The year started out typical enough at Internext with the 3rd Annual QFest gay webmaster photo shoot party, followed by three nights of Cybersocket parties and the 2005 Cybersocket Web Awards. But with so many new webmaster shows added to the annual schedule, companies are pressed to spread their time, money and resources to get the most impact.
The inaugural Gay Phoenix Forum, held in October, was, by all accounts, a success, and we're likely to see more companies saving their sponsorship dollars for a show that is dedicated 100 percent to their market. Gay companies are also expanding their show plans to include smaller shows like Island Gathering, Webmaster Access events and the Qwebec Expo, as well as shows in Amsterdam, Budapest, Berlin and other European events. More gay companies also are exploring options with traditional straight companies and seeking out that business at smaller events.
The Gay Phoenix Forum featured three days of parties, events, seminars and networking and boasted nearly 300 attendees from around the world. This marks the first multi-day conference dedicated exclusively to the gay market, and attendees included the usual show-goers and a host of first-time webmaster event attendees. Both gay companies and straight companies working in the gay market showed up to learn and network, and everyone seemed to come away from the event with something new. Virtually everyone I've spoken with is looking forward to a repeat performance in 2007.
At the forum, Cybersocket held its 2006 Cybersocket Awards at Amsterdam, a local gay club. Hosted by Chi Chi La Rue, both industry and surfer's choice awards were handed out to PrideBucks.com for Best Affiliate Program, BadPuppy.com for best Megasite, BrokeStraightBoys.com for Best New Site, NakedSword's Tim Valenti for Business Person of the Year, Men4SexNow.com for Best Hook-up Site and MaleStars.com as Best Celebrity Site, among others.
The first XBIZ Summer '07 Forum featured no shortage of gay webmaster events, with nightly Cybersocket co-sponsored parties and a jam-packed NakedSword/Falcon Studios party, and the Hollywood show slated for February has gay companies signing up for sponsorships, planning parties and booking flights.
Internext's summer show saw a decrease in gay parties and attendance, but the show's only gay event, the final-night Bon Voyage Bash, was packed, and many gay webmasters said the show was beneficial for them.
Lawsuits, Scandals, Scams
In July, gay companies learned they weren't immune from the government's attack on adult content, when a small production studio in Bethlehem, Pa., was the target of a 2257 inspection. J.J. Ruch's Sebastian Sloane Productions reportedly passed the FBI's scrutiny after agents scoured records in his home office, but he has since reported that he's leaving the adult business because the increased government regulations weren't worth the hassle.
Gay porn star Brent Corrigan stirred some trouble with Cobra Video and Pacific Sun Distributing after he stated that he'd falsified identification documents to star in four best-selling videos while underage. Pacific Sun issued a warning to all retailers to immediately remove the videos. Corrigan, now 20, launched his own website this year, BrentCorrigan.com, and starred in Falcon's "Velvet Mafia" 2006 release.
In another legal scuffle, Toronto's Untangled Web, also known as BananaGuide.com, filed suit against Digital Ventures, the operator of gay affiliate program AmateurStraightGuys.com, for alleged unpaid affiliate earnings estimated at about $24,000. It seems the Arizona-based gay company allegedly stopped paying affiliates sometime in 2006, and from the buzz on various gay webmaster boards, it would appear that Untangled Web's suit may be the first of many. Digital Ventures stated through its attorney that the company intended to pay past debts and has since closed its affiliate program.
Various other battles and scandals hit the gay market in 2006, but the claims that newcomer Pulz Productions allegedly scammed companies out of thousands of dollars will most likely be remembered. Pulz entered the gay marketplace midyear and was soon shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for sponsorships, site acquisitions, content, hosting and more, but it has been reported that most of what was paid out was allegedly charged back or determined to be paid with fraudulent credit cards. The gay webmaster boards were all on fire with people coming forward with their "I was scammed by Pulz Productions" stories. Pulz owner Reece Dylan made various statements that it was all a big misunderstanding and everyone would be paid. Shortly thereafter, he disappeared amid rumors that he was arrested in Spain. While Dylan has been silent, the subject is still a popular topic on webmaster boards and at webmaster events.
In other market shockers, the gay industry was reeling with the announcement that Patrick Curran, a longtime senior vice president at CCBill.com, was leaving the billing company for competitor Paycom. The move incited lawsuits from both companies, though after the initial statements on webmaster boards and to industry publications, the hype seems to have died down, and the billing companies have gotten back to the business of billing.
Startups, Changes, Growth
The market also saw significant growth this year with new companies emerging, others expanding and new ideas turning into successful ventures. Various new sites and affiliate programs were launched in 2006, including RainbowRevenue by SicCash producers, MuscleBucks.com, GayGravy, Bear Film's WoofCash, HelixCash, GayGreenBacks, GayPrizes.com and AEBN's gay social networking site qPeeps.com.
Traditional straight companies also have been expanding their gay site offerings, including new productions from TopBucks, PlatinumBucks, PussyCash, VideoBox and more.
Other companies refocused efforts, formed new strategic partnerships and improved their offerings. PrideStudios revamped and re-launched content store BoyContent as PrideContent.com, and NakedSword partnered with Lucas Entertainment for LucasOnDemand.com. AVN also began publishing GayVN, a print publication dedicated to the gay market, and announced plans for a GayVN Summit to be held next year in San Francisco.
October brought an interesting announcement from CorbinFisher.com that it would be closing its affiliate program to the public and retaining only its top 5-10 percent of affiliates. Marketing Director Brian Dunlap told a somewhat shocked panel at the Gay Phoenix Forum that the decision was made to focus efforts on a smaller but more productive group of affiliates.
Various gay companies celebrated anniversaries in 2006, including Cubik Media (parent company of NakedSword), which celebrated 10 years in business. MaleFlixxx turned five, TLA Video hit 25 years of business, Freshman Magazine has been publishing for 15 years, HunkHunter.com turned 10 years old, and Jason Sechrest's sex talk show "Young and Curious" celebrated four years of shows.
The market also saw some significant job changes, hirings and departures. Besides the aforementioned move for Curran from CCBill to Paycom, BadPuppy's Bill Pinyon announced plans to step down as president of the company to pursue a lifelong dream of flying; Robert Sons moved from AEBN to head the gay division at SilverCash, Jake Myers left Cybersocket, Mark Dwyer left MenOnTheNet for JakeCruise.com, Reena Patel left NakedSword and eventually landed at Kink.com and Aly Drummond left the industry.
Blogs, Review Sites
This year gay webmasters found new goldmines in blogs, review sites and social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube. Previously, many webmasters committed much of their time to creating and posting thumbnail galleries to drive traffic to affiliate programs, but in 2006, we saw a huge surge in the popularity and success of personal and corporate gay adult blogs as well as the emergence of various gay review sites and personal networking sites for and about performers.
As opposed to traditional TGP traffic where most surfers are looking for all the free content they can get, blogs and reviews focus more on paysites, including features and benefits, generally making the traffic much more valuable.
There's no doubt that 2007 will bring increased competition in the blog space as well as the refinement of adult social networking sites. Those who have established themselves early in this space will likely benefit the most. The threat to these models is the trend of fake reviews and blogs generated solely to promote specific sites that could lead to the loss of credibility for authentic projects.
Rainey Stricklin is the vice president of marketing and webmaster relations for gay affiliate program PrideBucks.com.