Adult biz could help resolve format war

An update was made to this article on Monday, January 29.

HD DVD is showing extra leg — and then some — as the porn biz enters the hi-def fray.

Although the adult disc biz is relatively small — accounting for $3.6 billion vs. the $23.6 billion generated by mainstream DVD in the U.S. last year — the industry’s hi-def choices are being closely watched for clues to the format war’s resolution. The adult biz, after all, played a key role in VHS’s victory over Betamax and drove the explosion of Internet-based businesses in the 1990s.

So far, at least, HD DVD has proven more enticing to the adult vid biz than its better-connected rival. Blu-ray is simply more expensive and less accessible than HD DVD. Its biggest stumbling block: the dearth of places willing to manufacture adult product on Blu-ray discs.

The few outfits able to replicate Blu-ray discs Stateside are tied to either Sony or Disney, and both studios have long-standing policies against manufacturing adult product — rooted, on Disney’s part, in at least one embarrassing gaffe in the VHS era. (Adult footage appeared on copies of “The Aristocats” when a duplication house failed to completely erase used tape.)

HD DVD facilities, although still relatively scarce, are more open to handling porn. What’s more, the HD DVD camp has been willing to extend a helping hand — however covertly — to the adult biz.

The first and only hi-def disc released so far, Wicked Pictures’ “Camp Cuddly Pines: Power Tool Massacre,” arrived on HD DVD in time for the January CES trade show, and the first four discs from Digital Playground also will be on HD DVD. Vivid Video just announced the first Blu-ray title, “Debbie Does Dallas … Again,” but it’s hedging its bet; the title will bow simultaneously on HD DVD in late March.

Vivid co-owner Steven Hirsch says it took him months to secure a Blu-ray replicator. He won’t divulge details, but rivals say he will get his discs pressed in Europe, thus avoiding the Sony-Disney links.

“Both Sony and Disney have made it extremely difficult for the adult guys,” Hirsch says. “Between the two of them, they have a monopoly on replication.”

“Right now, it’s impossible to get Blu-ray replication,” concurs Digital Playground’s creative force, the singularly named Joone.

Joone originally planned to release his product on Blu-ray but shifted to HD DVD when he ran into barriers on the Blu-ray side.

“You figure you’re in a war,” he says, audibly shaking his head. “You figure you’d want everyone on your side.”

“If either side wants to win, they really need to come forward,” agree Wicked Pictures’ VP of DVD production, Jackie Ramos. “They don’t need to embrace adult, but they need to at least work with us.”

Ramos says the HD DVD camp proved willing to do just that in its yearlong struggle to get “Camp Cuddly Pines” onto a hi-def disc. Although both camps had been wooing Wicked, only the HD DVD camp extended a helping hand.

The HD DVD camp helped train its counterparts in the adult duplication biz on authoring, Ramos says, and a friend created a hi-def master for him on the sly, paving the way for the eventual release.

“I’m real happy we did it,” he says. “But we had to jump through a lot of hoops.”

Ramos says the Blu-ray camp came to him midway through the process, but “the bottom line was we couldn’t replicate anywhere.” He later was approached by someone else — no names, please — who said he could get Wicked discs replicated on Blu-ray, but it would be expensive.

Evil Angel, meanwhile, is waiting at least four to five months before releasing its first hi-def disc.

“We’re looking for someone who is paying full licensing for HD or Blu-ray, and that’s not that easy to find right now,” says Karen Stagliano, who promotes the company for her husband, John, a director and owner of the company. “Some companies might not have the full blessing of the people who have the license.”

She says Evil Angel’s replicator will be up to speed on both hi-def formats in March, which should prove handy when it readies “Fashionistas Safado: The Challenge,” winner of best hi-def pic at the AVN Awards earlier this month, for either format.

“Blu-ray is twice as expensive,” sighs Stagliano, who initially planned to use that format due to its piracy protection and potential for special features. “At first I had been so set on Blu-ray that I had not been researching HD DVD,” she says. “We don’t really want to have to use both formats if not necessary.”

Early HD DVD sales for “Camp Cuddly Pines” have been encouraging, says Wicked VP special projects Joy King, citing sales on par with a new release — 2,000 to 3,000 copies — despite the fact that “Pines” was already available on standard DVD.

King considers hi-def another growing revenue stream beyond standard DVD, which is slipping in adult sales, and the download business, which is still relatively small.

According to adult trade paper AVN, Internet revenue accounted for $2.8 billion, or 22%, of the adult biz last year, second to DVD’s 28% at $3.6 billion. Cable and PPV sales accounted for $1.7 billion, or 13.5% of the business, slightly behind revenue generated from exotic dance clubs and a tick ahead of coin from novelties.

Vivid’s Hirsch says the DVD business could use a shot in the arm, which the new format can provide.

“We want to be on top of every new technology,” Hirsch says. “It’s important for this company and it’s important for the industry.”

Still, there are those who argue the adult industry’s importance has been overstated.

Pioneer senior VP Andy Parsons, a spokesman for the Blu-ray Disc Assn., considers porn’s reputation as a tech bellwether urban legend. He says the home entertainment biz is vastly different from the early days of VHS, when consumers had no other way of viewing porn at home.

“Mainstream content is what drives the market, and that comes from studios,” Parsons says. “Adult content should be appreciated for what it is, but it is not mainstream and it will not drive the mass market.”

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