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Mainstream is porn again at Vegas expo

Adult entertainment industry gets conventional

LAS VEGAS — The porn industry’s AVN Adult Entertainment Expo has always been a colorful, if slightly tawdry, event, a reliable resource for camera crews looking to goose news ratings in the name of covering the multibillion-dollar adult entertainment industry.

However, in what is the AEE’s seventh year since splitting away from Las Vegas’ concurrent Consumer Electronics Show, the porn event has begun to look a little more like Park City.

The business hasn’t changed. From the moment you walk inside the hall located at the back of the Sands Expo, TV screens are filled with anonymous jackhammering torsos. Hosting the booths are girls wearing dresses smaller than most bathing suits. And the air is filled with the techno chucka-boom music familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a stripper pole.

Still, like the Sundance Film Festival of a decade ago, the once scrappy trade show has begun to make big deals with corporate sponsors. It’s attracting celebs who aren’t scared to show their faces.

Popular on Variety

And the trade show is showing the first signs of becoming a launching pad for the cultural mainstream. HarperCollins, the venerable publisher of porn-themed tomes such as Jenna Jameson’s bestselling autobiography, “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star,” and Legs McNeil’s upcoming biography of the porn industry, “The Other Hollywood,” has taken a booth at the AVN for the first time.

Pam Anderson may launch her line of cruelty-free shoes and lingerie at Saturday night’s AVN Awards, which laud porn stars and directors for their work.

The porno Oscars will include performances by rapper Chingy and top-selling alternative bands Lit and Smashmouth, and the event will be carried live on Sirius satellite radio. Sirius and AVN are also negotiating a long-term deal that would create AVN-branded entertainment for the network that will soon host the airwaves’ patron saint of porn stars, Howard Stern.

“I think that the music industry is merging with the adult industry,” said Paul Fishbein, publisher of trade mag Adult Video News, which is the primary sponsor of the event that’s owned by Home Entertainment Events, a joint venture of Advanstar Communications and the Video Software Dealers Assn. “You have musicians who have no problem with putting an adult video on their resumes.” Chief among these is rapper, actor and star William Morris Agency client Snoop Dogg.

A porn kudocast?

Fishbein, who, like the AVN, is repped by Endeavor, said he’s had many conversations with pay cable operators about teaming up to broadcast the AVN Awards. “We’re approached all the time. Why shouldn’t it be on HBO?” he said. However, he acknowledges that it’s unlikely in the current political climate. “The content is easy,” he said. “Distribution is difficult.”

Still, if there’s an audience, how long could cablers be expected to hold out? On Thursday night, major distrib Pure Play Media was expected to host the biggest party of the AVN at the Hard Rock Cafe’s Body English club. Among the 1,500 RSVPs were Conan O’Brien, rockers Steven Tyler and Kid Rock (current boyfriend of porn’s girl du jour, Jesse Jane) and a “Dennis Miller Show” camera crew. Other press on the roster included CNN, Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal and even post-teen bible Jane magazine.

All party sponsors have porn ties, such as rental service WantedList.com and Dragon Novelties, manufacturer of an herbal Viagra substitute. However, PurePlay rep Carly Milne said next year, that will be different.

Mainstream tie-ins?

“I’ve been approached by mainstream companies who said, ‘Wow, I wish you’d called us,’ ” said Milne, who said she “didn’t bother” trying to gauge their interest in backing Pure Play’s first major AVN event. “But they’re not worried about the stigma.” Among those who Milne plans to approach are manufacturers of DVD players and DV cameras.

And if the AVN is good enough to promote, say, Sony cameras, who’s to say it might not be good enough to promote a movie from Columbia Pictures?

“I’ve got respect from Time Warner,” said former porn star Robin Byrd, host of New York’s long-running cable access talkshow that features porn stars and strippers. She’s also made a deal with Verizon to sell a package of Robin Byrd ringtones.

“They do not hassle me anymore,” she said. “You work within the system.”