.
The issue, he said, is one of technology. The U.S. has the fiber-optic infrastructure to carry interactive television, but the set-top boxes necessary to carry his proprietary technology aren't on the market.
"We're having to backpedal to meet [technological] needs," Verleur said, adding that even next year, the machinery won't be in place for true interactivity. "The providers just aren't up to par yet."
Markets in the European Union are more fertile ground for Verleur's operation right now because television technology has outpaced that in the States. He added that it's easier to get a foothold in Europe because the entertainment industry is based on regional markets and is more segmented in business structure, with less corporate consolidation.
But when the stateside technology is in place, Verleur will be ready with the hundreds of hours of content he's produced during the past two years that fulfill his vision of wedding hardcore action to mainstream production values. Since Verleur, by his own statement, is "not a content guy," he hired the best he could find in the adult and mainstream entertainment worlds to put together his shows. Pink TV's top three production staffers came from HBO, Telemundo and MTV, and the films and episodic programs are based on real scripts with real dialogue.
"How many porn companies employ writers?" Verleur asked.
"It is one of the most thrilling rides you can ever imagine," Colin Rowntree, CEO of BDSM site Wasteland.com, said of working with Verleur. His company made the series "Into the Mist," which Pink TV calls the first BDSM soap opera, shooting at what Rowntree called a "very intense" pace that was more like mainstream filmmaking than a porn shoot, with early-morning makeup calls for the actors and 12- to 14-hour days.
Rowntree, who has become one of Verleur's business partners, and his crew all appreciate the higher expectations.
"I like to work on a more artistic plane than just shooting gonzo," he said, and "the stars can sink their teeth into some actual acting."
Bryan Clinger, operations manager for Pink TV's Miami facility, told XBIZ that Verleur is a good boss. "If you have an idea, you can go directly to him; he encourages that," Clinger said, adding that while Verleur is a fount of programming ideas, he has incorporated a number of staff-generated concepts.
"His drive is insane; he's completely motivated by his vision," Clinger said. "He expects a lot, but he gives a lot in return."
Married and the father of two small children, Verleur has to spend a lot of time away from his family when he's taking care of business in Prague, acknowledging that his frequent absence "puts a lot of strain on the family," strain that he tries to reduce by spending as much time as he can at home and keeping in touch by videophone.
"There's an element of sacrifice in any business," Verleur said. "I share the same ideals as my parents; at the end of the day, I'm very old-fashioned about being a provider."
Although Verleur left college out of boredom and has held many different jobs, he said he isn't worried about getting bored with Pink TV. "It's the most fun company I've ever worked on," he said. "It feels like I'm back in the dot-com era. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm still doing this 10 years from now."
Verleur also isn't concerned that after almost two years, Pink TV is just "approaching profitability" and is lagging a bit behind the time frame reported for its programs to hit the airwaves.
"We're in no hurry — we're a well-capitalized company," he said. "I want to make each platform profitable one by one."
Besides, nothing bespeaks confidence in your own vision more than putting all your liquid net worth into it. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't believe in it," Verleur said. "I wanted to build something that was long lasting and would become a brand. Pink TV isn't there yet, but we're getting damn close."