WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The XBIZ 2020 adult industry trade show at the Andaz Hotel on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles’ historic cultural hub since the Golden Age of Hollywood, got off to a rollicking start on Monday and Tuesday with a schedule packed with possibilities, panels and parties.
Day One kicked off with a very special invitation-only event at one of Los Angeles’ epicenters of the adult industry: the Playboy headquarters. Hosted by brand ambassador extraordinaire Holly Ruprecht, one of the most beloved presences in the business, a throng of XBIZ 2020 attendees took the elevator up to the House That the Bunny Built (aka, the corporate Playboy HQ in Beverly Hills) for a networking mixer overlooking the City of Angels.
Clad in a bright-yellow sweatshirt emblazoned with the unmistakable bunny silhouette, Ruprecht led a series of small tours around the offices, which host the Playboy and Hugh Hefner historic collection of art and memorabilia which was until recently housed in the Playboy Mansion.
“This event is amazing,” the recently appointed Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) Michelle LeBlanc told XBIZ. “Since I’m new to the industry, I’m really excited for trade show season and this Playboy event is a great opportunity to introduce myself in person to people in the community.”
LeBlanc added that the mixer, presented by Playboy Plus, had personal significance for her. “My childhood babysitter years later, when I was in college, became a Playboy centerfold,” she told XBIZ. “My mom sent me the magazine!” Later, looking through Mr. Hefner’s personal bound collection of the magazine, LeBlanc found the issue in question. “Here she is! January 1996,” she said with a big smile.
Performer Aubrey Kate, whose statuesque looks are notably centerfold-ready, had a similar feeling about one of the adult industry’s unquestionably legacy brands. “Playboy was the very first magazine I found in my grandpa’s closet,” Kate told XBIZ, repeating an experience familiar to many. “I’ve always wanted to be in it.”
Kate also extolled Ruprecht’s tireless campaigning for Playboy in her official role as Associate Director for Subscription Sites. “Holly is so friendly and has this energy about her that always uplifts you,” she said.
Ruprecht, the woman of the hour, was thrilled to welcome a diverse group of community members to the Playboy offices. “Our roots are in the adult industry,” she told XBIZ. “When we took our sites back after a period when they were handled by a different company, we decided we wanted to work with adult again. It was a kind of coming out, a year ago when we started here. Playboy gave me carte blanche to feature not only the [top] girls like Elsa Jean, Ana Foxxx or Riley Reid, but also a diversity of models.”
The Women in Adult (WIA) Soiree kicked off at 5 p.m. on Monday evening, with wine and a specialty vodka-pink lemonade cocktail, celebrating women and their contributions to the industry.
Returning WIA sponsor Chaturbate welcomed guests at the packed event, held at the Andaz Hotel, with a toast to attendees and a warm message on behalf of COO Shirley Lara, delivered by Natasha Pierson.
“WIA is a very special organization close to my heart,” noted Lara, who expressed her regret at being unable to attend. “I admire everything that it stands for. XBIZ goes above-and-beyond to set up a healthy, fun environment for all of us to network. Please take this opportunity to say hello to the person on your left and right, and most importantly have fun and drink up!”
A relaxing soundtrack set the tone for casual networking as Jasmin James from Fleshlight divined fortunes throughout the evening with her set of Tarot cards, palo santo burning in the background and rose quartz crystals and amethyst on hand.
“Ask one question and choose your cards,” she enticed, reading fortunes on future prospects for love and success as talent and industry execs alike rubbed elbows and enjoyed drinks, capping off XBIZ Day One and allowing people to get ready for the 20th annual Cybersocket Web Awards, honoring achievement in the LGBT space, that evening.
On Tuesday, the registration desks, sponsored by ManyVids, were up and ready by 9:00 a.m., and they handled the expectedly high volume of attendees until the end of the registration period. At 10:30, one of XBIZ’s signature networking traditions, the Speed Networking event, used the familiar “Speed Dating” dynamic: chair-hopping following the instructions of a caller, in this case Gunner Taylor from the event’s sponsor, Cams.com.
At every call from the stentorian-voiced Gunner (“Okay! Time to switch! Keep it movin’!) the elite crowd of adult industry insiders from all sectors exchanged business cards and elevator spiels, making the XBIZ-famous connections that could one day prove lasting.
One could see execs like MrSkin’s Austin Fiascone, porn stars like Ana Foxx and cam sensations like Callum and Cole mingling with other makers, content brokers, affiliate reps and platform managers.
XBIZ’s own Leah Mahi was also on hand to keep an eye on the raucous time. Influencers from every corner of adult came together to meet, greet and pitch their businesses to each other in what could be the first steps toward any number of collaborations.
“This is such a success,” Gunner told XBIZ. “I think two minutes was maybe just enough time for everyone to get out their elevator pitch.”
“I met a ton of potential business partners,” said newcomer cam model Allie Awesome. “I’m excited about some of the projects I may get to work on through these meetings.”
As soon as the Speed Networking event was over, everyone headed down to the Sunset Lounge, the conference’s name for the Riot House bar at the Andaz, named and decorated after the tales of rock ’n’ roll excess that — allegedly — took place during the period the hotel was known as the Hyatt House.
This year, the XBIZ convention featured a multiplicity of panels covering every aspect of the industry under the motto “Voices of the Industry.”
Branding and marketing experts 7Veils sponsored a session led by their social media guru Alex Lecomte on Social Media Marketing: “2020’s Trends, Do’s and Don’ts.”
The mood was definitely upbeat as LeComte spelled out some of the social media trends emerging for 2020, as well as some of the pitfalls. LeCompte is a humorous storyteller, and the capacity crowd was laughing throughout.
LeComte broke down the best way to use the Twitter algorithm to increase reach. “Act like a human” is the mantra at the core of his strategy. “Stay away from doing one thing too much or too regularly,” he warned would-be social media ninjas. For example, “liking a bunch of posts in a row, or always posting a gif on the hour. Avoid appearing like a spambot!”
“Be sneaky about it,” was his time-honored advice on advertising your content. “Don’t just say, ‘Come sign up for my OnlyFans for $X.’ Say something unrelated and then mention, ‘Hey, by the way, I have this OnlyFans you might want to check out!’”
Led by Megan Stokes, the superstar exec with New Media Group Management (NMG), “Content Monetization the Right Way” combined know-how about legal, platform and content creation issues to present a bird’s-eye view of how to market more effectively in this more and more vertically integrated era.
Strokes’ panelists were Mile High Media’s director and producer Jacky St. James, Natalia Kaplan — Marketing Manager for the Model Program at Pornhub — and adult industry attorney Corey Silverstein.
“We will talk about what to do onset — at what to do offset,” Stokes told the packed to standing-room-only crowd at Studio 2. “Promoting content can be affected by things like storytelling, or images you use. Even choosing a color or your own style to set yourself apart.”
The panelists then discussed the importance of niches following the maxim “no one types in ‘sex’ in a tubesite or a clip store,” meaning that keywords and tags are essential to keep up with ever-changing trends.
“Actually, I just did type ‘sex’ in a tubesite,” teased the always jocular Silverstein.
“Is that why you were late?” retorted Strokes with impeccable timing.
Attendees were encouraged to be incredibly specific and “to hit your niches” with multiple hooks. Pornhub’s Kaplan held the rapturous audience as she shared the arcane secrets of large-platform data analysis.
Coming into 2020, “Threesomes and the Group genres are riding high,” Kaplan revealed. “It make sense, it’s one of people’s top fantasies.”
“If you know that the hot trends are MILF, Interracial, Amateur and Ebony, if you’re someone who produces Interracial, you should then do threesome scenes with two MILFs, so you go multi-niche.”
“I will tell you that that content I just mentioned would sell,” Kaplan half-joked, “So if anyone’s got it, I’ll buy it from you.”
Over at nearby Studio 1, GLI Services’ Ilan Bunimovitz and Andrew Sullivan hosted a panel called “Bricks to Clicks: What Retail’s Next Evolution Means for Your Business.”
The more intimate discussion focused on helping brick-and-mortar retail stores take advantage of emerging online sales channels.
Sullivan bravely presented himself as a poster person for the physical retail sector’s costly missteps over the years: being slow to adopt online sales of videos, being slow to adopt DVDs when media changed, being slow to adopt pay-per-minute VOD models.
However, he told the crowd, “the lessons learned from those failures allowed us to focus on using their online platform to help other, traditional retail businesses adopt an online sales component.”
According to the panelists, retail brick-and-mortar businesses can be slow to adopt an online presence because the margins are lower, but it’s important to emphasize that using an online platform can build customer loyalty.
“While they may make that [single] purchase in your store,” was the takeaway, “you want them to come back and make 100 purchases on your website afterwards.”
Gregarious Brad Mitchell, the “MojoHost with the Most,” led “Camming Confidential,” a fascinating discussion of the ins-and-outs of the cam world with some of the most important players in the sector, both onstage and in the crowd.
General uncertainty about political and legal developments drove much of the conversion.
ImLive’s Shay Efron brought up California’s controversial AB5 employment legislation. “It’s gonna drive models out of California,” Efron predicted, voicing the room’s frustration about the issue being “a political thing.”
“It’s not about technology,” said Ephron. “It’s a liberal political thing. Actually, there aren’t that many models in California, comparatively — there’s a few high-profile girls, but not a lot of them. Most girls would have no problem moving to Vegas if they want to work.”
Cams.com’s Gunner Taylor explained that the company, along with spokesmodel and APAG union president Alana Evans, have scheduled a meeting with the bill’s author, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, to attempt to convince her to adopt exclusionary language allowing cam models to continue working freely without being treated as employees.
Streamate’s Liz Rezevics and Flirt4Free’s Jeff Wilson agreed with their competitor Gunner’s position, in general.
“Just like FOSTA,” opined Wilson. “AB5 just needs to get litigated. Someone would have to pull in Larry Flynt and get it litigated all the way.”
“Yes, I’m not worried about the models [bringing up lawsuits],” Rekevics said. “I’m worried about the attorneys.”
“We’re all exposed,” warned Gunner, who brought in Cams.com model Val Dodds to give the models’ POV.
“So, fuck that bill!” rallied Wilson.
The 2 p.m. panels also covered a panoply of topics. The now-expanded, much anticipated legal panel by experts and XBIZ veterans Corey Silverstein and Lawrence Walters used the longer runtime to deeply explore the ramifications of the current War on Porn.
Under the alarming title “Legal Alert 2020: Staying Safe from the Sex Trafficking Crackdown,” Silverstein proposed an “interactive conversation with the audience” as the format for the 90-minute seminar, which was also packed.
Florida-based Walters, referred by the Michigan-based Silverstein as “a mentor to me and a great friend,” spoke of First Amendment rights and how the freedom of expression was under attack by a bogus “sex trafficking” panic, and the new War On Porn.
“When you hear the news about ‘sex trafficking,'” Walters told the room, “you immediately think ‘But how does that affect me? I don’t engage in sex trafficking, I’m not hiring minors and I’m not doing anything anyone doesn’t want to do.'”
But, Walters chillingly warned, “sex trafficking” is just the new face of the old War on Porn. “They’ve tried different approaches over the years,” he added. “This is the latest approach. This is the fourth ‘War on Porn.'”
Silverstein informed the audience he had been banned by Instagram and Walters by Facebook.
“It’s a combination between morality and lack of education,” Silverstein said about supposedly “liberal” politicians creating laws that ultimately affect the industry and freedom of expression. “Many of these politicians are voting against it but still enjoying porn, said Silverstein. “They might not agree but will vote for a bill just so they can be reelected. This bill [FOSTA] has done nothing good.”
“They don’t care about rational discussion,” Walters protested.
One of this year’s innovations at the XBIZ show was the introduction of a fetish panel, booked and moderated by XBIZ’s Zoe Tamara, with fetish and kink experts Dee Severe, Aiden Starr and Marcelo.
Like many of the other sessions, California employment legislation AB5 was a key point of the conversation. “AB5 is really scary,” said Severe Sex Films’ Dee Severe. “ We still shoot here sometimes, but the law just seems so stupid and intrusive.”
“California is a very law-heavy state,” concurred Evil Angel creator Aiden Starr. “AB5 is a very onerous law. My concern is that the government is putting this law forward as being helpful for workers but really it’s just a tax grab for the government.”
The panelists also discussed the “pro” in “pro Dom” and how important it was for sex workers in the sector to have at the very least a basic knowledge of how consent works in the context of BDSM.
“Just because you put someone in latex and give them a flogger that doesn’t make them a dominatrix,” said Severe. “You need to get trained.” Marcelo explained he relies more and more on the word-of-mount trust of a small community policing itself. “I know the companies I shoot for,” he said, and those who may try to behave irresponsibly “will get blacklisted really quick.”
The largest room, Studio 4, was the only possible venue for the epic “Presenting Sex: Diversification, Inclusivity and Content Production in 2020,” flawlessly produced by Sssh.com’s Angie Rowntree, and moderated by one of XBIZ’s favorite sexperts, Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals.
Groundbreaking content creator and paysite owner Lance Hart, known for his iconoclastic boundary smashing, spoke about how to find a market by thinking outside the box. “When I started in the industry, I was paying for his own shoots,” the entrepreneurial Hart explained, “and I still mostly do pay models for shoots,” though he will occasionally trade with a performer if they both agree. If her rate is more than his, he’ll make up the difference by, say, paying for the hotel room. The important thing, is always to own your own content.”
Owning your own exclusive content is important if you want to make a shit ton of money later,” Hart sentenced.
Nyssa Nevers spoke about how hearing from fans about the kind of custom content they want is really important because what one or two fans want can point to what lots of people want. She also spoke about how well custom content sells, but that it’s important to set boundaries and be up front about turn-around times. That said, she also pointed out that when making custom content it’s important to stick to exactly what the customer asks for. “If you don’t do it exactly how they like, they may want their money refunded,” she explained.
Karla Lane added that she was empowered by how “creating content on your own allows you to choose when and with whom you want to film without having to wait for a studio to set it up.”
“Particularly when niche content like BBW is being filmed,” Lane explained, “being able to choose when and with whom you shoot makes it much more fun and interesting. The more diverse it is, the funner it is,” she explained.
The always-smart, always uplifting Romi Rain gave a passionate defense of the importance of social media. “Social media has saved my life,” Rain told the crowd. “In the past you’d have to wait for studios to get you work and contract performers would have trouble just paying their rent sometimes.”
“Social media has given us all a platform,” Rain concluded.
Playboy Plus’s Holly Ruprecht hosted a discussion with performers Elsa Jean and Ana Foxxx about what sort of content the company is looking to make. The small studio was packed, with industry insiders like Bree Mills, mainstream journalists like Lina Misitzis, a panelist on Thursday, and industry fans of the Bunny brand and the two charismatic stars relishing the opportunity and Ruprecht’s contagious good vibes.
“I mean, we put up a video of Elsa cooking food and it got like 20,000 views,” Ruprecht said. “At Playboy what we’re trying to do is personality stuff. Instead of just shooting hardcore like some of the other companies, we’ll do photoshoots and then put up content that highlights the personalities of the performers.”
Between the earlier panels and the afternoon bonanza of useful info sessions, attendees retreated to the social mingling at the Sunset Lounge, overlooking the Strip. But when the structured time resumed, a couple of the highlights were screenings of two of the year’s critically acclaimed film projects by two of adult’s most daring artistic creators: Kayden Kross and Bree Mills.
The earlier screening was presented by Deeper.com’s studio head and main creator, Kayden Kross, and her shining new contract star, the radiant Maitland Ward. Kross wanted to focus on the role of dialogue and script-crafting for projects like hers.
It was a Master Class-style filmmaking lesson. “So, with Maitland, there’s a lot of short words in what she says, although they’re heaving-hitting,” Kross explained to an enraptured crowd who behaved like any film school classroom across town at UCLA or USC.
“We’re showing the setting instead of telling the setting,” Kross said, speaking over the projection of her latest collaboration with Ward, a holiday-themed short called “Higher Power.”
“See, the meeting shows hushed voices, setting the tone, so when Maitland when she finally speaks it’s completely against what they have as a community here.”
“Dante [Colle] here, just before he starts, you’ll notice that the first thing he talks about is ‘power’ and we’re gonna back into it. He speaks about ‘the season’ — so the holiday setting is implied. And when Riley [Steele] makes her speech, we realized this is not Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous — it’s Sexaholics Anonymous.”
Ward explained how magical it was for her to be given such “a gift.”
“When I read it, it was poetic,” she said, “but for the actor who has to say it, it builds without notifying the audience. It’s taking you to a place, by just bringing you there.”
“It’s not good guy vs. bad guy,” Kross agreed. “It’s not her domming some guy and pegging him, it’s an equitable sexual relationship, but we’ve giving her so much power through the dialogue that she is absolutely dominant.”
“To me it’s much sexier that having a guy getting his balls crushed by a high heel,” Kross confided. “It’s taking adult into an entirely new level, it’s making mainstream merge with adult,” said Ward.
“That script, that delivery — I wouldn’t have given it to anyone by Maitland,” concluded the director.
Three key players in the intersection of the adult industry and VR, 2049’s Anna Lee, cinematographer, director and producer Alex Ladd and sextech evangelist Ela Darling were available to explain to a fun, well-populated crowd how to achieve “Virtual Vibrancy” by “Elevating VR Content Through Intimacy and Immersion.”
Darling, an experienced speaker about VR, told the story about starting out in VR by duct-taping two GoPros together, and how the best way to break in now is with a good off-the-shelf, do-it-all 3D camera. She finds herself doing much of her own work in CGI, so it can be distributed through Steam.
Segpay’s Cathy Beardsley moderated a panel of industry experts giving sage advice on how to “Turn Up the Base!” and “Maximize Profits from Existing Customers.”
Shay Efron from ImLive summarized his winning attitude to the well-attended room with an aquatic analogy. “Content looks like an ocean, but it’s actually divided into pools,” Efron told the crowd. “There are different niches, fetishes genres, locations. You need to focus on that differentiation.”
“You need to be an idiot not to try to monetize as much as possible,” he added.
“The Clip Game: Top Trends for 2020” was the 4 p.m. seat-filler at the massive Studio 4. Some of the biggest names in all segments of the Clips supply chain were in attendance. XBIZ World’s Managing Editor, Alejandro Freixes, got the ball rolling by asking panelists “What is your brand?”
“I have been an advocate for the plus-size industry and BBWs,” said performer Sofia Rose. “Porn is the best place to start normalizing different body types.”
Marketing guru and phone-sex expert Amberly Rothfield explains she makes “a lot of audio clips” and also creates AV content about marketing trends.
“I focus on complete immersion,” offered Meana Wolf. “I want people to have a full experience. I don’t want someone watching for 30 seconds and then stopping. I want them to watch for 40 minutes.”
“All my content is story-based,” Wolf added.
JustFor.fans’ Dominic Ford explained that his company has “created a community of models.”
“We also believe in putting a lot back in to the community,” Ford said. “We’ve raised thousands of dollars for charities.”
IsMyGirl.com’s Evan Seinfeld, an experienced exec with decades in the business, said his company builds what we call “premium social media.”
“So we try to mimic Facebook and Instagram as much as possible,” he admitted. “We build different verticals — and we seek out unicorns: girls on Instagram who’ve maybe never done adult before, and we teach them how they can make $20-30K a month.”
Pornhub’s Natalia Kaplan could boast that her platform “is the biggest [adult] website in the world.”
“So we specialize in bringing in new fans,” she said, “getting performers seen by huge numbers of people who’ve never seen them before.”
The next screening-plus-creative-team-presentation was for Adult Time’s “Teenage Lesbian,” Bree Mills’ autobiographical riff on being a gay high-schooler in the 1990s. After a brief BTS clip and a moving extended trailer, Bree introduced the film’s stellar ensemble cast — Kenna James, Kendra Spade, Whitney Wright, Casey Calvert, Wolf Hudson — and the critically heralded protagonist, Kristen Scott.
“The R-Rated version of the movie is available on YouTube,” said Mills. “I wanted it to be widely seen. I wanted people to watch what it was like to come out, and what it was to come out in the decade before gay rights became any kind of conversation — the 1990s.”
“I asked myself,” Mills went on, “what social experiment you can do with lesbian porn where you can be intelligent and entertaining, but also sexual.”
Scott then explained that talking to the director about their personal experiences really helped her get into the character of Sam. “It’s not very difficult for me to relate,” said Scott. “I love women and all different kinds of people, but I grew up in a time when the internet had all sorts of different resources and I could field that out for myself.”
“I’ve never been so vulnerable as an actor in porn and it really scared me — in the very best way,” she added, noting that she has gotten so many DMs from people, “who told me the film taught them learned how to relate to family members.”
IsMyGirl presented a panel on “The Future of Fan Platforms and Premium Social Media.” The popular event leaned on the strengths of the presenter brand with testimonials from cam performers like Ali Stone.
“I was new to camming, I’d never done it before,” Stone explained. After reviewing all her platform options, she decided that IsMyGirl “had all the different features that the larger sites had, all in one place.”
“It just made things so much easier,” said Stone.
Cybersocket hosted its yearly summit on the state of the gay sector of the industry. A lively panel was led by Cybersocket’s Morgan Sommer. Sommer started on a personal note, asking each panelist about the concept of loving your work, loving what you do and being passionate about your career. Each panelist was candid in their replies.
“In the past, we didn’t have the luxury of producing content ourselves and immediately making money,” said LeGrand Wolf. “If you love what you do you bring passion to it.”
“I love learning new things every single day,” added Hector Camacho.
Additional panelists were Karl Edwards of XXXEdit; Alex LeComte of 7Veils; legendary director and producer Chi Chi LaRue; Douglas Richter of cam-focused Adonis Casting; JustFor.fans principal Dominic Ford; and longtime adult industry attorney and advocate Gill Sperlein.
Two hot-button topics were covered: whether studios that provide content to the gay market should be gay-owned; and the current state of STI testing, PrEP and, essentially, sero-sorting models. Many participants emphasized the need to educate models, the public, and the straight side of the industry about the idea that “U=U,” another way of saying that “undetectable equals untransmittable.”
The mental health of the adult community, and especially of the performers, actors and models, has been a priority at XBIZ events. Mental health nonprofit Pineapple Support hosted a safe space for people to discuss “Self Parenting.”
Led by Pineapple Support’s Leya Tanit, the conversation featured therapists Nicoletta Von Heidegger and Kate Stewart.
“Pineapple Support was formed in response to recent losses in the industry,” Tanit explained. “Someone had to step in, and I asked myself ‘If not me, then who?’”
Pineapple Support offers performers two services: 24-hour online emotional support, as well as, according to Tanit, “professional therapy offered through an online request form that is absolutely secure, on a sliding-scale basis.”
Von Heidegger spoke about what she calls “self-parenting” which is self-care, but in a more personal way. “In a society where sex workers are dehumanized, it’s important to view self-care as a form of political warfare,” said the therapist.
After the XBIZ Exec Awrds, newly expaned and renamed “the XBIZ Honors,” the evening closed with the carnival of merriment that is the suite party “Rooftop Rage,” hosted by Mojo Host’s honcho Brad Mitchell and his longtime associate, attorney Corey Silverstein.
Entertainment, once again, was provided by a cheeky Austin Powers’ impersonator — riffing on the “mojo” in MojoHost, to Mitchell’s endless delight — and by the real-life Pauly Shore, the 1990s funnyman, who grew up next door to the Andaz at his mom’s Comedy Store venue.
Packed with Mojo/Silverstein merch offerings like lube, condoms and other branded accouterments, the open-bar, DJ-fueled entertainment was a reminder of the party days of the “webmaster days,” as everyone toasted the night away overlooking the Classic Hollywood stomping grounds below, alongside the boulevard poetically named after the setting of the sun.