LOS ANGELES — As we countdown the final hours of 2012, XBIZ Premiere magazine looks back at the Top 50 newsmakers of the past year.
From the mainstream crossovers of James Deen and Sunny Leone to the strategic moves of Playboy and Pipedream Products, the adult industry once again did not disappoint when it came to keeping things interesting.
Here is our list:
2257 RECORD KEEPING
The Free Speech Coalition’s challenge to 2257 inspections was thrown to federal court in November where it weighed the Justice Department's request to dismiss the Free Speech Coalition's legal challenge over 2257 inspections. Last April, The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the FSC on several key points in its appeal over the dismissal of its lawsuit against the Justice Department giving the adult industry another chance to continue its fight against the federal recordkeeping and labeling law in attempt to render it unconstitutional.
AEBN in 2012 debuted Nica Noelle’s Hard Candy Films, Girl Candy Films and TransRomantic Studio. The company’s co-sponsored “Pron Party” with Pink Visual that offered porn-hungry tech geeks the sexier side of technology and grabbed mainstream media attention at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last January. More tech included the launch of its pay-per-minute Roku channel with more than 7,000 available films.
AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION
Michael Weinstein’s AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) gathered enough signatures to put “Measure B” — the “County of Los Angeles Safer Sex In The Adult Film Industry Act” on the Los Angeles County November ballot that became law, requiring adult film actors to wear condoms while filming. The action sparked a backlash from the adult industry including public debates, battles over TV ads and the formation of the opposition Free Speech Coalition-backed “No on Government Waste Committee.”
Niche producer AMKingdom debuted its first feature, “Revenge of the Petites” amidst a slew of fanfare that included a gala premiere at the Regent Theater in Westwood, Calif., fan website, trailer and even a theme song. The novice studio’s coming-of-age comedy three-disc sold out its initial run and was the first of a number of planned scripted features.
The Free Speech Coalition’s Adult Production Health & Safety Services (APHSS.org) was at the forefront of performer safety in 2012, announcing the addition of Talent Testing Services, Cutting Edge Testing, SameDayTest.com and STDStatus.com to its network of performer testing facilities along with a testing service in Las Vegas.
Fashion-forward Baci Lingerie launched its Dream collection and a new showroom in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The company also launched a new B2B website and assembled a new team of sales veterans hailing from internationally popular clothing retailers and distributors. 2012 also saw Baci launch the Envy Men’s line and new planograms for its refreshed White Label collection.
Director Axel Braun set a benchmark for parodies in 2012 with the release of the “Star Wars XXX,” The Dark Knight XXX” and “The Avengers XXX” films that he produced for his production company in collaboration with Vivid Entertainment. Each film grabbed mainstream media attention. He also shot “The Expendables XXX” for Hustler Video and announced plans for “Grease XXX” (Adam & Eve) and more “Star Wars’ sequels that would bring the popular franchise total to four films.
CALIFORNIA EXOTIC NOVELTIES
Novelty giant California Exotic Novelties made news with the announcement of its social media platform, Club CalExotics, an online community designed to educate and engage the public about sexual wellness. A mobile version was also added in August. The company also partnered with Nick Hawk, star of Showtime’s “Gigolos,” to produce a line of adult toys inspired by his television lifestyle.
Boy-next-door porn star James Deen skyrocketed to mainstream popularity in 2012 after landing the lead role opposite Lindsay Lohan after being hand-picked by screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis’ for the Paul Schrader-directed mainstream film “The Canyons.” Deen’s “Q” rating amped up with numerous newspaper, TV and magazine interviews including Rolling Stone, The New York Observer, and GQ. Novelty giant Doc Johnson tapped the star’s privates for special James Deen Signature Cock dildo and vibrator collections. The rumor mill was also buzzing about Deen starring in the lead role of Hollywood’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” feature film.
The premiere studio was acquired by industry giant Manwin in early 2012. Ackrell Capital — a boutique financial advisor that specializes in negotiation and business valuations for mainstream and adult, tech and media companies — put the deal together. Digital Playground founder Joone said at the time, “To me this deal is no different than the acquisition of Pixar by Disney. The consumer is going to see more blockbusters, big-budget productions, and it’s our goal to create the next genre of adult entertainment. This acquisition is a marriage between two industry leaders. Adult entertainment is changing and Manwin has a lead on technology.”
The sitting chief of the Free Speech Coalition juggled mounting performer health concerns, the mandatory condom issue and more during 2012. Under her watch the APHSS added new tests and facilities in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Las Vegas, along with STD Status. Duke also accepted a new three-year contract from the FSC Board of Directors to be CEO of the adult industry’s trade association.
Doc Johnson jumped on the celebrity of adult star James Deen, debuting his signature collection of sex toys. The company also debuted its new “Alice in Wonderland” inspired ‘WonderLand’ line of silicone pleasure products featuring 10 products with 10 functions, push-button controls, and waterproof construction. A Black Rose BDSM collection was also introduced.
The veteran distributor unveiled its new online Customer Resource Center that features educational and sales materials from more than 40 manufacturers. It also bolstered its educational resources for custumers with its YouTube channel that includes more than 500 videos including manufacturer reps, product demos, trade show presentations, and promotional clips and commercials. Dave Noblitt announced his retirement after working in the company’s sales department for eight years and 35 years in the industry overall. Meanwhile, Maria Lara joined its growing team as a bilingual account manager.
New York-based Electric Eel expanded its reach by being named the global licensee for the Hustler brand of sex toys and related novelties. The bump enhances the company’s licensed line that began in 2008 that included Hustler Lingerie, sleepwear, men's underwear and women's shoes.
Reality star Kendra Wilkinson and Evolved Novelties collaborated on Wilkinson’s Love Candy Collection of intimate products for her new TV show, “Kendra On Top,” last June. The company was also awarded an Adam & Eve brand license by PHE, Inc. to manufacture, package, and market the popular brand for adult toys and cosmetics.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Some called it the saving grace of the adult industry — especially where sex toys are concerned. The novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sparked the creation of products from a host of novelty companies that’s spawned soft bondage products including Sportsheets’ S&M, Pipedream’s Fetish Fantasy Ltd edition and CalExotics’ Shades of Purple. In addition, LELO’s kegel balls, Fun Factory “Smartballs,” and Smash Pictures’ “Fifty Shades of Pleasure Play-Kit & movie” were some of the more popular items.
FixSation hit the market in 2012 with global distribution of its couple’s vibrator lines and the “we-gasm” non-penetrating device worn by women during sex. In late October the company launched its second-generation couple’s vibe with product and package upgrades. Expansion also included its “Soiree” upscale home parties featuring novelties and sex-positive conversation.
Fleshlight hit another milestone, selling more than 5 million units in 2012. Its popularity was also bolstered with the addition of new Fleshlight girls including Jessica Drake, Kayden Kross, Kelly Shibari, Alexis Texas, Tanya Tate and a line of VNA Girl Fleshlights. The company also released its interactive Vstroker-enabled devices that let users “connect and interact” with their favorite Fleshlight Girls and the Fleshlight Shower Mount. On the corporate side, a new production plant was opened in Seville, Spain in order to meet the meet the rising demand from European countries.
FREE SPEECH COALITION
As always, the Free Speech Coalition stayed on the front lines tackling industry issues and providing services to members of the adult community. The past year saw the group bolster its APHSS performer testing services, adopt testing standards and take on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in its push to have the Measure B mandatory condom initiative adopted by Los Angeles County. The inaugural Free Speech Coalition Summit, a one-day event on Nov. 8 produced by XBIZ, featured a slate of panels covering hot business topics of interest to adult industry professionals as well as an awards ceremony.
FriendFinder Networks Inc. CEO Marc Bell stepped down from his position last March, making way for Chief Operating Officer Anthony Previte to transition to the top spot last July. Bell also considered running for the Palm Beach-Broward District 22 Congressional seat. In November, the company reported a net loss of $7.7 million in its third quarter as it saw revenue shrink in the same quarter to $77.7 million compared to $82.7 million in the same period last year. And in August the company shuttered 5,000 co-branded websites, calling them “too cumbersome and cost prohibitive” to continue operating, shifting its focus of an affiliate network strategy to one that supports the further development of primary brands including flagship magazine Penthouse. Late in 2012 Previte said the company was close to launching a new interactive TV product in Europe and it planned to aggressively monetize social media initiatives. He also said that the flagship Penthouse brand planned to release an API to help stimulate growth.
Smartball manufacturer Fun Factory in 2012 boasted its biggest quarter since the company opened in 2003, citing more than 2 million sales after its products were featured on TMZ’s national TV show in June. It also attributed its success to the hiring of industry veteran Frederic Walme who was tapped to run the company’s U.S. office.
The lesbian producer juggernaut continued in 2012 with the addition of a number of new titles including the popular “Poor Little Shyla 2,” “Pin-Up Girls” series and the re-launch of its “Netskirts” series. The studio also released its first ever boy/girl film, “Voila” directed by B. Skow, who signed on with the company earlier in the year. Girlfriends also launched a new affiliate program in collaboration with AbbyWinters.com.
She may be an “ex-porn star” but Sasha Grey nevertheless made adult headlines in 2012. The National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teachers union, refused donations from Assence Films based on the sales of its new title “Anal Artists” that featured one of Grey's final scenes. But the University of California gladly accepted the donations. She was also cast in John Suits' sci-fi thriller “The Scribbler,” and in Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo’s high-concept thriller “Open Windows.” The star also made her fiction-writing debut with a new erotic novel titled The Juliette Society, and her electronic band, “aTelecine played its first show at Poland’s Unsound festival.
Fetish filmmaker Ira Isaacs was found guilty on five counts of violating federal obscenity laws last April for distributing four films — “Mako’s First Time Scat,” “Hollywood Scat Amateurs #7,” “Hollywood Scat Amateurs #1” and “Japanese Doggie 3 Way.” His sentencing was postponed in August. No new date was released. Judge King made a preliminary order ruling Isaacs must forfeit all of his websites — ScatMovies.com, VeronicaJett.com and ToiletJasmine.com, among 40 others — and copyrights, as well as the movies deemed obscene. Isaacs was also ordered to forfeit all computers, servers, props and video equipment as well. Late in 2012,U.S. prosecutors conceded that they wouldn’t press “vulnerable victim” sentencing adjustments that would have substantially raised the penalty for his obscenity convictions.
Hustler founder Larry Flynt took on Washington’s powerful once again with an ad in the Washington Post offering $1 million for information on any possible sex scandal involving U.S. senators, congresspersons or prominent government officials. But it didn’t stop there. Flynt later offered $ million for proof of then Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s tax returns/and or details of his offshore assets, bank accounts and business partnerships. Flynt also kicked off his eight-city tour for his book, "One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History."
The “No on Government Waste Committee” formed to oppose Los Angeles County’s Measure B that would require porn performers to wear condoms during filming, saw a firebrand advocate in spokesperson James Lee. The campaign’s communications director came to adult from The Lee Strategy Group, Inc. (LSG). Prior to forming LSG, Lee was a director at the global PR firm Burson-Marsteller working on a wide array of issues, including utility deregulation, wireless standards, biotechnology and healthcare, business-to-business marketing, labor relations, environmental communications, community outreach and coalition building. He also has extensive experience in HIV and AIDS drug development having worked for biotech firms searching for cures and treatments. Lee battled the measure in the media and regularly took on the initiative’s proponents including AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, citing a waste of taxpayer money and a loss of industry jobs.
Pleasure products manufacturer JOPEN debuted four new leading-edge items under its Vanity Collection that included the Second Generation Point-Five Series — the Vr4.5, Vr5.5, Vr6.5 and Vr10.5. Also launched was its Ego men’s collection and Key pleasure toy lines, along with an Authorized Distributor and Reseller Program in May. In November, JOPEN announced that rotating additions to its Vanity Collection included the new Vr15, Vr16, and Vr17 dual stimulators.
Digital Playground contract star Kayden Kross appeared on the Fox Business show “Stossel” to discuss the mandatory condom initiative. The performer also landed a role in the dramatic lesbian web-series “Girl/Girl Scene.” Her brainy side was revealed in publisher Harper Perennial’s new anthology “Forty Stories” that featured short fiction from writers of all walks, including one from Kross herself. In addition, Kross was on a panel of experts on Playboy TV’s new show, “The Truth About Sex” and starred in the horror/comedy music video “No One Survives” from metal band Nekrogoblikon.
Fetish giant Kink.com announced a revamped FuckingMachines.com earlier this year that included four live streaming shows each month. Keeping with its extreme posture, the company also launched TSPussyHunters.com and MenOnEdge.com and FootWorship.com. Kink’s San Francisco armory headquarters opened a high-end cocktail lounge and announced a Workshop Series to help people explore their sexuality. The company also announced a production studio to be based in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley.
Male performer Keiran Lee achieved a unique milestone when his 500th scene was released on the Brazzers.com network. The Brazzers contract performer also appeared on a Brazzers billboard on the Sunset Strip in a landmark promotion for a male porn star, and had his penis insured for $1 million with Lloyd’s of London.
LELO AB, the Swedish designer brand was granted a U.S. design patent for its Tiani 2 in 2012 — described as the first remote controlled couples massager worn by women during sex. Other company news included the launch of the PicoBong line of six waterproof, travel-ready sex toys aimed at a younger demographic that include C-spot, finger, duo, plug and ring vibes.
Indo-Canadian adult star Sunny Leone vaulted into superstardom in India with her debut role in mainstream film “Jism 2” after appearing in the country’s “Big Boss 5” reality TV show. She parlayed her newfound fame with a role in “Ragini MMS 2,” a sequel to director Pawan Kripalani's “Ragini MMS” supernatural thriller, mobile phone and condom endorsements, and a three-picture deal with Hindi movie studio Alumbra Entertainment. India’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also tapped the star for a PSA aimed at neutering dogs and cats.
The heavyweight gay producer launched its porn-based social network, Lucas Community, designed for porn fans and its stars as a way to interact, comment, and talk with each other via text and video chat. Also debuted was SexInSuits.com, featuring studio’s “Gentlemen” line where suited executives show how men in power satisfy their desires.
Manwin, which is headed by Fabian Thylmann, increased its market share in 2012 with a number of acquisitions including Digital Playground, Reality Kings and key parts of Playboy’s online and TV assets among others. The conglomerate also launched an antitrust monopoly suit against ICM Registry and ICANN over the .XXX domain. Its online developments included the closing of Brazzers-branded PornstarsPunishment.com (a rough-sex themed adult website) and the launch Babes.com, its anchor for its new "glamcore" network. But the giant was also embroiled in cybersquatting suits that included the YouPorn and Tube8 and other variants, and a suit against Nicholas Bulgin, who allegedly registered Manwin.net, Manwin.co, Brazzer.us, ManwinSucks.com and other sites in an effort to make extortion attempts against the company. In addition, the Luxembourg-based firm opened a new Burbank, Calif., office.
Veteran performer Mr. Marcus became a central figure in the adult industry’s major health concern of 2012 after testing positive for syphilis and altering his STI test result in order to perform. Despite a public apology and numerous explanations, the popular 18-year star was chastised for his lapse of good judgment that sparked a firestorm of controversy pitting his supporters — including the FSC — against the proponents of adult’s alleged inherent health risks.
NEW FRONTIER MEDIA
After a tumultuous year that included takeover bids from Manwin, and its largest shareholder Longkloof Ltd, beleaguered transactional TV company New Frontier Media was finally acquired by LFP Broadcasting in a $33 million deal. The Boulder, Colo.-based company reported declining revenues in 2012 along with devalued stock and was the center of controversy over the suspicious firing of CEO Michel Weiner who had helmed the company since 2004. Shareholders also reelected its board of directors — an election that likely will be the last time for the adult transactional TV service after the LFP deal.
NS Novelties unveiled its fully redesigned consumer website in 2012, featuring a sleek design and new special features. Last spring, the company released its adult star Manuel Ferrara Realistic Dong along with a commercial for the product starring the performer himself showing off the dong’s humorous uses. Honey’s Place also began offering NS products including Alise and Crystal Premium Glass Eggs.
Always progressive Pink Visual announced the creation of a new intellectual property rights enforcement service, DMCA Force last June. The company also launched a piracy suit against HiSlut.com, MyHotBook.com, TheHotLoop.com, Slutload.com, HardSexTube.com and YouJizz.com, as well as PornBanana.com and Shufuni.com and ClipHunter.com. On the content side, the company launched two new couples friendly series, “It’s Her Fantasy” and “Erotic Minds.”
Pipedream moved its operations to a six-day workweek in order to keep up with demand and to better service customers. The company also introduced its Planogrammer merchandising software that allows retailers to design customized wall displays and create visual separation within their store. Pipedream also title sponsor for the Adult Asia Expo (AAE) in Macao and the AAE in Taiwan. The company came out in full support of “No On Measure B” and officially joined the Free Speech Coalition.
Playboy moved its corporate headquarters to Los Angeles in August and closed its iconic club in Las Vegas last June. The company was also hit with a lawsuit from a Texas patent holding company over image-hosting technology that also included the LFP Internet Group and Vivid Entertainment Group. Hugh Hefner’s empire also shelled out $5.25 million to settle a lawsuit over claims that it shortchanged investors in a buyout that took the company private.
PRIVATE MEDIA GROUP
After months of turmoil, Private Media crowned Charles Prast president and CEO. The executive formerly held those tiles and was again appointed to the top spot after a long and contentious shareholder and creditor rights battle in which former chief Berth Milton was terminated. Other developments included a five-year digital distro deal with Beate Uhse Licensing BV, one of Europe’s largest producers and owners of adult media.
XBIZ 2012 Male Performer of the Year Rocco Reed, star of more than 400 straight titles, signed an exclusive six-month contract with Manwin website Men.com in June. He performed as a top for the gay site in seven scenes before making his bottoming debut for a scene entitled “My Bride's Hot Brother.” In the scene, Reed bottomed for Landon Conrad. A former full-time print and runway model, Reed originally moved to L.A. to continue his modeling career and pursue mainstream acting.
Director B. Skow moved on from long-time studio Vivid Entertainment to form Skow Digital. His debut release “Teen Sex Dolls” was followed by “Model House Invasion” and then “Cute & Curvy” released through DreamZone. He was also tapped by Girlfriends Films to do a series of features, and produced and directed the lesbian stalwarts first boy/girl feature, “Voila.”
Smash Pictures jumped on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” craze with the first parody of the popular novel — “Fifty Shades of Grey: A XXX Adaptation” and plans for the follow-up “Fifty Shades Darker.” The popularity also spawned a retail contest and the launch of its adult novelty company Luv Moves that debuted with the release of Fifty Shades of Pleasure Play-Kit and film. However, the porn studio was named in a lawsuit filed by the Fifty Shades of Grey copyright holder, alleging Smash infringed on its copyright with the porn version. Smash executives had no comment at post time. Separately, the company unveiled a new romance line of DVDs and signed on as a content provider studio for Pink Visual’s PVLocker.com.
Spurred on by the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenom, Sportsheets’ Sex & Mischief collection was featured on ABC’s talk show “The View” in 2012 in a segment showcasing some of co-host Sherri Shepherd’s “Favorite Things.” It was also profiled on ABC News in a segment that showcased the product line in association with the hot erotic fiction. Julie Stewart was promoted to President after 16 years of service to the company that was named among its list of Fastest Growing Private Companies in 2012 by The Orange County Business Journal.
STEVEN ST. CROIX
Veteran male performer Steven St. Croix returned to porn in New Sensations’ “Torn” as well as “Friends With Benefits,” and appeared in Wicked Pictures’ romantic comedy “Crazy in Love.” St. Croix also created a pair of video clips for YouTube in which he strongly urged residents of Los Angeles County to vote “No on Measure B” in the Nov. 6 election while organizing two call-to-action campaigns on social media defeat the measure. On Nov. 8, St. Croix received a Free Speech Coalition Positive Image Award.
The long-standing novelty company early this year announced it was selling most of its assets to World Sexy Manufacturing Investment LLC. Topco officials said all “inventory, equipment and means of production, packaging and shipping, as well as all trademarks, unexpired licenses and other intellectual property, including the Topco name and other business and brand names” were sold. Other assets not included in the sale were signed over to Insolvency Services Group Inc.
We-Vibe introduced the We-Vibe Thrill, a new dual-stimulation vibrator made for women looking to explore new sensations during solo play. The Canadian company was also part of the Valentine’s Day episode of CBS’ talk show “The Doctors,” where renowned sexpert Dr. Ruth Westheimer gifted audience members with their own We-Vibe 3. On the legal front, We-Vibe continued with a patent infringement suits against Lelo Inc. over two of its products — the Tiani and Mahana — both introduced in 2011.
Good Vibrations celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2012 with parties, workshops and special promotions. It also re-branded its wholesale division as Pleasure Works and opened its Antique Vibrator Museum that showcases collectibles from the 1800’s and onward. The company’s first-ever Sex Summit debuted in San Francisco with authors and educators from various perspectives, examining the relationship between sex and the media, health, pop culture and politics.
Wicked Pictures debuted the much-ballyhooed Octomom Nadya Suleman’s first solo-masturbation porn film “Octomom: Home Alone.” It also signed adult star Samantha Saint to an exclusive performance contract as she became the first new exclusive girl on the Wicked roster since 2008. Wicked also diversified its brand with the introduction of a collection of original lubricants and enhancers made for men and women called The Wicked Sensual Care Collection — a “completely vegan, PETA certified” line of personal lubricants.