Vivid Entertainment: A new business model for porn

Fri Sep 3, 2010 1:48am EDT
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By Georg Szalai

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - If the new "Date Night" DVD had sold only 25,000 copies, there would have been hell to pay for studio executives. But for Steven Hirsch -- or anyone else in the adult entertainment business, for that matter -- that figure represents a blockbuster.

The founder of Vivid Entertainment, the leading purveyor of pornographic videos, has built a business estimated to pull in annually as much as a $100 million slice of a $13 billion industry (compared to mainstream box office of $10.6 billion).

The key to thriving even as free online porn services eat away at the DVD market is being nimble enough to adapt principles familiar to the rest of the showbiz world: celebrity scandal and superhero tentpoles. Laurence Fishburne's daughter Montana's sex tape and "Batman: a XXX Porn Parody" -- both from Vivid -- are vying with each other for top-selling adult DVD of the year.

"We have done celebrities for many years but have more recently acquired more than ever before as public appetite has increased," Hirsch told The Hollywood Reporter. "The days of generic adult films are gone because there are many, many websites for stuff like that."

Vivid was founded in 1984 and got a big kick from the Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee honeymoon tape "Pam & Tommy Lee: Hardcore & Uncensored," which was first released in 1998 and became not just an icon of celebrity exposure but also is believed to have sold more copies than any other celebrity sex release with the possible exception of Paris Hilton's. It also made Vivid the one to beat.

"It's the one adult brand -- besides Hustler maybe -- that is most entrenched in people's minds," said Paul Fishbein, president of Adult Video News Media Network, which publishes industry trade AVN.

Since then, Vivid has aggressively positioned itself to acquire celebrity fare -- and the reputation has made it a magnet for celebrities shopping tapes themselves.

While industry sales and financials don't get tracked like box office or DVD sales in Hollywood do, Vivid gets more adult video shelf space than any of its peers and routinely sweeps the annual AVN Awards, the Oscars of the adult industry. Hirsch has been a leader in the mainstreaming of porn, emphasizing quality by shooting on film rather than video; introducing more tasteful packaging; and expanding the brand by stamping Vivid on makeup, intimate accessories, nightclubs and other products.   Continued...