BERLIN — Hundreds of adult industry veterans and newcomers from every corner of the European Union and beyond descended on the completely sold-out Catalonia Berlin Mitte hotel for XBIZ Berlin, with more than double the attendees compared to last year’s rocking show.
Laser-focused on performers, producers and paysites, XBIZ Berlin has rapidly established itself as the preeminent convergence of the modern market’s biggest sources of meaningful traffic and digital media opportunity, as talent and content reign supreme over all.
For serious players keen on staying ahead of the curve amidst skyrocketing indie content, the iconoclastic disruption of old-guard webmaster power circles and the narrowing of ancillary services actually relevant to the future of adult, XBIZ Berlin is an unrivaled playground.
Every speed-networking session, “Meeting of the Minds” seminar, roundtable discussion and happy hour brimmed with the most evolved captains of industry, elite entrepreneurs and agile advocates the industry has to offer.
Anyone experiencing FOMO while watching the very visible stream of social media postings spanning Instagram, Twitter and more could see for themselves the sheer enthusiasm and popularity of so great a gathering in the heart of Europe.
As arrivals registered for the conference to get their ManyVids-stitched lanyards and wheeled luggage about the lobby, MojoHost’s “Good Mojo” Happy Hour Welcome Reception was in full effect, getting talkative acquaintances and established friends nice and buzzed.
At one point, MojoHost founder Brad Mitchell called for a toast, and raised his glass to the well-being of all, inspiring a raucous response. It quickly became apparent that this show would be a roaring one, as the lounge area sprouted scores of glasses-clinking fellowships happily conversing.
Even as the late night hour drew close, a sizeable tribe departed for the notorious Kit Kat very close by. Dancing and mischief pulsed musically to the beat of an epic DJ and sexy topless celebrants letting loose.
As a result, coffee was very much in demand the following morning during the daily complementary buffet of glistening sausages, freshly made omelets and healthy yogurts, to name a few of the delectable morsels.
Once the speed networking session sponsored by CCBill kicked into high gear at 10:30 a.m., with lengthy tables and chairs arranged to accommodate 100 participants exchanging information and brief intros before the whistle called them to rotate, XBIZ Berlin hit the ground running.
And after a luncheon buffet refilled plates and hungering attendants’ bellies, the “Talent Trends: Cams & Clips Roundtable” sponsored by ManyVids began in Konferenz II.
Producers: “Meeting of the Minds”
At this year’s Berlin show, XBIZ premiered a new conference format — the “Meeting of the Minds.” With chairs arranged in concentric circles and a moderator/facilitator, these lively panels gave attendees a chance to discuss topics of interest in a more dynamic fashion. The 2019 Meeting of the Minds also premiered a “black box” system where people could anonymously place questions inside the container, with the moderator randomly choosing them and reading them out loud to the room.
The unveiling of the “Meeting of the Minds” format occurred at the producers panel, sponsored by Erotik.cash, and it was a resounding success. A diverse cross-section of content producers quickly occupied all chairs, allowing a conversation between large-budget, freelance, mainstream, indie, LGBTQ, fetish and other European and American professionals based all over the continent.
Moderated by XBIZ Managing Editor Alejandro Freixes, attendees discussed distribution platforms, the unlikely survival of the DVD format, audience feedback for more effective storytelling, the advantages of shooting in Europe, talent rates compared to America and specific niches, among other topics.
Veteran UK-based producer Steve, known as The Dirty Doctor after a series of popular videos in which he stars as a lecherous physician, shared his experience with clip sites and his two successful studios on xHamster Premium.
Agency owner, producer and now Vixen contract director Julia Grandi talked about her approach in working around the language barrier among some European models by making bold creative choices. “My agency works with Russian models and other models from around the world,” said Grandi. “Some of them only know enough English to understand what I want from them, but can’t handle a lot of dialogue. So I decided to replace words with visual storytelling. I’m choosing beautiful locations, so it looks like a commercial.”
After being personally chosen by Greg Lansky to oversee Vixen’s European shoots, Grandi explained the logic behind this well-funded project. “We call it ‘Instagram porn.’ It’s based on locations, like having sex on a waterfall or in a field of lavender. For the viewer, it’s ‘the place I wanna be and the girl I want to be with.’ It has worked for us very well, making content for people who dream about places to be.”
Art porn creator Lily Lu, the fully tattooed visionary behind alt-porn studio Dirty Dreaz, shared experiences working in the antipodes of Vixen’s aspirational fantasy crafting, “We live very much in the edge of society,” said Lu. “We experience a lot of crazy rituals and we do BDSM to take it much further. The kinds of things our shows do doesn’t exist anywhere else. It starts where BDSM ends.”
“I created a brand,” stressed Lu. “I created a community.”
Ultimately, the producers’ Meeting of the Minds found common ground between the most commercial, high-budget content and the most niche, indie performance art.
Performers: “Meeting of the Minds”
The next “Meeting of the Minds,” sponsored by ManyVids, was even more packed than the very crowded producers event, with performers filling the entire conference space to standing-room-only capacity. Moderated by XBIZ Berlin Model Ambassador Tina Kay, this Meeting of the Minds started off with a focus on how to maximize profits for performers in the era of DIY clipmaking, constant camming and “extremely online” social media presence.
Inevitably, though, the business tips opened up conversations about building and sustaining an online persona, mental health issues, separation between sex work and personal life and the unfair treatment of performers by social media platforms.
The conversation was kicked off by 2019 Female Performer of the Year nominee Cherry Kiss. “I would like to say something about social media,” said the European star, an established, glamorous beauty much beloved by the continent’s high-end studios. “I don’t feel I understood why it was important. You can do a lot of things for yourself. You can show the world your talent, what you can do. But then I realized social media is very important, because you can make some money with that, and I realized I can make money because fans love your life, how you live, how you travel, how you’re fucking your boyfriend. Fans appreciate it.”
Budapest-based American expat producer Dan Leal, a staple of XBIZ events and an unofficial spokesman for many European industry issues, made the case for the survival of the studio system. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” said Leal, “and I’m here to tell you don’t really need studios anymore. You can make a lot of money making your own content, camming, from your house and you don’t even have to go to set. But,” he added, “if you wanna grow, you should work with the bigger studios as well. They can bring you a different fanbase, which you can add to the one you built for yourself.”
Award-winning fetish model Sabien DeMonia bemoaned the unfair treatment performers receive from Twitter and Instagram. “I spent a fairly long time building up my social media, and then one day it’s gone,” DeMonia told the room. “How does one get verified?” Some performers/producers who had managed to get the coveted blue checkmark, like Dan Leal and AHusseyXXX’s Danny D (who also works for MindGeek) stressed that verification doesn’t really affect the seemingly arbitrary enforcement of the platform’s often contradictory policies. “I wanted that blue check mark for a long, long time,” confessed Danny D. “And then one day I woke up, and it was there — they had given it to me. And nothing changed.”
Meanwhile, next door to the Performers’ Meeting of the Minds, NakedSword.com’s Toby J. Morris was moderating a new roundtable for XBIZ Berlin this year.
Gay Roundtable: 2019 in Focus
In the Konferenz II area, tables were occupied by an array of prominent performers, producers and paysite owners from the gay male sector of the adult industry, for a session sponsored by NakedSword.
Several attendees shared experiences in the transition from DVD to the current world of paysites and camming. Someone reminisced about the days of expensive physical media, with adult DVDs retailing at a considerable medium. “We still sell those,” replied Toby. “But not for 69.99!”
Performer Coach explained that nowadays he “can make more money on tips going on Chaturbate. You can show off your fur, show off your feet and make more than shooting anything else. I’m 68 years old. I chat with my viewers.”
Toby then invited Lukas Taylor to the front of the room. Taylor, who describes his day job as “protection, regulation and monetization of content assets for clients in media, entertainment and technology,” addressed his strategy on how to deal with the tubesites in the gay sector. “What we have the potential to do,” Taylor explained, “is work with those sites instead of fight them, which doesn’t work. We can get them to agree to reduce the pirated content from 54 to 8 minutes and tell them to give us the bottom ad. It’s a way to negotiate with those sites. All they’re giving up is one ad space. We could DMCA them and ask them to take it down, but that hasn’t worked.” Taylor added that he is “trying to create a gay ecosystem,” where ads and affiliate links end up driving content to the legal paysites. “I asked people to give me a list of their top ten Most Hated Tubesites,” Taylor revealed, “and now I’m trying to negotiate with them!”
Next up, was “Talent: Traffic From Social Media,” sponsored by ManyVids, in which models, producers and studios discussed how they took control over their own brands, mastering self-promotion by leveraging social media networks to forge bonds directly with their fans. Every 10 minutes, a new question was posed by moderator Alejandro Freixes, with the tables discussing amongst themselves how they approach various aspects of social media.
Paysite Pros: “Meeting of the Minds”
Alec Helmy, founder and publisher of XBIZ, moderated the session sponsored by ChargebackHelp, in Konferenz I. Defining paysites broadly as “sites where you take credit card payments and offer premium content for the people who pay,” Helmy invited the crowd to address some bigger issues faced by that side of the industry.
Attendees discussed how they could compete with performers going directly to consumers via clips and camming, what are the best ways to promote a paysite, member retention, affiliate revenue share and how to read analytics and turn them into actionable data.
UK-based Steve, aka the Dirty Doctor, explained his tried-and-true method to set up a paysite. “We film a lot of content before going live, six months’ worth,” he revealed. “Then we open all the social media, we let affiliate programs do the marketing, and once we hit the six-month mark and we have a year’s worth of content, only then do we contact review sites.”
Dan Leal and Mr. Skin’s Austin Fiascone debunked some perceptions about things that have and have not changed in the world of paysites in the age of talent creating content and tubesites offering “free porn.”
“I’ve been doing this for six years,” said Fiascone, “and regardless of what you’ve heard, affiliate is not dead. Your models and your talents are your biggest affiliates. Also, we operate Fleshbot and Egotastic and they’re valuable tools. Creating SFW models to promote porn is a way to drive traffic.”
Leal shared his change of heart about the biggest tubesites. “Things change. Pornhub, 10 years ago, were the evil empire,” he laughed, “and now they’re our biggest revenue stream. We do well on Pornhub Premium. For the regular Pornhub I put trailers or 10s and 20s [10- or 20-minute clips]. They’re cut like trailers or sample clips — very rarely we show the cumshot, or if we do we cut it at the beginning.”
Finally, industry attorney J.D. Obenberger explained that paysites and content producers need to be wary of the ramifications around the current Girls Do Porn lawsuit in San Diego and he stressed the need to consult lawyers to make “bulletproof” consent forms and videos to protect producers from claims by “disgruntled models” regarding on-set incidents.
Keynote: Bella French on “The Rise of Adult Content Creators”
Then, Konferenz I and II were merged to make room for the packed-to-capacity keynote by Bella French on “The Rise of Adult Content Creators,” moderated in a casual Q&A fireside chat style by XBIZ publisher and founder Alec Helmy.
He introduced her to the audience and asked her about her early business ventures, leading French to discuss her bona fides. Having parlayed years of entrepreneurial experience running her own business as a fashion retailer, graduating from business school and camming full-time into the launch of ManyVids in 2014, French now heads what has fast become a beloved a top brand in adult.
Helmy asked her to outline her early days of ManyVids, to which French said, “Early on, when you start a business, you have to be completely crazy, taking great risks.” As she scaled up her business, French said, “Very soon, we were doing more customer support than coding, and so I said, ‘We have to hire,’ even though we didn’t have the money for it. But it worked out, because I’m a workaholic and obsessive, with a little bit of paranoia. I’m afraid new things won’t work, so I put in the extra effort before launching something to make sure it does.”
She then revealed, “Now, we’re 150 employees at the Montreal office.” The audience broke into applause.
Pivoting, Helmy asked how she took a performer-first approach in the beginning of her business.
Before they did, French admitted, “We first invested 18 dollars in buying traffic, which was not converting. I know you have to invest a ton of money and sit back, waiting for conversions to come in. So we turned to social media, and because I was a model with a model perspective, even now at the office when we think about the next big thing, we ask what do the models want?”
“Because if you come from a perspective of money, solely ROI, it just doesn’t work,” she added. “I believe when you do something from the bottom of your heart, and feel it, you will succeed.”
She characterized her models as “our business partners,” describing how “we care about them because the fans care about them. So if we take care of the models, the consumers follow.”
Now that the company is a little over five years old, French said they have 2.6 million active members, 129 million visitors a year to the site and are now among the top 100 most visited sites in the world, despite having never bought traffic. “It’s the power of word-of-mouth, French said. “We have 850,000 videos and 1,000 fetish categories.
Helmy questioned what kinds of dos-and-don’ts they outline to members hoping to join the platform.
“Do what makes you happy and never do something because someone tells you to, or because you think you’ll be popular.”
She added, “Even if it’s only solo masturbation at home, we have girls who succeed because they’re comfortable with that, and it shows in their videos.”
Delving into the ManyVids brand ethos, Helmy noted how it centers on a variety of philosophies that include diversity, inclusivity, performer empowerment and sex worker rights. He then asked how those reflect French’s personal views.
“A world with diversity and unique individuals, whatever sexual orientation or identification you have, I love it. We have a beautiful gay community, straight community, bisexual and more. What’s important to us is advertising our brand that way. Our logo was just a pink heart originally, now we added more inclusive elements to it.”
Before allowing audience members to ask questions, Helmy asked whether being a woman in the industry has impacted French’s ascent. She first underscored that a secret to her success is nonstop hustling. “I don’t have a social life, I don’t have friends, I don’t have kids or want them, because I have no time. I’m all about business, business, business. So, the most difficult aspect of being an entrepreneur, is not the fact I am a woman, but that I dress the same way all the time, in jogging clothes. They don’t take me seriously, but it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the people you work with — banks and vendors — respect you, because they know who pays the bills!” At this, applause broke out.
Afterwards, French invited the MV Stars in the audience, of which there were at least a dozen, to come up for a group photo and also to get free branded merch that she had brought for them. They huddled around her, bubbly and gladdened to gather about such a legendary source of inspiration for the community.
They carried those good vibes to the Mix & Meet Happy Hour, sponsored by Segpay. Within a couple hours, Ubers began pulling up in front of the hotel to whisk people away to the XBIZ Berlin Strip-Off Competition, which playfully pitted the loveliest of attendees against each other for prize money. XBIZ Award-winning talent like Amirah Adara, Ella Hughes, Quincy and Jia Lissa put on quite the spectacle for a wild crowd, as each lady proved she had her own unique way of stage seduction.
Suffice to say, XBIZ Berlin’s opening day and first schedule-filled 24 hours cemented bonds, created lasting memories and already had attendees hyped for Day Two. Stay tuned to XBIZ.com for continued coverage of Europe’s foremost digital media tradeshow.