Private Expands Digital Campaign

John Stuart
When Peter Cohen was hired as the new chief operating officer of Private Media Group in September 2006, the company already was among the international leaders in the production and distribution of adult DVDs and magazines.

Cohen's mission was to take that established firm and completely revamp it to meet the awesome technological changes taking place now and over the next few years.

Cohen accepted the challenge and began a major facelift of the Barcelona, Spain-based company.

"We've ramped up our strategic priorities for the company to be focused predominantly on new media and digital content distribution," Cohen said. "This is really the future of the company in terms of where we see our growth. At the same time, we're using more aggressive, creative marketing and promotion for linear distribution of our DVDs and magazines, which is the core business where the company began."

Redesigned Site
One of Cohen's first decisions was to totally redesign the website, with an eye toward making it significantly more surfer-friendly.

"We made it much more robust in terms of the amount and variety of content, the ease of navigation and the overall consumer experience," Cohen said. "We made it easier for the consumer to get what he wants without too many cumbersome interfaces. Our new website is easier to navigate and our downloading is better. Our billing systems are improved and more secure and we've created community strategies that really have been effective.

"I think this change was needed because to be successful online you continually have to fine-tune yourself. There's too much competition out there and we want consumers to look at as a home they can continually come back to."

The results of the website re-launch, which took place only five months ago, has been nothing short of amazing. has enjoyed a significant boost in traffic and in the amount of time visitors spend online, according to Cohen. Most importantly, the conversions of visitors to membership is up, which has prompted Cohen to plan more new presentations, which he said will be up and running by the fourth quarter of this year.

The most impressive customer feedback regarding the improved website has involved the innovative blogging feature that allows visitors to communicate directly with Private's stable of directors, producers and performers.

"It's creating interesting dialogue," Cohen said, "because it allows customers to get to know the director and the performers. It can go from very basic information to pretty personal information. We're expanding that feature on because the response has been really strong. It gives the consumers an opportunity to interact with the content that they usually watch in just two dimensions, making it a three-dimensional experience.

"Then, when the new films come out, it creates a very loyal fan base and a place for them to have a voice. I think that's very important for us because we look at the Private consumer base as a community, and when it expands rapidly as we enter new-media platforms, it's a nice thing to create dialogue with our consumer base."

And those new-media platforms are the crux of Private's future plans. Already a major player in Europe's Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), Private strengthened its position in this new media late last May when the firm signed a deal with France's Club Internet IPTV platform to make its content available through video-on-demand. Private's strategy is to have its content available to 90 percent of French IPTV subscribers by the end of this year. France currently is one of the world's largest IPTV markets.

"We've had great success with our IPTV distribution with most of the major players across the European Union," Cohen said. "That's been one of Private's biggest success stories over the last 12 to 18 months. We've got early real estate on all of the platforms, with significant growth projected in terms of getting more shelf space and increased buy rates on most of the platforms that we've launched on in the last year and a half.

"Long term, IPTV is going to be a very major platform for consumers to find the content they want, particularly in the markets where IPTV is being launched by well-financed TelCos to compete with cable and broadcast, offering triple-play services."

Cohen's new-media gambit already has paid amazing dividends. Last April Private Media Group's annual earnings report revealed that new-media sales accounted for an astonishing 49 percent of the company's overall earnings, boosting total sales by $1.87 million over the previous year.

"We are one of the leading providers in the wireless base now," Cohen said. "We just hit a new landmark number in that we're in front of more than 750 million handsets worldwide. We're in approximately 35 countries with more than 70 live carriers. What's compelling about those numbers is the upside of what that represents from a revenue standpoint. It's the same thing with VOD and IPTV. We've taken the approach of doing a real estate grab and getting as much distribution in the digital space on the new-media platforms that we can. We know there are new platforms that will take time to build out, but these platforms project very heavy growth over the next two to five years."

Worldwide Strategy
This patient planning by Private extends beyond Europe to South America and the U.S., even though the American market has been lagging far behind in new-media platforms like IPTV. Cohen believes this is due to the longstanding dominance of cable in the U.S., which has made it difficult for telephone companies to build an infrastructure in this arena that has access to consumers.

But America is the world's largest market, and when IPTV catches on domestically, Cohen intends to have Private ready to cash in.

"We're well positioned to expand exponentially in the U.S. market over the next 12 to 24 months," he said. "One of the first things I wanted to do when I joined Private was to refocus on the U.S., because we've concentrated mostly on the E.U. and South America. We already have significant distribution of our DVD product in the U.S. and we've been in discussion about a re-launch of Private in VOD, IPTV and wireless, which we believe will slowly open up with the U.S. carriers. We'll provide uniquely compelling product for the U.S. market. It's dominated by some very good U.S. production companies, but they're all quite similar in their offerings. We come in with a different look and feel in our content, because we're more Eurocentric in our style. It's very distinct from the major offerings that the consumer gets in the U.S., and that makes it a huge opportunity for Private."

In preparation for its new-media blitz around the world, Private — already boasting of one of the world's largest archives of adult content — is increasing its library on the average of 10 new releases per month, according to Cohen. The firm already is known as an industry ground-breaker, having been one of the first to plumb the former Eastern Bloc countries, in places like Prague, for new actresses. Its productions are noted for their scripted storylines and exotic locales, under the solid direction of industry veterans like Antonio Adamo and John Stagliano.

But since Cohen's watch began, new directors like Tony Ribas and the Czech-based team of Moire' Candy are giving Private's productions an even fresher look. The latter directors, Lois Moire' and Max Candy — whose signature style is making features that resemble rock music videos — are in the midst of a deal with Private to produce 11 movies this year. The success of their earlier movies "Kill Thrill" and "Private Dive" convinced Cohen to ink them.

"They are extremely innovative, they're young, and they use some of the best-looking new girls we've ever seen," he said. "Their first series of films will be released in the fall and the first quarter of next year.

"We're continually looking for ways to improve our productions with new directors, more compelling scripts and new actresses. We've always been very innovative in breaking new ground and finding new presentations. I think it gives the consumer a richer look and feel in a world of a lot of cheaply made white-label content. With all the data we've got, our product is more appealing."

Maintaining the quality of Private's productions is vital to Cohen, because he believes it's the best way for a branded studio to stay relevant in what he calls the "very cluttered environment" of online adult content.

Free Online Content
"There's a lot of free content online and that will keep everybody in the business on their toes," he said. "It's an environment no different than the music industry, with peer-to-peer file sharing, and that's a challenge everybody must stay keenly aware of."

When it comes to comparing adult to the music industry, Cohen knows whereof he speaks. Prior to taking his new position at Private, he was in programming and production in the music business, focused on interactive music video programming for broadcast and online delivery. Prior to that, he had a lengthy history in the cable business, involved in everything from marketing and sales to programming and production.

Having lived in Europe several times before, Cohen didn't find it difficult to make the move from Miami Beach to Barcelona, which he describes as an "international city with just about the same environment and weather."

The big transition for Cohen was moving from mainstream to adult, which he viewed as a special challenge.

"I moved to Private because it was an opportunity to work with one of the few genres I haven't worked with," he said. "The adult genre, unlike most others, is to a certain extent recession-proof. No matter what happens in the world, there will always be a need for adult content. For me, who has been working in entertainment and content for a long time, that's a compelling and challenging opportunity — particularly with the explosion of new-media platforms. If you look at the history of new media — the moves to VHS, to DVD and to the Internet — adult has always been at the front of that curve."

And that is exactly where Cohen wants Private Media Group to be stationed for the next wave.