Passionate Panel Reflects on State of the Gay Industry

Pictured, from left, Keith Miller of Helix Studios, Stefan of Buddy Profits, Stefan Sirard of Buddy Profits, Toby Morris of Falcon Studios Group, NakedSword director mr. Pam, Michael Lucas of Lucas Entertainment, Jeff Wilson of Flirt4Free, Douglas Richter of Supermen.com, Marc MacNamara of Men.com and iWantGayClips.com, and Erik Schut of TLAGay.com. Photo by Rick Garcia.

LAS VEGAS—At the State of the Industry panel on Monday at [email protected]—the trade show within a trade show at Internext Expo, which took place at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas—the seminar started like so many others that the nine industry experts had been to before as they seemed to nod in collective agreement: “No, we guess DVDs aren’t actually dead yet.”

“Every single panel I’ve gone to, everyone kind of rings a little bit of a death knell: ‘Oh, this has to be the year it ends!’ And it hasn’t,” said Erik Schut, managing director of TLA. “It’s very easy to stay focused on just what you do, and think that everyone else must be doing that, too. I mean, we still do a mail order catalog … a mail order catalog! And it does a huge amount of business. On the gay side, it brings people to the site, so people kind of use it like a guide … those people are out there, and if you don’t pay attention to them, you’re going to lose them—because if they don’t know that you’re out there, they’re not going to come to you.”

Michael Lucas, founder of Lucas Entertainment, noted that while 2017 business was good overall, his DVD sales weren’t lighting up.

“We went bareback a few years ago and they jumped up by 30 percent, and now they’re down to about 15 percent, and that’s something of course everyone has experienced: DVD sales going down. At some point they will level … but I don’t think they will disappear anytime soon in the next eight to 10 years,” he said, adding that the studio noticed an uptick in overall business from China (“we couldn’t figure out why”).

Toby Morris, VP of sales and marketing for Falcon Studios Group/NakedSword, concurred that DVD sales “are very slowly trickling off.” He noted that his family of studios has kept focus on increasing the quality of well-produced content and seen an increase in memberships, leading to the next phase of consumption.

“I think we’re just getting to a place right now where scenes are looking like they could really start to take off. That’s the indication. We’re actually doing some very important work on our online stores in order to really measure the power of that situation, because I think this is what we’re going to see in the next couple years … and they might get close to DVD revenue,” he said. “If you’re not preparing yourself for that, you’ll leave some money on the table.”

Jeff Wilson, director of business development at Flirt4Free, noted that regardless of the way studios present content, social media provides a necessary outlet to reach them.

“From a social media perspective, it seems like there is a huge audience that is engaged, that is active, that might even have spent money. It might not be the old crowd, but this kind of newer crowd. If there’s a good way to market to them when you release these scenes—utilizing those resources, those social media profiles, it seems like it’s the new way of marketing,” he said.

Wilson added that from the cam side of the business—especially on the gay side, where customers can be very picky yet very loyal—it takes a lot of work to bridge the gap between gay porn and gay cams.

“But if you’re able to get models that do porn and also get them on cam, then the reward is really amazing. It’s not just about doubling your revenue or whatever, it’s about creating this whole environment where your fans can interact with your models—and it takes a lot of work to make that successful. We’ve had some really great integrations that I’ve felt helped us reach our potential in 2017, and we’re continuing to do that now.”

Working with BelAmi, Wilson said it was amazing to see how they have evolved—and was intrigued to find ways to incorporate cams into their releases, both on the promotions and content side. “Next month, they’re going to South Africa—they rented a house in Cape Town, they’re sending seven guys down there for a month to just broadcast on live cam, learn English better, shoot some content, wrestle probably,” he said, drawing laughs form the panel and attendees. “The whole rollout of their entire production is going to include interactivity, customers are always going to be able to see them on live cam the entire month, so it’s just really cool to see them kind plan this thing out.”

The conversation shifted to how to attract a gay audience over the web with a new site, promoted from a question by an attendee who experienced difficulties building one coming from the straight side of the cam business.

“When straight brands and products come into the gay market and they think that it’s better just to leave the branding the same, us gays—we’re very loyal to brands,” Morris said. “Creating a lifestyle and a way of living and community is what we’re all about. It hardly ever translates in this industry, to take a straight product and just put ‘gay’ on it. You need to make a new product.”

The most intense part of the conversation centered on the balancing act studios face trying to compete for the time of models who also use clip services to supplement their income and build their following, and whether that serves to threaten the quality of the companies’ own content, brand and income.

“It’s putting money in the models’ hands. In live, we’ve been doing that for 20-some years … the models deserve more, give them more,” said Douglas Richter of Supermen.com.

Wilson countered: “But the reason why it’s disruptive is because you’re suddenly letting the model operate and represent your brand independently, and earn revenue without you being involved, and you’ve invested your time, energy and resources.”

“…but then they get a bigger audience that they can then use to promote your studio or their live cam,” Richter replied, noting that the scenes he watches on such platforms are not of good quality, but he does so because he is a loyal fan of those particular performers. “I think it’s a great thing.”

The studio reps acknowledged they need to keep models happy, but that models also need to respect the relationship that’s been established.

“I’m in a bit of an interesting position in it in that I work for both companies; I work for a studio, and I work for a clip site,” said Men.com director Marc MacNamara, who also works with iWantGayClips. “I equate it to Instagram … the clip sites are their stories—they’re the things that are multiple times a day, easy to access—and then the posts, which would be the movies and the studios’ work, are like their polished preservation that they want to share with everyone. Both can survive, and I think both are becoming more necessary to get to know that the model, the brand, and go behind the scenes. Everyone wants full access, and with this you get the full access with the model on their own time and then you also get to see the model at work, because it’s a very different product.”

Added Morris: “These services are not going away … and you can’t tell Austin Wolf, one of our very well-known models, who has been an exclusive and is amazing to work with, that he can’t make his almost-six-figures-extra a year plus, because then you’re burning that relationship. So we’re really looking at the whole landscape at what this is becoming. … I look at it as a possibility for another revenue stream. How do we get a piece of the pie, how do we work within the system? This isn’t impossible, it isn’t going to kill our business … it’s one of those if you can’t beat em, join em.”

MacNamara added that there needs to be an etiquette and that shooting content for clips should not be done while models are on set. “While you’re paid to be on location or if you’re involved in any production whatsoever, you should absolutely not be allowed to shoot that content, because you have your free scene partner, your free location.”

But that’s a battle NakedSword director mr. Pam said is probably one the studios might lose: “It’s like trying to teach abstinence in high school: It’s not going to work. They’re going to go back to their hotel room, they’re going to do what they want. So again, embracing that and trying to work it in the contract. I understand when I first started, models were making $3,000 a scene. They’re not anymore at all, especially if they’re flying cross-country for that one scene and then flying back. They’re really not making that much money per day, and I want them to make more money and have a handle on their future.”

Lucas countered that models are unlikely to think about and respect tour release dates for scenes or films—which can sometimes be a month or more.

But it was Helix Studios owner Keith Miller who claimed the proverbial final word with an impassioned speech that had the audience—and the panel’s—full attention: “The only fans I’m interested in are the people who are paying for access to my website. They are the ones that we go out of our way to produce content for. They join our site because they like what we do. They like how we shoot a video, they like how we produce and everything that goes along with it.

“They also join because we have stars, because we have people who have huge social media followings and reach millions and millions of people. Having them on Only Fans is to me essentially like an Amazon wish list, where they receive gifts from their fans. I as a studio do not take a percentage of what they get on their wish lists; I’m not going to take a percentage of their Only Fans. But they’re also not allowed on my dime to produce content. That’s just basic common sense. That’s just basic being respectful of your people…

“The two of them I don’t see as being incompatible with each other. If one of my models is on Only Fans and generates 10,000 members, I am going to be marketing to those people. I am going to be hugely putting out banners everywhere that this person—who is the most successful person in the world on Only Fans—is on my site! Don’t look at his grainy videos from across the room on a bad camera. If you want this star that he is, then come to my site, and for a reduced fee or access, you get high quality, 4K versions of the same individual. …

“That’s what the relationship of being in this business is. Our responsibility is producing content in a subscription model for our members. They come to us for a set payment every month expecting to be entertained, just like a subscription to any other streaming site. If we don’t entertain them, they will quit. They won’t quit because they joined Only Fans and are now only watching that … they’re not just stopping my site because they want to just see him in a grainy video across the room. That join to Only Fans is the same reason that they click on their Twitter and come to us through the affiliate site, because they’re paying the model. They want the model to understand how thankful they are for the work that they’re doing, and they go out of their way to send gifts on Amazon wish lists, to fund them on GoFundMe …

“This is a connection of relevancy from the star to the fan. It is the most important link. When we have 15 Only Fans people with 20,000 members apiece and we throw an awards party like we did last night, we can expect to see the entire audience full of fans who are paying to see us, the stars. That’s what this is doing in my personal opinion. I like it. Anything that gets me a more famous person on my website, I’m a fan of.”

The Internext Expo wrapped up today at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas ... and tomorrow kicks off the first day of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo. Other coverage of [email protected] includes stories on the GayVN keynote speech and the 2018 GayVN Awards.