Cable Operators

Uncensored Gone Wild

7/15/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

What’s the hottest non-sports-ring genre in the pay-per-view events industry? Five years ago, most operators might have said live soccer or concert events, but today that title goes to the uncensored/erotic programming category.

These titillating PPV and video-on-demand events — ranging from uncensored episodes of daytime shows like The Jerry Springer Show and Blind Date to more salacious titles like Stag: Naked Temptation and Ultimate Poker Babes: Stripoff — are very quietly swelling operator coffers with much desired incremental revenue.

Event programmers and industry executives say such low cost, reasonably priced programming generates high demand from consumers while providing operators with a consistent flow of PPV and VOD event revenue to supplement high-profile boxing and wrestling events.

“Quite simply, there is a market for these events,” says In Demand LLC president Rob Jacobson. “People are buying them, and we are offering customers what they want to buy.”

CRITICAL MASS

And there is a lot of erotic product in the PPV marketplace. A quick scan of the August PPV schedule reveals that erotic and uncensored fare makes up more than half of all scheduled PPV events. And with such titles as Bikini Bombshells Exposed, Beverly Hills Naked Covergirls, Nasty Art Model Search, Secret Lives of Nude Centerfolds, Amateur Strip Night and Wild Women Stripper Pole Party, it’s not hard for viewers to differentiate between that genre and a traditional boxing or wrestling event.

“Whether it’s the great American epic creatively is a separate issue, but ultimately it’s about whether the people will pay the bucks to see it and come back again,” says Steve Karel, president of Stonecutter Media LTD, which produces several erotic-tinged PPV events like Women’s Erotic Wrestling and Hip Hop Hotties Uncensored.

Unlike traditional double X and triple X movies and other programming from adult networks, PPV event distributors say their shows feature softer porn that often is more palatable to a broader audience.

“The truth be told, you’re seeing nothing different in terms of nudity that what you would see on late night [Home Box Office], but it’s set up differently. And it offers different and unique settings that facilitate the eroticism,” Karel says.

Exactly how well are erotic events performing? In Demand and DirecTV Inc. executives would not reveal revenue or buy figures for the genre, but event producers say it’s not uncommon for individual shows to generate 50,000 to 100,000 buys over several airings, comparable to many small PPV boxing and wrestling events.

Mantra Films’ Girls Gone Wild monthly PPV events are generating cumulatively more than 100,000 buys a title, according to company president Joe Francis.

Francis attributes the company’s success mostly on brand familiarity — the Girls Gone Wild DVD series is a late-night infomercial fixture — which has helped the company make the transition to cable. “Girls Gone Wild is a known brand, and more and more as people migrate to the VOD platform and PPV space, they migrate to brand names,” he says. “People know what they’re getting with Girls Gone Wild; they’ve been exposed enough to the commercials and the DVD. And they’re able to purchase it and get instant gratification.”

NBC’S STRATEGY

Viewer familiarity of the daytime hit series Jerry Springer Show, as well as the reality show Blind Date has also helped pave NBC Universal Cable’s path into VOD and PPV. The company offers a series of uncensored events based on both broadcast network series staples.

“These franchises, particularly Jerry [Springer], have a very loyal and fanatical fan base,” says NBC U Cable senior vice president Jean-Briac Perrette, although he would not reveal specific revenue of buy figures.

“[Our viewers] love to find additional stuff and additional outlets, so the loyal fan base for the two series have made them very popular items in the on demand and PPV space,” he says.

NBC Universal is hoping to lure Hispanic viewers to the genre with the July launch of Laura Sin Censura, featuring hidden-camera footage and uncensored outtakes from Telemundo’s No. 1 talk show, Laura. Perrette says such events combine the brand appeal of the show with the audience’s desire to see and hear what’s bleeped and cut out of the TV broadcasts.

“It’s almost what Desperate Housewives is to a linear franchise, in that it’s a guilty pleasure for the television audience,” he says. “It’s for the people who want to get more of what they see on TV but in a slightly more mature fashion than what we would be able to broadcast.”

Another key to success for the genre is its ability to offer exclusive content. Karel says most of Stonecutter’s adult-targeted events have never been seen prior to their PPV or VOD debut. Some of the company’s programs, like its King of the Cage: Nude Cage Girls Uncensored series is exclusive to PPV.

Mantra’s Girls Gone Wild events are also exclusive to PPV, which helps increase the show’s appeal even further.

OVEREXPOSURE AHEAD?

Despite the high number of erotic PPV event titles, industry executives say there’s enough of a business to support most. With very low production costs and virtually no marketing budget, such shows don’t have to generate hundreds of thousands of buys to turn a profit.

Still, event providers say that the best of the category will emerge and eventually narrow down the field. “Just like in any form of the entertainment business, if you have a product that people want, you’re deliver a product right. And if you’re a good vendor, you’ll get a seat at the table,” Karel says.

What won’t abate is the consumer appetite for the content — or the cable operator’s desire for the incremental revenue.

“I don’t care what [distributors] may say publicly, they will never, never remove [erotic programming],” says Francis. “People want to see it and pay for it, and the operators want to collect [the revenue.] It could be their little secret ant they can bury it on their balance sheet, but this stuff is here to stay.”

September