David Schlesinger: A Vivid VIP

David Schlesinger has a very vivid imagination. Which is a good thing since he's Vice President of Internet Marketing for Vivid Video (www.vividvideo.com) and responsible for bringing the well-respected and easily identifiable image of the video company into the brave new world of Internet technology.

"We had thought that it would be difficult to get webmaster loyalty right out of the can," Schlesinger confides, "but when you couple the amazing conversion of the Vivid Girls, the Vivid name on the Internet, our honesty and reputation in the business - and the fact that there's not that uncomfortable feeling about whether or not Vivid is going to be paying you or whether or not Vivid is going to be here in three months or six months or a year," it's no wonder the company was able to collect, "a real loyal base of over 10,000 affiliates in a rather short amount of time on the Internet, as far as Internet time is concerned."

But before it could collect together the Webmaster support it wanted, the company carefully studied the adult online industry in order to determine how best to turn a profit while satisfying surfers. In 1998, Vivid assessed the future of adult entertainment and concluded that cable and Internet pushes were a wise investment. Considerable mainstream attention to the Vivid Girls helped convince executives that the support existed for such expansion. "It made perfect sense that around the same time that we became aggressive in the cable industry with Hot Network and Hot Zone, to move and get aggressive on the Internet, too," Schlesinger explains.

Vivid Video had an existing, if largely dormant, informational Website waiting to be fine-tuned, enhanced and turned into a money-maker, which is what Schlesinger's team set out to do. "It would have been difficult to get as aggressive as we have," Schlesinger admits, "without the Vivid brand name behind us. I have to say thank you to Steve Hirsch and David James for building this company into what it was so that we could come out into the Internet industry and get as aggressive as we have and create the relationships with the people that we have."

The power of the Vivid name is evidenced by the numbers of Webmasters willing to participate in the company's unique affiliate program. "We basically picked apart every affiliate program out there, from the big boys all the way down to the little guys, and looked at what everybody was doing on the Internet," Schlesinger says. "How they were making their money, how they were capitalizing on whatever offline presence they may or may not have had already." What the company discovered surprised them. "We found it really interesting to see that people had built their affiliate models to pay out on a paid or a free trial, which was the first thing that we saw as the ultimate no-no in staying profitable on the Internet with the chargeback problems that we all know are looming about." Because of this, the affiliate program, VividVIP (www.VividVIP.com), is set up to track and deduct refunds, con-conversions through trials and chargebacks in an attempt to control fraudulent activity and reward affiliates with the most productive traffic.

Those who choose to affiliate, can direct their exit traffic toward the Vivid pay site itself, as well as five other niche sites catering to facial enthusiasts (www.amazingfacials.com), anal fans (www.butthunger.com), connoisseurs of Asian (www.xxxasian.com) or black women (www.blackplack.com), or those looking quite literally for the amateur girl next door (www.xxxscreentest.com). Traffic that moves through the main Vivid site but signs up at a niche site still earns affiliates pay; likewise, purchases made within the exclusive Vivid toy store (www.sextoynetwork.com) created in partnership with XPays (www.xpays.com). Currently the main Vivid site includes a video store, where purchases are tracked by affiliate ID and credit is given where it is due.

Webmasters have other options for generating income as well. The Vivid Studio Insider e-mail program also uses affiliate IDs attached to e-mail addresses to track those that result in sign-ups or purchases, resulting in payment to the referring affiliate. According to Schlesinger, the advantage here is that, "Instead of paying for potentially junk e-mail addresses that aren't going to convert to sales, we're going to basically tag every address to your account and make sure that you get paid for every sale."

One of the elements that fuels Vivid's online retention rate of approximately nine months is the sites' devotion to frequent updates of exclusive content, customer service and innovation. Affiliates appear likely to enjoy the same benefits. Token Traffic (www.tokentraffic.com), a new program set to launch in early 2001, is, as Schlesinger explains it, "a mechanism to send traffic through exit schematics and through our mail program to other, well-known sponsors through the XPays system." What this means for affiliates is payment even when a Vivid-specific site does not make a sale. When traffic passes through the Vivid system but enters the XPays system through a pop up window and results in a sale, the Vivid affiliate is rewarded. Payment is less than for a Vivid sign-up, but enough to serve as a good faith gesture.

Also on the horizon for Vivid is www.nineteen.com, the company's first journey into the teen niche market. "We're pretty excited about that," Schlesinger confesses. And there's plenty for his team to be excited about. The company is expanding its online presence with a 24-hour Vivid Video broadband film library site (currently in the testing stages) and increased cable visibility, as well. "We just recently launched another network," Schlesinger points out. "Vivid TV. So we're up in over 30 million homes now." The goal is for cable and Internet services to produce cross-over usage. This is encouraged by such marketing touches as requiring those who wish to enter the Win a Date with Janine contest seen on Vivid TV to register for the contest at the Vivid website. "With the Internet eyeballs and the television eyeballs very soon becoming one set of eyeballs, so to speak, I think it behooves us to get really aggressive in putting those two worlds together."