XBIZ Honors 2022 Reunites Online Industry Colleagues, Friends

XBIZ Honors 2022 Reunites Online Industry Colleagues, Friends

LOS ANGELES — A heartwarming reunion of dearly-missed friends and colleagues transpired at the Kimpton Everly Hotel Beachwood Ballroom on Jan. 5, during the XBIZ Online Industry Honors 2022 dinner ceremony, where top execs seized gleaming trophies in recognition of their brand leadership, business acumen and community influence.

After several minutes of backslapping, handshaking and bubbly conversations among the guests, many of whom had not seen one another in the flesh for many months due to the pandemic, XBIZ founder and publisher Alec Helmy strode forth onto the stage against the black-and-gold backdrop logos of XBIZ Honors and presenting sponsor Chaturbate. He led the crowd in a rallying chant against COVID, coaxing them into a cathartic frenzy as everyone shook their fists with gleefully vented frustration at the circumstances that have kept them apart so very long.

Now warmed-up, the audience clapped as the co-hosts took to the stage, with dazzling Pineapple Support founder Leya Tanit and dapper Austin Fiascone, head of business development for SK Intertainment and SKinfluential Media, commencing their opening skit. Fiascone welcomed everyone to the awards and celebrated this long-awaited chance for everyone to gather under the same roof, with Tanit adding, “It’s been two very long years since we’ve seen each other and it feels so wonderful to be together in this room.”

With a nod, Fiascone then pointed out that it would not be a proper award show unless Andy “The Traffic Captain” Wullmer kicked things off, prompting the bald and bearded juggernaut to rise up with a booming, “Make some fucking noise!” Excited guffaws and whoops ensued in the wake of Wullmer’s infamous refrain, which has echoed through many an event hall in the past. It was a nostalgic reminder of how sweet it is to have some semblance of normalcy.

Then, the co-hosts briefly shared their professional backgrounds with the audience, though they were quite familiar to the majority of those present. Tanit outlined her nonprofit organization’s mission to promote mental health and wellness for the talent community, while Fiascone observed that his own role was not nearly as impressive. He did, however, favorably contrast his own “hair on head ratio” with that of his boss, Sam Rakowski, whose cleanly shaven pate contrasts sharply with Fiascone’s lush locks.

“Normally, XBIZ goes out and finds somebody who’s a really trusted, well-liked and respected industry member to host the event, which is why they asked Leya to be here,” Fiascone self-mocked. “Normally, they would pair them with someone who’s a total smoke show, a rocket talent, so you’re really probably wondering why I’m here. Well, we’re just hoping that my long eyelashes, long hair and the amount of drinks you’re having will convince you I’m halfway good-looking.  

Many a jab and barb was playfully exchanged with various audience members, and Tanit jested, “Also, if you were expecting us to follow up with Alejandro’s performance from last year, I’m very happy to say we will be saving your eardrums,” making reference to yours truly warbling renditions of Elton John and “Be Our Guest” at the 2019 and 2022 XBIZ Honors ceremonies.

“You’re very welcome to thank us for this,” she said, to a jovial round of laughs.

Fiascone then pointed out that the evening was missing the sharply-dressed Brad Mitchell of MojoHost “who has won 67 trophies” and who Fiascone surmised had decided not to attend lest he be overwhelmed with emotion at accepting trophies from such stellar co-hosts. 

Tanit then underscored how only a handful of luminaries were missing from the festivities, since the entirety of the Beachwood Ballroom was fully packed. She too acknowledged that Mitchell was missing, and that due to his famous generosity when buying everyone a round of drinks on his tab, the overall cost of attending XBIZ would be significantly higher for the alcohol-inclined in his absence. 

Other targets for mirth and nostalgic merrymaking included attorney Corey Silverstein, who Fiascone refrained from commenting on, “Because I don’t want to be sued." And after a few coarse witticisms from Fiascone, such as encouraging the audience to hire younger employees as he roasted the grizzled nature of many, Tanit stepped in and said, “The responsible host is back,” to which the audience expressed bemused relief. They then invited the first presenter, industry veteran Gunner Taylor, who filled the stage with his burly frame, charismatic presence and deep gravelly voice, to present "VOD Company of the Year."

AEBN was announced as the winner, with company execs Bishop Wages and James S accepting the honor. “It’s been a long two years,” Wages said, “coming to this event has been very exciting. The last time I was out like this, was actually the last time we had this event in person some years back. Thank you, guys.” 

Taylor then announced "Paysite Network of the Year," revealing Bang.com as the winner. Andrew H trotted to the stage and said, “Well, Clement stepped away for a bathroom break, so I’m taking this on his behalf! Thank you so much to everybody.”

Fiascone congratulated him and called upon AJ Hall to come to the stage, but not before remarking, “Gunner, I hope I look half as good as you do when I’m your age!” 

As AJ Hall set the soon-to-be-granted winner’s trophy on the podium, it tipped over and fell, as audience members gasped. But, given the sturdy material that comprises XBIZ’s girthy trophies, it was unharmed. Others throughout the night would occasionally attempt to balance the trophies on the podium with mixed success, but nonetheless all winners happily took home fully intact symbols of their triumph. 

As he read the nominees for "Account Exec of the Year," Hall noted it was a big category, given how instrumental the position is to the financial well-being of companies. Several names attracted loud claps and whoops from their adjoining tables. 

Matt Mund of MobiusPay landed the coveted prize and declared, “This is cool! We love what we do and we love you guys … you’re like family, thank you!”

“I’m only going to drop it once,” Hall said after returning with the next trophy in hand. “These things weigh like 50 pounds. If you guys don’t have one of these at home, you can probably kill someone with it!” 

Reading the nominees for "Marketing Exec of the Year," those present were cheered on by their colleagues, until Kate Ames from Chaturbate was announced as the winner. Alighting upon the stage in her shimmery white dress, she gushed, “I was not expecting this, but thank you to everyone at the Chaturbate team for working so tirelessly behind the scenes. Thank you!”

Boisterous biz dev consultant Jasmine James was brought up as the next presenter, bantering with Fiascone before proceeding to list nominees for "Photography Site of the Year." The winner? PlayboyPlus.com. Holly Ruprecht sauntered to the stage and exclaimed, “Thank you very much everyone, it’s been quite a fucking year hasn't it? But you know what, we’re all together here and that’s all that matters!”

Afterwards, it was time for "Payment Services Company of the Year — Merchant Services," which went to MobiusPay. The incandescent Jonathan Corona and formally-garbed Matt Mund graciously accepted, with Corona simply saying, “Thank you all. We love what we do.”

Fiascone then welcomed previously absent Bang honcho Clement to the stage to read nominees. Clement revealed Chris Youngs of Paxum as "Brand Ambassador of the Year." 

“It’s always wonderful being recognized for what you do,” Youngs offered, noting humbly that he had not been expecting such a win.

Clement then read out "Progressive Leadership Award" nominees, with Gino Sciretta of BranditScan scoring the award. In Sciretta's absence, Fiascone took the mic and said, “Gino was unable to make it tonight, but if he were, he’d want to tell everybody how amazing they are and what a year it’s been.” 

Megan Stokes from NMG Management then presented "Payment Services Company of the Year — Alternative," and once she finished reading the nominees, Paxum landed its second trophy of the night. Youngs returned to the stage, stating, “Hi, I’m back again. I want to thank all our clients and I’m so glad to be back again with all of you!”

Stokes then revealed "Payment Services Company of the Year — IPSP," which went to Segpay. Company founder Cathy Beardsley stepped forth to accept. “Hi everyone,” she began. “Thanks to XBIZ and everyone throughout the years who has always supported us. Thank you!”

Fiascone then invited Shirley Lara of Chaturbate, Mitch Farber of Netbilling, Holly Ruprecht, Gunner Taylor, Chris Youngs and Mark Bauman of DigiRegs to the stage, for a special tribute to the dearly departed industry photographer Julius “JFK” Kedvessy.

They offered at-times tearful tales of his presence at shows over the years, warm remembrances and kind words, with Fiascone also noting the passing of other notables such as DatingGold’s Allan Henning. 

“He really carved out a niche for himself, photographing these moments, and we were so fortunate to have him capture them,” Lara said. “The industry was really blessed to have him.”

Gunner commended Kedvessy's pioneering spirit, and Ruprecht and Youngs gave emotional farewells; Farber said he wanted Bauman up on stage alongside him, given how close they both were to Henning.

“There’s just so many memories that come from all these people,” Farber expressed.

Bauman added, “They’re pioneers and legends. I never would have thought we’d lose them. Rest in peace, our fallen soldiers.” 

Transitioning from the somber memorializing back to the awards ceremony, Lara took on presenter duties for "Business Development Exec of the Year," with the winner announced as Andrew H of ePlay. “Kind of shocked!” he confessed delightedly. “It’s a good list of people here. Thank you all!”

Upon seeing "Community Figure of the Year" as the next category, Lara expressed gratitude for being chosen to announce such important notables. “I have so many friends in this category that I’m afraid to announce the winner,” Lara admitted, before revealing Tanit of Pineapple Support as the recipient, and cheering excitedly. 

Tanit accepted and joked, “I wasn’t sure if the host could even win an award, I thought it was like a consolation prize to be hosting. So, wow! Thank you all so much. It’s been quite a process during the past few years and this just means the absolute world to me, thank you!”

A commercial from Chaturbate played on the screens to the side of the stage, before Fiascone asked everyone to give a round of applause for the beloved cam company and presenting sponsor. 

He then invited MobiusPay’s Jonathan Corona to the stage to present the next categories, joking about how he was the man with the most unfortunate surname of the past two years. Corona took the pandemic-themed jab in stride with his characteristic good-natured charm, then read nominees for "Emerging Web Brand of the Year." Breakout NFT and crypto player Pokmi was named the winner, and co-CEO Marco Garniga proudly walked up, flanked by his teammates. “Thank you everybody,” he said. “Everyone has been so kind since we’ve arrived. Thank you for welcoming us. Don’t hesitate to come speak to us about NFTs and cryptos, we thank you so much!”

Corona then announced Chaturbate as the winner of "Cam Company of the Year."

“Thank you for the recognition,” Lara responded. “Honestly, we work so hard. I’m not going to stand here and say it’s not deserved, because it’s fucking deserved!” The room exploded into applause, agreeing vociferously.

Tanit thanked Corona for presenting, incorporating his dashingly sparkly jacket into her introduction of the following presenter. “From one fantastic jacket to another, please allow me to welcome Dominic Ford of JustFor.fans to the stage.” The also-shimmeringly-garbed Ford waltzed on stage and exhorted, “Hello XBIZ, how are you all doing tonight?”

He announced the nominees for the "Senior Leadership Award," with the trophy going to Colin Allerton of Adult Empire.

“Wow, thanks guys!” Allerton enthused. “It’s an honor just to be included in this group of people here. Everyone’s deserving of this. Thank you all and thank you everyone at Adult Empire. Cheers!”

For the next award, "Chief Exec of the Year," Moose of Penthouse was named the award recipient, and Sara Ramirez of XBIZ accepted on his behalf.

Fiascone then introduced the penultimate presenter, who he fondly remembered had once called someone in the audience the second-biggest lesbian in the industry several years ago, given her own primacy. “So, I’d like to call to the stage the first-biggest lesbian in the industry, Holly Ruprecht of Playboy!” he proclaimed.

“By the way, you’re all lesbians in my book,” Ruprecht joked after hopping on stage, her heavy metal jacket emblazoned with the iconic bunny.  “Oh, yay, I’m doing gay stuff!” she enthused upon seeing that she was announcing the nominees for "Gay Cam Site of the Year." Flirt4Free was named the award winner, and "Premium Cam Site of the Year" went to Streamate.

In the companies' absence, Fiascone offered identical, humorously boilerplate-sounding acceptance speeches on their behalf.

Attorney Larry Walters was on duty next to present the last two categories of the evening. “Alright, let’s take this home!” he exclaimed. Reading out the "Businesswoman of the Year "nominees, Walters revealed Megan Stokes of NMG as the winner. 

After a brief delay, she appeared on stage and said, “Sorry, I was super-invested in my risotto! Thank you so much. This is amazing. Every single woman in this category is someone I not only consider a friend, but an amazing human being, so I’m just super honored. Thank you so much!”

And lastly, "Businessman of the Year" went to Dominic Ford of JustFor.fans, who glided to the stage in his radiant coat again.

“I still remember coming to my first XBIZ and not knowing anybody, being afraid to talk to anybody,” Ford reflected. “Now, to win this is just crazy. Thank you, everyone, I have great people who work with me. Jonathan Corona of MobiusPay takes my calls 24/7 and he regrets saying he’d do that for me; I drive him crazy. Thank you, Jonathan!”

He also reminisced about meeting Alice Skary, his model liaison, two years ago at XBIZ Miami. “Now, without her, I would be lost. Thank you Alice, thank you so much!”

Fiascone sprinted back to the stage to bring the show to a close, saying, “Everyone, give one more round of applause for XBIZ, and one more round of applause for all our winners tonight!” 

From the audience, Wullmer hurled out one final “make some fucking noise!” while Fiascone apologized for his own “shitty jokes” and thanked everyone for dealing with the co-hosts. Not to be outdone by Wullmer’s interjection, Fiascone shouted his own “make some noise!” as Tanit likewise thanked everyone, and asked the winners to remain for the traditional group photo.

Uplifted and energized by familiar faces and shared celebrations, many attendees lingered for drinks and dessert, before filling the lobby of the Kimpton Everly late into the evening for continued merrymaking and ribald carousing. As with the panels and mixers throughout the week, one thing was crystal-clear: it’s good to be back.

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