Q&A: Stripchat VP of New Media Max Bennet Unlocks Platform Power

Q&A: Stripchat VP of New Media Max Bennet Unlocks Platform Power

Max Bennet recently joined the Stripchat team in the position of VP of New Media. XBIZ engaged him in a thoughtful, forward-looking conversation about the powerful immediacy of camming and what he perceives as its vast untapped potential.

Although new to adult, Bennet had already banked enough experience in “new media” to grow increasingly gloomy over what he perceived as the rapid decline in the efficacy of mainstream advertising.

These performers can be really, really successful financially, and mean the world to the thousands of people who watch them, but exist entirely under the radar of the rest of the world.

The fall was plainly obvious and yet it seemed to Bennet that the players were locked into following the same old gameplan, hoping somehow for a different result.

A chance encounter with a friendly married camming couple was a game-changer for Bennet. He admired their intense focus on building a specific audience committed to active engagement. And he immediately perceived the power of camming as a special event; if you’re not there when it happens, you likely missed out.

Bennet was awestruck at what he saw as the potential of millions of monthly users hungry for content, and the thousands of performers they idolize who remain almost entirely under the cultural radar.

XBIZ: In prior interviews, you’ve mentioned your past experience with creating media that breaks the boundaries between print, digital, video and social. Can you talk a bit about what that means?

Bennet: Mainstream media, at least as I experienced it, still struggles with integrating immediacy into their product, whereas it’s built into the DNA of cams. You see it with these live-action musicals and news anchors reading tweets on air.

The problem is that these are all examples of trying to graft immediacy onto a static or semi-static platform. It’s like an older person getting a facelift. It looks a little younger, but it doesn’t change your actual age. Camming on the other hand is like a collection of stem cells.

When I worked in New York, I was a bit caught in that loop as well, but really loved the idea of live media — billboards that only existed for a moment, limited access screenings, art installations that were there … gone before anyone knew it. Global brands are looking for an aura, to be associated with something limited and exciting. It’s not as essential that everyone be able to take part. In fact, it’s the opposite.

But even then, traditional brands are still of the mindset that these things need to be recorded and witnessed in order for them to be valid. Camming flips that on its head. It’s really close to what the futurists predicted at the beginning of the internet — endless amounts of screens with content that’s only experienced in the moment.

Stripchat has tens of thousands of people on cam at any time, and most of it is only there while you’re there. And much of that happens in private. It’s more like real-life than anything else digital. It’s as close to singularity as I think we’ve come.

XBIZ: You met a married couple that turned out to be successful cam stars and inspired your recent career move. What was it about them that sparked your interest?

Bennet: Well, to expand on what I was saying earlier, cam performers themselves are light-years ahead of where mainstream celebrities are. What counts with cam performers is the moment, the connection and the immediacy.

These performers can be really, really successful financially, and mean the world to the thousands of people who watch them, but exist entirely under the radar of the rest of the world. It’s the total anonymization of celebrity. So, I’m at the Mercer (Hotel, in New York), frustrated with what seem to be declining returns in advertising, and I start talking with this really, really engaging couple.

There was a magnetism about them that, I guess in retrospect, was somewhat sexual, but was certainly not something I identified in the moment. They were just really, really comfortable in their own skin.

So they tell me this whole story about their life in Idaho, about how they had moved out after graduating college, and when I asked what they do in Idaho, he said he’s in media. A couple of drinks in, they’re talking about the business of camming and I’m floored.

Because in my business, it’s all about a global brand, it’s all about how many people are seeing you. And for them, it’s almost the opposite. Yes, they want exposure. Yes, they want eyes on their show. But they’re selective about who they court, in a way. They know that most people won’t bother to spend a dollar. Most people are time-wasters.

What they want is to be able to find the fans that they’ll build a relationship with. In a way, it’s the opposite of celebrity; these stars are choosing their audience. And they’re nice family people with a nice car in a nice suburban town. They don’t want national exposure. They don’t want to have the media control them; they don’t want to be Kim Kardashian with seven million fans.

They don’t want to be the media; they want to mine the media. It’s a profoundly different way of looking at the process, and I couldn’t get them out of my head. It’s this carefully curated limited fame that isn’t about wideness, but deepness.

Now, not every cam star is like that. Some of them would love very much to be on a Times Square Billboard or on the red carpet. But most cam stars are really, really using the medium in a different way than you see on YouTube or Instagram or even Twitch. I predict that Gen Z is going to make media its master, not the other way around. Cam stars are already there.

XBIZ: Stripchat touts 60 million visitors per month and nearly 200 million counting whitelabels, which would far outstrip (no pun intended) most mainstream media news sites. Talk a bit about that kind of influence over an audience. How does that dictate your media program and content mix?

Bennet: That reach was the first thing that struck me when I came aboard Stripchat. Cam sites have this utterly limitless amount of content and yet this really, really broad reach. I thought about how to start exploring that. I began to think of parallels.

Huge events like Carnival in Brazil, festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella and then it struck me. Stripchat is really a digital megacity, and cams are the clubs and the shows and the gatherings and the stages ... everything happening simultaneously, in these separate communities. It’s like Weimar Germany.

But because it’s digital, you also have the ability to really focus that audience in a way you never could in Los Angeles or Tokyo or Sao Paulo. Just as you can experiment with content in hidden corners, you can also prioritize content, “event-ize” shows, really play around how to communicate with an audience that’s tremendously dispersed and yet all on the same site.

When it comes to content generation, we really are experimenting with other forms of media to see what works on an interactive platform like this. We know sex works. We know that emotional connection works. What about something like therapy?

This summer we launched a cam series with the Sexual Health Alliance (SHA), after we realized that many cam users were experiencing anxiety about their relationship with cams. People think of cams as sexual but for most people the strongest urge is emotional. To feel connected.

The SHA session was a blockbuster and really changed the game for us. It had nearly three times the participants of any show that day. People were clearly hungry for this. We’re looking closely at other types of media that might work well for a platform like this. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s an exciting time. I want Stripchat very much to be the new media company of the next decade.

XBIZ: Camming was popular in adult back in the ‘90s and never really went away, but it faded in popularity. In recent years, camming has exploded to the point that it’s superseding traditional studio shoots. To what would you attribute this kind of rapid growth? How do you see Stripchat’s role in this growth and where the biz goes from here?

Bennet: Camming was always popular. Think about JenniCam or “Big Brother” or “We Live In Public.” Voyeurism and exhibitionism were the twin promises of the early internet. The technology wasn’t there yet though, for consumption or production. You had to sort of log on and see if anyone was there.

It’s only in the last decade that it’s exploded. The technology has changed and it’s made it so much easier to watch and produce. You can stream from a smartphone over a regular Wi-Fi connection, something that just wasn’t possible with earlier generations of the industry. It’s just going to get bigger. We’ve added mobile broadcasting, which finally gets cam performers out of the bedroom sets. I was watching one performer on a hike last week.

We have cammers in VR, which essentially dissolves the screen. It’s overwhelming emotionally — a bit intense for me, but you can see the power of this medium. I feel like we’ve discovered fire, but we’re only just figuring out how to use it. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be part of what’s coming.


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