Quartet of Power Players Talk Industry Trends at AEE

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—The AEE Power Players seminar Thursday at the Hard Rock lived up to its billing by featuring an eclectic quartet of powerful players of differing genders and generations who nevertheless share a common passion for their work and the industry. Moderated by AVN managing editor Steve Javors, the panel featured John Stagliano of Evil Angel, Jules Jordan of Jules Jordan Video, Allison Vivas of Pink Visual and Kelly Holland from Penthouse.

Javors opened the hour by asking each of the panelists to give a very brief narrative of their time in the industry. Jordan began, telling the story of his Tarantino-like early education working in an adult video store in Hershey, Pa., where he climbed the ladder from clerk to manager of a few stores. A fan of porn, he also had an itch to make and perform in his own videos, which he did, selling them by way of a local distributor. Porn-friendly California beckoned, however, and eventually he moved to Los Angeles, where he started making under the Evil Angel banner. In 2006, he struck out on his own, founding Jules Jordan Video to handle the distribution of his and other studios’ titles.

When she was 21, Allison Vivas answered an ad for a marketing position for a company located behind a 7-11 that had something to do with online porn, to which she had very little previous exposure. In fact, she said, at her first internet show, and Internext trade show, she had to watch two live sex shows, one of which made her cry. The company was called Top Bucks, of which she soon was voted vice president; when the founder retired three years ago, she was tapped to run the company. She has done so ever since, and said she no longer cries when she sees porn.

John Stagliano, the elder statesman on the panel, began his lifelong love affair with adult expression in 1973, when he approached a modeling agency run by the equally iconic William Margold. He didn’t get a modeling job but he did score a writing gig. Eventually he did start modeling, for 10 years in fact, and in 1983 he made his first porn flick. The same year, he started Evil Angel and in 2000 started distributing other directors using a unique partnership-based business model still in effect today.

Holland was a war-zone journalist in the 1980s previous to falling into adult when she happened to see a very early Vivid movie in a shared editing facility. She thought the movie was lousy and said so, and was challenged by Marci Hirsch to do better. She took the challenge and made Bondage, which was a huge hit. A 7-year contract followed, after which she worked for Adam & Eve, Wicked, Playgirl and then Penthouse, where she is currently head of production, and where she is still allowed to fall on her face in pursuit of dynamic, quality content.  

Javors asked Vivas and Holland if there were any extra challenges or benefits being a woman in a business supposedly dominated by men. Holland answered first, stating flatly that there are no benefits. “If anything, I’ve needed to be tougher. I anticipated ethical issues with the industry, but women in it were radical, empowered people. It’s way I stayed and never had a dilemma being a feminist in this business. But then, I am tough and testosterone-driven.”

Vivas agreed that no benefits automatically accrued to her because of her gender, but that neither did anything negative. “Men in this business are loving,” she said. “They’re women lovers. I actually find more male intimidation in the mainstream.”

Javors then asked the panelists what they thought was their individual key to success. Jordan said it was simple: he loves porn. The move to the West Coast was the right move on his part, and he was in the right place at the right time, but that was only a part of it. “When you do what you love, success will follow,” he said, adding. “Being a hands-on owner is tough, running a company and being creative at the same time is a challenge, but I’d do it even if I was making minimum wage.”

Vivas said a lot of her success in the early days (which are not as early as some of the other panelist’s early days) was frankly due to luck. It was just easier back then because the market was undeveloped and there was less competition. But it didn’t last, she said, and between 2007 and 2009 she calculated that about 90 percent of internet companies went out of business or were bought or consolidated into other companies. TopBucks/Pink Visual survived and thrived because of its culture. “We tapped into our own internal creative employees,” she said. The new more collaborative company has been able to become more innovative as a result.

“I’m a big fan of porno,” said Stagliano. “I like to get off on porn. I look at porn from the point of view of someone who doesn’t get laid all the time.” His tastes have expanded, as well. He appreciates S&M more than he used to, and also softer fare, now more able to tap into his own natural curiosity about different types of sexuality.

Holland said her early success was attributable to luck and audacity, and later on, to pure passion. “You need to walk the shop floor,” she added, saying they watch all of their content and maintain a strict dedication to quality. Still, she said, the business was now all about staying abreast of the evolving technology, and added in a bit of news that Penthouse would be exiting the DVD business at the beginning of this year.

Javors followed up immediately on that comment, asking why Penthouse would abandon a format that was still somewhat relevant. “I don’t understand the DVD business,” said Holland, adding, “The brand was never strong in DVD. We’re not gonzo or parody. I actually made a crucial error when someone pitched a parody to me a few years ago.”

Jordan said he was still in DVD but was transitioning to a more online business model while still pushing premium content. There will be no one-dollar DVDs for Jules Jordan.

“Some customers still prefer DVD,” said Stagliano, “but for most people the internet is just more convenient and works better for their lives and they can find exactly what they want. You need to figure out what people want and meet it.”

Holland added, “We are still in for 3D.”

The next topic was a common one these days—piracy. Of course, for this panel especially, the issue is a well-known one, which for at least three of the four panelists is also a battleground. Jordan, Stagliano and Vivas have all engaged in litigation to protect their copyrights and utilize the latest anti-piracy techniques to prevent their content from being stolen.

“Content doesn’t necessarily have value,” offered Holland, adding, “Traffic now does. We use content to drive people to where we can monetize them.”

Stagliano added that too much of a dependence on copyright protection could result in a decline in creativity and actually less content being available, and recounted a time during the 1700s when Germany’s lack of a copyright law resulted in more and batter books than in England, which had strict copyright laws. “You need to be careful how much resources you put to protecting content or you could ruin a great thing.”

The rest of the hour covered meaty subjects such as free speech (a Stagliano specialty), the increasing acceptance of porn and changing demographics and the increasing role of live content. The session also included an active Q&A session that included a question about the mandatory condom issue, which was brought up in most of the panels that took place during AEE. That said, no one is yet ready to commit to a plan of action.

As anticipated, the panelists were surrounded by friends and fans from within the industry as the session came to a close, and it took several minutes for them to make their way out of the seminar hall back to their intense schedules.