Mainstream Crossover

Alex Henderson
Much has been written about major figures in adult entertainment who have crossed over to the mainstream in some respect. Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner have had plenty of business pursuits that were not erotica-related, and altporn icon Joanna Angel writes a column for Spin magazine. But what about those who have done it the other way around — those who crossed over from the mainstream business world to the adult entertainment industry? With the adult industry having grown, expanded and prospered so much in the 1990s and 2000s, more people are wanting a piece of the action; as a result, more people from heavily mainstream backgrounds are now holding full-time positions at adult companies.

Examples include Michael H. Klein, who is now president of LFP Broadcasting and LFP Internet Group but also has Showtime and iN DEMAND on his résumé; Gary Thoulouis, who once operated a mainstream nightclub in Miami but is now marketing director for the Barcelona, Spain-based Private Media Group (Europe's largest adult company); and Mark Hamilton, who built a strong résumé in the hospitality industry before becoming an LFP/Hustler executive and subsequently co-founding the adult video-oriented Pulse Distribution.

Law to Big-Time Porn
And one of the most interesting mainstream-to-adult crossovers of all is Avi Bitton, who is now Wicked Pictures' chief technology officer but spent many years working for the U.S. government, where he was in federal law enforcement before shifting his focus to technology and developing computer systems for the Department of Homeland Security.

When Klein went to work for Larry Flynt, he had been in broadcasting for 25 years and had a diverse corporate history that included high-level positions at Playboy Enterprises (where he spent five years) and at such big mainstream places as SpectraVision/OnCommand, American Movie Classics and Bravo.

"I've been going back and forth between adult and mainstream," Klein explained. "At LFP, I'm still dealing with studios; I'm just dealing with different studios. Before I came here to LFP, I was dealing with all the mainstream Hollywood studios such as Universal, Paramount and Fox — and now, I deal with adult businesses such as Evil Angel and Red Light."

As profitable as the adult industry is in 2006, one word that still comes up frequently in connection with adult entertainment — at least in some circles — is "stigma." There are still those in the mainstream business world who would like to get into adult entertainment on some level but fear that being labeled a pornographer will hurt their reputation among mainstream business associates. For example, one Los Angeles-based entertainment and intellectual property attorney (who asked that his name not be used in this article) told XBIZ that he often has given serious consideration to making adult films but has refrained from doing so because he does not want to risk losing mainstream clients.

Whether having the names of adult companies listed on one's résumé is a plus or a minus depends on who is reading the résumé. Klein has found his contacts in mainstream broadcasting to be open-minded about the adult industry; spending half a decade at Playboy, Klein said, did not mean having to work at adult companies exclusively after leaving Playboy.

"When I hire people here at LFP," Klein said, "I always tell them that I worked at Playboy for five years before going to mainstream companies. Obviously, the five years I spent at Playboy didn't prevent me from working at mainstream companies after that. You're always going to have people who have concerns about going to work for an adult company and ask, 'What happens when I look for my next job? What happens if I leave LFP and I want to look for a job at a mainstream company? Are people going to hold it against me that I worked at Hustler?' But I know plenty of people who have gone back and forth."

Crossing over to adult isn't necessarily done on a full-time basis. In some cases, people from heavily mainstream backgrounds may decide to start adding people from the adult industry to their list of clients. A very good example is Los Angeles-based accountant Joshua M. Kleinman of the firm Solomon, Winnett & Company; Kleinman has told XBIZ in various interviews that having adult-oriented clients in addition to mainstream clients simply makes good business sense. And another prime example is Martin P. O'Malley Jr., who heads the L.A.-based investment firm Plan B Investments. O'Malley, a member of the Free Speech Coalition as well as the National Association of Security Dealers, has been a securities broker for 18 years, but it is only in the past five years that he has made a point of pursuing clients in the adult industry — a decision he is glad he made despite facing some major challenges.

"Members of the NASD are called broker dealers, and my previous broker dealers prohibited me from participating actively in the FSC and the adult entertainment industry," O'Malley recalled. "My previous broker dealers had the final say on what I could do and what I could not do, and they ordered me to stay away from the adult industry. But I'm not going to walk away from business, so it became apparent to me that if I wanted to stay in the adult entertainment industry, I would have to open up my own broker dealer."

O'Malley, who maintains a combination of adult and mainstream clients, described opening the NASD-approved Plan B as a process that was "arduous, expensive and tedious," but despite the expense — and despite losing some mainstream clients — he felt that the adult industry was too lucrative to stay away from.

Won't Give Up Adult
"I had made inroads in the adult entertainment industry, and that wasn't something I was willing to give up," O'Malley said. "People in the adult industry need investment services as much as people who are not in the adult industry. Their dollars are just as green as everybody else's dollars. So why discriminate? But I can tell you that the stigma against the adult industry is very real. It's definitely there."

Author Frederick S. Lane, whose books include "Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age" and "The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture," predicts that in the future, the adult industry will continue attracting people from mainstream business backgrounds, especially if the social acceptance of erotica increases. Many people in mainstream corporate America, Lane explained, are looking for ways to profit from adult, though they often are discreet about it.

"I think these mainstream companies, particularly the ones that are publicly traded, are sensitive about becoming involved with adult because they risk embarrassment, shareholder objection, that kind of thing," Lane said. "But at the same time, I think they are conscious of the fact that the profit margin in the adult space is much better than it is elsewhere, and that's pretty attractive."

Lane added: "One of the things that is happening is that as the adult industry becomes more diverse and more businesslike in general, there are going to be jobs associated with the industry that are not as stigmatized as others. There is a big difference between doing accounting for an adult firm and being in front of a camera."

Because the adult industry has been so technology-driven, Lane said, it is only natural that some mainstream people with strong technology and computer science backgrounds will be crossing over to adult. Bitton is a perfect example. Before Wicked, he had no association with the adult industry and had spent most of his career working for the federal government. But after the UCLA graduate left the Department of Homeland Security and started looking for high-tech opportunities in the private sector, his wife suggested sending résumés to adult companies. Wicked president Steve Orenstein was impressed with Bitton's technological skills and hired him.

"I think Steve found my background intriguing," Bitton recalled, "and he appreciated the irony of the fact that I had worked in Homeland Security and was applying for a job at a porn company. I haven't met anyone else in the adult industry who worked in federal law enforcement."

Bitton went on to say, "A lot of the technical people I know in adult have always been in adult, but I think there is an enormous opportunity for mainstream technical people to come over to adult — people with formal engineering backgrounds, people with strong computer science backgrounds, people who understand terms like 'computational complexities.'"

The Draw: A Good Company
Klein stressed that when all is said and done, the adult business is exactly that — a business — and well-run businesses will attract talented people whether their focus is erotic entertainment or something else.

"I think that in the past," Klein noted, "more people were reluctant to make that transition from mainstream to adult and thought, 'Well, I don't know if I want to make that transition because I don't want people to pigeonhole me as someone who can only work in adult.' But I don't think you see that as much anymore, especially with adult being on the forefront of so many new technologies and new formats on the Internet. For me, the bottom line is what types of skills and knowledge a person has to offer — and strong business skills are strong business skills, regardless of whether a person is working in mainstream or adult."