Just Press Play

Steve Javors
There are riches in the niches. Whether a wise adult entertainment producer or retailer ever said those words is up for debate, but never has that maxim been more true than in today's segmented adult content marketplace.

A devout believer in that saying is the founder and CEO of Pure Play Media, Richard Arnold. As the head of a multinational company with offices in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, Arnold's adult content distribution company has grown into a powerhouse from humble beginnings by virtue of his dedication to fulfilling consumer demand in popular niches.

Therein lies the core of Pure Play's founding premise — to be a boutique-style distributor of leading adult brands. Whereas others offer thousands of titles from hundreds of producers, Arnold decided to focus on a more manageable number of lines that are, in his opinion, the best in their respective categories. It's a matter of selectiveness over selection — substance over sheer quantity, if you will.

Pure Play's star-studded roster gives credence to Arnold's belief.

But while Arnold will be the first to tell you that content is king, his company's mastery of distribution semantics has kept it entrenched as a market leader.

New technology drives innovation resulting in adaptation. As market forces, delivery methods and even media formats change, so too must a distribution company's methods to reach the widest swath of consumers.

The adult entertainment industry has been involved in many such technological changes and advancements over generations. From grindhouse adult cinemas, to the VCRs, to DVDs and now to satellite and video-on-demand — porn is just one mouse-click away.

Pure Play traces its hard goods distribution roots back to 1986 in Ontario, Canada. VHS was the dominant home-entertainment media force and Arnold took full advantage, distributing mainstream new releases and B-movies on videocassette. Arnold liquidated video stores for product, which he then sold for a small profit.

Coming to realize that the profit margin in hawking mainstream videos — even by the thousands —– was razor thin, Arnold began looking for a way to augment his bottom line. Distributing hardcore adult videos wasn't an option at the time; Canadian laws only allowed softcore material.

Then there was a breakthrough — in 1991 the rules changed, allowing hardcore porn into the market for the first time. It was like the Gold Rush all over again, only this time with platform stilettos, G-strings and silicone.

It was during this time Arnold planted the seeds for what would become Pure Play Media through distributing secondary lines from major U.S. producers like Vivid Entertainment, Private and Seymore Butts.

"The market was ripe for it, because consumers were so hungry for hardcore content they would buy anything," Arnold told XBIZ in late February. "I dabbled in [adult] at first, but pretty quickly realized it was a huge profit center. So I had to make a decision whether or not I wanted to jump headfirst into the adult business."

With a market bursting from burgeoning, and consumers' insatiable appetite for previously illegal porn, Arnold jumped in like Scrooge McDuck dove into his pile of gold coins. It was then that Arnold developed his niche-driven philosophy.

"My goal was to license enough lines, but ones that wouldn't compete against each other so I could maximize revenue," Arnold said. "Vivid was the feature line, Ed Powers was the pro-am line; Seymore was the gonzo line and so forth."

Prior to starting Pure Play in 2002, Arnold licensed the rights for Canadian distribution to Vivid, Private, Ed Powers, Randy West, Rocco Siffredi and Seymore Butts.

In 1999 Arnold was approached to open a North American branch of the Barcelona-based Private Media Group. Up until then the world-renowned company had been licensing its videos through Odyssey, a formidable adult distributor.

Arnold explained that because Private was a publicly traded company, it desired to have a U.S. presence in hopes of penetrating the lucrative American market. Arnold headed up Private North America operations in 2000.

"My idea was to bring American producers into Private to direct movies for us," Arnold said of his plan. "[My bosses] didn't really believe in it, but I made great contacts. This difference of opinion ultimately led to my departure. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and formed Pure Play Media in 2002."

The founding principle of Pure Play was to bring under its distribution umbrella varied product lines that hit different niches, "kind of like what I was doing in Canada, only now with a global reach. I wanted our partners to produce — what they do best — and leave the sales and marketing to us, which is what we do best. That's how it all started."

Pure Play's original partners were Michael Ninn, Seymore Butts and the Score Group — all but Ninn remain — a testament to the company's sales proficiency.

Pure Play maintains four main branches: a distribution center in Montreal, Arnold's office and support staff just north of Toronto, Pure Play Broadcasting and Pure Play Media in Chatsworth, Calif.

Its most recent operation was established a year-and-a-half ago in Hamburg, Germany, and employs 10-12 people.

One of the more intriguing elements of the company is its Canadian broadcasting division, which Arnold said accounts for more than 50 percent of the company's revenue. Pure Play Broadcasting sells cable operators and big telcos a VOD package. Pure Play is in just under six million homes and on 33 cable and satellite systems. The broadcasting division entered the U.S. market two-and-a-half years ago and is growing steadily, according to Arnold.

Those in the U.S. however, are most familiar with Pure Play's operations centered in the heart of Porn Valley, which employs around 27 people. The company's Chatsworth office serves as the main DVD sales headquarters.

Pure Play's roster is stacked with a virtual who's who of porn. Homegrown Video, Private, Naughty America, Score Group, Seymore Butts, Silver Sinema, Swank Digital, Hundies, Cousin Stevie, Suze Randall, Asia Bootleg, Pink Moon Digital, Liquid London and HellHouse Media all fall under the company's distribution umbrella.

In a world where technology has shifted distribution platforms away from physical media to direct content delivery through satellite, IPTV or streaming and downloadable VOD, so too must Pure Play's distro methodology shift. There has been a profound paradigm shift in the marketplace, to which a swift yet calculated response is required.

To that end, Pure Play has remained ahead of the curve, not just in its broadcast business, but in the DVD business as well. Internet producers Naughty America, Silver Sinema, Hundies and HellHouse Media all were first successfully branded online before moving into hard goods production. "Adding Internet content has done a lot for our business," Arnold enthused. "With most Internet content that goes onto DVD, only the most popular scenes make the cut. So the producer has already gotten feedback –— kind of like advanced market research –— on what is hot and selling. It's a direct response. You're dealing with a proven commodity. Sales are there almost instantly instead of having to build a product line from scratch."

So what's Arnold's take on the much-ballyhooed belabored death of physical media?

"My feeling is the business is divided into three main delivery methods — hard goods, broadcast and Internet," Arnold asserted. "We've established the company doing hard goods distribution, but we recognize that people's choices are expanding. Many people feel the demise of DVDs is directly related to the rise of the Internet, but that's not 100 percent accurate. Broadcast eats into it –— and this represents a huge growing market for us.

"There isn't a decline in adult consumption, so it's all about offering content on different delivery platforms so those that are interested in our product and can access it easily. This is our basic strategy."

Recognizing one's weaknesses is integral for an honest assessment of one's strengths. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour, so to speak. Arnold speaks candidly about his company's deficiencies.

"We're a little weak on the Internet side," he confessed. "We're working on a deal right now to buy an Internet-based company. We definitely need to expand in this area. The Internet gives us an opportunity to work on a globalized approach. A lot of the companies we distribute hard goods for also run pay sites, so we won't do anything online that interferes with their business."

Arnold is raw with ambition, but he's got the juice to back it up. Citing a dearth in gay product, Pure Play inked "boutique" gay producer Liquid London to a distribution deal and soon will distribute content from Naughty America's recently launched gay portal, Suite 703.

Next on Pure Play's distribution acquisition list: an ethnic company and a heavy-hitting feature line.

While there are many factors attributable to Pure Play's surge, it's perhaps Arnold's keen sense of niches and distribution that's kept his company profitable and on the cutting edge. No matter what the next format is, you can bet Pure Play will be leading the pack.