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GAYVN Summit Notebook

Joanne Cachapero
With the gap between video and online rapidly shrinking, the inaugural GAYVN Summit focused on topics spanning across industry lines.

Evolving technologies, targeted marketing, content production for changing distribution formats and legal issues were discussed in seven panels over two days.

Coinciding with the 2007 GAYVN Awards, held for the first time in San Francisco, the Summit was conducted at the W Hotel.

Turnout for the seminars was varied, giving participants a chance for discussion and networking in a less crowded environment than at other B2B shows.

The opening seminar focused on marketing. Moderator Mark Hovanec of Jet Set Productions discussed the rapid expansion of the gay market, particularly online, and the challenges presented by an increasingly competitive marketplace.

"You don't get instant success like you did 10 years ago," said Hovanec, echoing the sentiments of many online producers, both gay and straight.

In terms of branding, Lisa Turner of Badpuppy.com talked about making direct contact with the public at consumer shows, pride celebrations and nightclub promotions. Although well established, Badpuppy uses print and online advertising to maintain visibility, Turner said.

Epoch Billing Systems' Rand Pate urged vendors to use built-in marketing features offered by billing companies to convert more sales. As an example, Epoch's program offers consumers purchase upgrade options at several points during payment processing.

Maleflixxx's Mary Gillis pointed out the importance of defining and refining potential markets through the use of online statistical tools.

"Every click you put between your consumer and the purchase is a distraction," Gillis said. Using Google Analytics and similar programs as a means to track customer usage, she explained, keeps companies in touch with fluctuating consumer trends.

Gillis also talked about recent changes with search engines like Google that sometimes quash controversial keywords and phrases. She suggested carefully choosing keywords that emphasize content without being overly explicit and to also find someone at Google "to rant and rave at," as she has done over such words as "fisting" and "twinks."

The Tech Time seminar covered a wider view of developing technologies and distribution formats.

Many midlevel and smaller content producers with limited resources have difficulty simply establishing an online presence using in-house support and don't have access to technologies such as video-on-demand and mobile. Panelists urged taking advantage of beneficial partnerships with experienced content providers in order to access new forms of distribution.

TLA Video's Erik Schut said: "It comes down to knowing what your needs are. You have to figure out what you want to be."

Venturing further into the corporate mainstream, a seminar in effective negotiation was presented by non-adult industry consultant Jerry Gerstel, whose list of clientele includes Bechtel Corp., ADP and Honeywell.

The State of the Industry seminar saw a host of professionals from various sectors and was moderated by Cybersocket's Morgan Sommer.

Gay Behind Straight?
In terms of being over-saturated, Pulse Distribution's Janet Tamborelli said that the gay market is several years behind the straight market. She noted that lower-priced gay titles were doing well for the company, driven by younger, less affluent but tech-savvy consumers who are turning to VOD and other downloadable content.

However, Tamborelli explained, the traditional DVD market has yet to feel any significant effects from VOD or consumers burning content to discs. In fact, she said, consumers previewing content online might lead to increased retail sales.

NakedSword President Tim Valenti said the challenge for video producers is to get up to speed on technology, while online producers need to raise their production value after years of getting by with mediocre content.

Saturday's seminars started with a legal roundtable featuring several well-known industry lawyers including Robert Apgood, Jeffery Douglas, Reed Lee, Gregory Piccionelli and moderator Clyde DeWitt.

With brief attention paid to 2257 concerns, Lee discussed last year's regulation changes a result of the Adam Walsh Act and detailed the Free Speech Coalition's continuing effort to seek injunctions.

On the subject of obscenity, which Douglas referred to as a "crime without definition," he noted there was not a single stand-alone prosecution of gay material for obscenity. In general the material most closely looked at by federal authorities, according to Douglas, has a "very strong misogynistic bent to it — aggressive, violent and demeaning."

DeWitt pointed out there have been several obscenity prosecutions against gay film pioneer and distributor Steven Toushin, who was inducted into the GayVN Hall of Fame later that night.

Piccionelli advised the audience on obtaining copyrights and trademarks in order to protect exclusive content, while Apgood explained the options for legal recourse in cases of copyright infringement and online piracy.

A hot topic, DeWitt commented that "copyright infringement cut music industry profits in half in four years, and that's going to happen in this industry."

Speaking from the audience, Gil Sperlin, legal counsel for Titan Media, pointed out sites like Rapid Share and PornoTube raised serious issues in the battle against file-sharing and illegal downloads. Titan is currently involved in a lawsuit against AEBN, the parent company of PornoTube.com, over copyright infringement.

Perhaps the most anticipated panel of the show was the Director's Download, featuring well-known producer/ directors Doug Jefferies of Channel 1 Releasing, Steven Scarborough from Hot House Entertainment, Lucas Entertainment's Michael Lucas and Thor Stephens of Thor Productions, with moderator Chi Chi La Rue keeping a lively pace and fielding questions from participants.

Raffi Vartanian of WorldWideContent.com asked about trends for straight-to-web distribution. Scarborough replied that he sees a market for platform-specific content and will be launching a site with scenes shot exclusively for the Internet.

"You do your fans a disservice if you don't cut out what isn't needed," Scarborough said.

As for the components of a successful adult feature film, all the panelists agreed that the common denominator was good, hot sex. La Rue advised that "sometimes sex can save anything," including a bad script, poor lighting or terrible acting.

Asked if it's difficult to consistently produce artful movies, Lucas replied: "It's a great genre, an important genre. But it's not art, so I don't feel it's difficult."

The question of bareback content was posed by LavenderLounge.com's Mark Kliem. The topic provoked strong reactions, with opinions split between personal ethics and the reality of potential sales revenue.

There was some dispute about how much bareback content influenced the market, it was speculated that as much as 60 percent of shelf space is given to bareback material in retail outlets.

"You go ahead and watch whatever you want…" La Rue said, but followed by saying he would never watch or produce a bareback video. Last year, La Rue left a directing gig at Vivid because of the company changed its policy from condom-only to condom- optional.

When the question of HIV testing for the gay industry came up, Lucas supported the performers' right to discreet disclosure, saying, "I really think it's wrong to ask for this paper because it's a private issue."

Finally, Maleflixxx founder Michel Lozier stood up from the audience and offered an opinion. After speaking to distributors, retailers and consumers internationally, he felt convinced that bareback was niche content, like any other specialty genre, and not likely to take over the gay market anytime soon.

The last seminar of the Summit was presented by Joan Irvine, executive director of the ASACP, on the topic of RTA (Restricted to Adults) labeling for adult websites. With only a dozen people in attendance, Irvine noted that most participants were probably getting ready for the evening's award show and taking a "disco nap."

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