From flattening DVD sales, to talk of the outright extinction of the DVD format in as few as five years, to changes in the cable marketplace, everyone is struggling to make sense of new distribution platforms — and few have a clear picture of what lies ahead.
The times, says Marc Bruder of Cable Entertainment Distribution Inc. (CED), are changing — fast.
"We're trying to counsel producers as much as we can, but [the cable market] is unclear. They now want movies that integrate a story line where we never leave the sex," Bruder says from his Santa Monica offices.
Adult programmers such as Playboy and the Spice networks, in an attempt to appeal to the 18- to 35-year-old demographic, "are looking at things that are not necessarily story-driven anymore and getting into stuff that they were opposed to buying in the past, such as gonzo and wall-to-wall and different fetish lines that aren't too much over the top," Bruder adds.
A broadcast distributor's job today, Bruder insists, is to deliver sex in a "fast and affordable" manner with as much skin and debauchery as possible.
"Give me a 90-minute movie with nothing but sex scenes and have a very thin story line establishing why these people are having sex — nine times out of 90 minutes — and I've got a hit movie."
And "hit movie" is, in distributor's parlance, a vast and varied phrase.
Chop it Up
"I'll use interspersal scenes in handheld devices, Internet clips, webmaster downloads, anywhere and everywhere," Bruder says, explaining how content is repackaged. "Our job as distributors and producers is to make that content accessible, available and affordable to the consumer without too many middlemen in between, like aggregators and agents and program suppliers. We want to get to the consumer as good as possible."
In certain Asian territories, Bruder reports, porn on handheld devices is all the rage, and he sees in the future "a disc the size of a quarter where you will be able to store three 90-minute movies and you can play the disc on your big-screen TV or on specially designed eyewear with an earpiece."
CED has been a leader in adult distribution since the company opened its doors in 1988.
"We were there when producers were delivering three-quarter-inch masters for pay-per-view that were 50-minute movies that showed topless nudity only from triple-X pictures," Bruder recalls.
CED's clients include U.S. PPV and pay cable (including Playboy, Spice Networks and CSB), hotel and lodging (including Hospitality Network and Lodgenet) and international delivery services (Sky Latin America and Globosat, among others).
The company has worldwide distribution rights to the infamous Paris Hilton sex tape, "1 Night in Paris," and their list of producers reads like a who's who of the adult film industry: Adam & Eve, Wicked Pictures, Extreme Associates, Hustler, Legend, Rodney Moore, Max Hardcore and others too numerous to mention.
Distribution used to be about video, broadcast, lodging and the Internet. Now distributors are throwing porn all over the place like fistfuls of pennies, squeezing the last dollar out of every movie they can get their hands on, which means more money for all involved and the further saturation of an already-saturated marketplace.
More Sex, Less Story
Every aspect of adult distribution, Bruder laments, is in flux, and it is the heady demands of the 18- to 35- year-old end user that is driving the change.
"Younger [demographic] means sex and rock 'n' roll and quick satisfaction, like MTV — constantly in your face," he says. "And that's what I see the programmers are looking for because, taking a lesson from the Internet, people are buying clips. Are they buying clips of people engaged in dialogue? No. They're buying clips of people fucking. Sometimes just the climax scene or the blowjob for the climax. Is the adult aficionado any different on the Internet than he is on pay-per-view or VOD or a hotel room? Usually not."
The end user, Bruder believes, has become very sophisticated and very sex hungry.
"As many different genres and categories as there are, our consumers want those categories and demand them. They know more about these actors and actresses and what they want than the producers do."
So, is a film school wunderkind with an eye on becoming the next Paul Thomas doomed in this changing climate? Not necessarily, and not if he can churn out one title per month, as long as the story is scant and the sex is plentiful. On the other hand, with all the various ways a movie can be chopped up, it may take some time before you see any profits.
"You have to be fast [in getting the content] to the next market," Bruder says. "You've got your DVD going out probably [the same] day and date with pay-per-view. [Say] you sold 2,000 units, and you get $10 apiece — you've made $20,000 on your DVD. You've been out there for 45 days, and then the market starts for pay-per-view. Pay-per-view plays for about two or three months; you've probably made another $20,000-$30,000 on it. Then satellite picks [it] up, like Playboy and other [satellite services] in hotels; you make another 20 grand on that. You license the foreign rights for DVD and for broadcast rights that are still available that Playboy didn't take. [There are] 80 million subscribers all over the world, and then you've made another $10,000 for the rest of your rights. [If it] cost you about 40 grand to make this wonderful movie that was good enough to go to Playboy and hit the hotels, you probably made double your money. And it probably took about a year, and most of your money came at about eight months."
With so many delivery channels, Bruder says, the demands of getting a movie ready for each channel can be overwhelming.
"[Most producers] make two or three [DVDs] a month, like Legend makes eight a month," he says. "You've got to get [the content ready for] the next monthly schedule and broadcast, and that means all these systems: Internet, handheld devices — everything, immediately."
There is, Bruder says, only one constant in the world of adult distribution: "Everything changes."