LOS ANGELES — Adult industry leaders and community members gathered for today’s inaugural XBIZ Virtual Town Hall, where they discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their personal lives and businesses.
Moderated by XBIZ Founder and Publisher Alec Helmy, 15 industry leaders representing a variety of aspects of the adult entertainment — from performers, directors and studio owners, to clip and camming platforms, payment processors, attorneys and mental health advocates — gathered in the now-ubiquitous Zoom grid, with additional conversations occurring among community members in a concurrent chatroom.
The stakeholders who participated from their own self-imposed confinements were Brad Mitchell (MojoHost), Tim Valenti (Falcon/NakedSword), Cathy Beardsley (Segpay), Corey Silverstein (Silverstein Legal), Dariusz (Clips4Sale), Vanessa Eve (Streamate), Michelle LeBlanc (Free Speech Coalition), Steven Grooby (Grooby), Leya Tanit (Pineapple Support), Lance Hart (Lance Hart Studios/Pervout.com), Shirley Lara (Chaturbate), Romi Rain (performer and CAM4 ambassador), Megan Stokes (NMG Management), Kayden Kross (Deeper/Vixen Media Group) and Stan (FanCentro).
XBIZ’s Events Director Moe Helmy was also onscreen to supervise the transmission.
Adult community members who accessed the broadcast through XBIZ.net, and took part in the conversation via chat, include performer-filmmaker Courtney Trouble, filmmaker Fivestar, Kink.com’s Mickey Mod, PervCity’s Suzanne, director mr. Pam, attorney Joe Obenberger, director Colin Rowntree, helmer Adam Christopher, Pink & White’s Jiz Lee, Playboy’s Holly Ruprecht and Professor Constance Pensley. XBIZ World Managing Editor Alejandro Freixes acted as chatroom moderator.
Alec Helmy convened the virtual town hall in an effort to unite the adult business community during the COVID-19 outbreak, he said, with the goal of helping companies and individuals circumvent challenges and seize opportunities ahead.
After several weeks of mainstream and industry reports about a clear uptick in viewership of adult content, apparently the result of homebound consumers turning to the internet for entertainment and stress relief, Helmy resolved to gather a diverse ensemble of business leaders to examine a wide range of topics and issues from both a business and consumer standpoint, and discuss how forward-thinking operators plan to navigate the weeks and months ahead.
Helmy opened the session by welcoming the participants and acknowledged the novelty of the format. He expressed his hope that it might result in other such gatherings and asked for a minute of silence to commemorate the 1.4 million people who had caught the coronavirus and the over 80,000 deaths around the world and their affected families and loved ones.
The first round of comments after the symbolic moment of silence concerned how the global pandemic and the stay-at-home measures has affected the participants on a personal level.
Living in the New Normal
Falcon/NakedSword’s Tim Valenti set the tone for entirety of the town hall meeting by reminding himself of his own good fortune, and by expressing gratitude that the adult industry has been able to pivot and continuen to conduct their day-to-day business, given the circumstances.
Valenti spoke of being reminded of “how fortunate I am… for what we have built, and what we have in terms of resources. What it’s done, what it’s made even more clear [is] what I already believed, but feel this is an opportunity to practice: do whatever you can to help your family members, your neighbors, your friends, people that you don’t even know, to really try to make a difference in their lives, to make things better.”
Segpay’s Cathy Beardsley referred to a cousin in New York who’s a nurse and who caught the virus. Others in the group also acknowledged the increasing numbers of people they know who have tested positive, and relatives of people they know who have passed.
An emotional moment occurred when Michelle LeBlanc, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), spoke candidly about her feelings about being separated from her younger daughter, who fell ill and was spending the quarantine with LeBlanc’s ex-husband, who was also afflicted with symptoms.
MojoHost’s Brad Mitchell spoke about feeling “extra-sensitive” about the situation, noting several people close to him, including his best friend’s mother, have passed away from the illness.
Industry attorney Corey Silverstein acknowledged the cognitive dissonance in trying to imagine if someone had said to him, two months ago, “Hey, by they way, there’s a chance the entire world might be completely shut down and everyone will be sequestered.”
“I’d [have] probably looked at him and said, ‘You’re nuts,’” Silverstein remarked, before encouraging people to use the opportunity to “open up their minds” to preparing for circumstances that can seem unlikely.
Steven Grooby, founder of trans studio Grooby, explained he had been in Los Angeles preparing for the Transgender Erotica Awards when the lockdowns began to ramp up, but he initially talked himself into thinking the crisis would not be life-changing.
“I should have been ahead of the game,” Grooby admitted. “My wife is Chinese, and she’s been telling me for a couple of months all the facts coming out of China, and I was a bit dismissive of it.”
Clips4Sale’s Dariusz added that the pandemic also made clear that “it doesn’t matter how much money you have,” and that we are all in this together and have to pitch in resources to help defeat it.
Pineapple Support’s Leya Tanit, speaking from Spain, where she lives, gave her perspective as a British expat who brought her mother to live with her because she did not trust the U.K.’s preparations to fight the virus with a person who “is very high-risk,” liker her mother.
Most of the speakers emphasized the necessity for routines during the social isolation, particularly for those living with relatives, including small children. Helmy offered that every Friday he orders McDonald’s as a treat, and he looks forward to it, having gained “an appreciation for the simpler things in life.”
FanCentro’s founder Stan offered a silver lining by pointing out that this was “the longest I’ve been at home for the last 15 years, so my wife is super-happy.”
Performer-producer Lance Hart drew a contrast between the unusual situation of having his paysites running, and his business even seeing an uptick, while his older brother, a lobbyist in Washington D.C. who has always been seen by his family as “the stable one,” might not have a job or an income in a couple of months.
“That’s crazy to me,” Hart said. “That guy has always had everything going on.”
For performer and CAM4 ambassador Romi Rain, lifelong advice from her mother, a phlebotomist who has always taught her to not be alarmed and pay attention to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), helped her manage her anxiety.
Kayden Kross, a performer-filmmaker and studio head for Vixen Media Group’s Deeper, spoke about having “a lot of time for reflection, a lot of thinking time.”
Chaturbate’s Shirley Lara called in from an unfinished room in her house, after her planned remodeling suddenly stopped. She spoke of having two small kids, a baby and a toddler, and how her live-in nanny, upon whom she depends to be productive in her demanding, full-time job, “got really freaked out about the pandemic. She gave me 72 hours’ notice and took off back to her country.”
Megan Stokes, from NMG Management, has experienced a similar situation as a parent with a full-time job suddenly adjusting to having to work from home and supervise children at the same time.
Another working parent in the group, Streamate’s Vanessa Eve, observed that planning ahead has taken a backseat to living day-to-day and setting up self-care routines for good mental health.
At this point, Eve admitted, we might have to acknowledge that, at least for the time being, the current situation might be “the new normal.”
A Rare Thriving Industry
After the personal comments, the adult industry leaders were asked by Alec Helmy to comment on the status of their businesses during this period of social isolation and the voluntary production halt recommended by the FSC.
The consensus was that many people in the industry had experienced the expected uptick in engagement, traffic and revenue reported by mainstream and industry sources.
The general note, however, was not optimistic: panelists spoke again and again of “gratitude” at this unexpected bonanza in lean times for most other businesses, tempered with a recognition that things could turn sour quickly, as overall disposable income dwindles down and consumers elect to prioritize other things over porn.
The panelists also spoke of having to maximize profits right now, while people are looking for at-home entertainment, but also of saving in preparation for an expected sea change.
Tim Valenti, whom Helmy described as head of a diversified operation including original content, paysites and VOD, spoke about the need to be “consistent and transparent” with his team so they know the direction the company is going.”
“We are using the surplus of revenue,” Valenti said, “to produce things we have been wanted to produce for a long time — things, of course that do not involve contact sex.”
Vanessa Eve, whose duties at Streamate include recruiting talent for the cam platform, mentioned that she’s seeing an increase in model sign-ups.
Eve said she is reviewing “stacks” of new people wanting to join the platform for the first time. But she’s also prepared for a high dropout rate when many of these newcomers realize that either the adult entertainment industry is not for them, or that they came in only to make a quick buck during the pandemic.
“Business has picked up a lot,” Eve said. “On one end, that is great, but on the other end, I’m waiting for the ball to drop — how long until they realize that you’re not just gonna make thousands of dollars your first couple of days on cam? And that’s when you start to lose people.”
“It’s important for me to really take a grounded approach and make sure that talent make an informed decision whenever they’re getting into this, because maybe they’re doing this out of circumstances, to get income into their household, but they have to realize this is gonna live forever after they leave,” Eve concluded.
Shirley Lara from Chaturbate agreed with Streamate’s Eve that the onboarding of new talent, particularly “civilians” or “mainstream people” trying out sex work for the first time while stranded at home with no income prospects, should be tackled carefully.
“We are seeing a huge new influx of new broadcasters signing up,” Lara said, “and we’re going to start an ambassador program,” to onboard them with the assistance of seasoned performers.
Lara hopes that if their experience is positive during the quarantine, some of them will continue camming with Chaturbate after the current crisis is over.
FanCentro’s Stan added that he has seen a 40 percent uptick in models signing up and is offering a 90 percent payout for the next 90 days with “all our profits going to the new influencers who are signing up to our platforms.”
Segpay’s Cathy Beardsley, described by Helmy as being “at the hub of commerce for adult,” said that from the vantage point of payment processing for the premium sites, she’s seen her numbers increase by four percent from February to March and is seeing the trend as being five percent increase for April.
“Clearly people need to pass the time and be entertained and we’re benefiting from that,” Beardsley added.
For NMG Management’s Megan Stokes, while some of her clients’ activities, particularly on the DVD side, have “ground to a halt,” others have picked up. “Premium viewshare, clip stores, all those things — outside of physical goods, everything is either going up or staying stable. Right now, broadcast TV is staying stable.”
The Wild West
Top stars like Romi Rain have taken advantage of the production hold for standard studio shoots to refocus on their main money-earners, premium sites and cam sites.
“My main income doesn’t come from [studio] shoots,” Rain — a CAM4 ambassador — said, “and I know of a lot of other performers are using premiums or cam sites to get by. Performers who aren’t on premiums or cam sites are the ones struggling or concerned right now.”
“There’s been a huge surge in the past two weeks on premium sites, like OnlyFans and webcams,” Rain added. “There’s an interesting surge in popularity when it comes to contents and premiums. We need entertainment. Traffic has been incredible. It can inspire a little bit of guilt, because this is one of the industries that’s been able to thrive and make money. I’m incredibly grateful.”
“We are giving people a reason to pass the time, we need a distraction,” Rain said.
Lance Hart, a prolific producer, performer and paysite operator, acknowledges that “there’s lot to be grateful for,” especially with this being a record time for revenue for his ventures. But he also wanted to point out that as a performer/producer who lives with another performer — Hart is married to Charlotte Sartre — he is fielding numerous office from studios to shoot at home for them.
“Charlotte and I are doing the quarantine together, obviously, so companies are reaching out to us to make movies for them, and I’ve also spent $10,000 in April paying people who are quarantined together to make movies for me, so I’m seeing both sides of that,” Hart said.
Although they might be quarantined together, Hart explained, studios should not assume their cost will only involve paying performers’ rates. As a producer, he is aware that many other costs are involved for talent who transition into producing. Hart advocated for appropriate negotiations to take place to make sure that these new talent-producers are compensated fairly.
“It’s the Wild West right now,” Hart said, “but if we don’t talk about it now, the market will take care of that.”
Helmy asked Deeper’s Kayden Kross about Vixen Media Group’s recent $250,000 initiative to provide talent with equipment to shoot their own content. Kross emphasized that the catch is that Vixen’s brands are “known for quality,” so the new content would have to be up their standards.
“Controlling the quality remotely [is] gonna be one of the things we’ll probably have to be the most careful with,” Kross said. “We’re putting together guides and manuals and step-by-step instructions for how to capture that quality without having someone on set to navigate it for them.”
Kross also spoke about how the new performer-producer projects could continue even after quarantine ends. “This form of content is gonna be a long-term project for us, if we launch it correctly.”
The Deeper director also emphasized that she is grateful that the studio “had a lot of scenes in the can when this began.”
“We are very, very lucky,” and “very, very grateful from a business perspective,” Kross added.
Steven Grooby reported that for his trans studio, business was up between five and ten percent. “We’re making sales, we’re making money,” Grooby said, but warned the room to prepare because “this economy is gonna crash.”
“This is a short-term grace period,” he said.
When people start running out of money, Grooby warned, “entertainment is gonna be the first thing to go.”
“We are trying to get as much money as we can right now,” he said, before soberly recommending others to build “a war chest” for an imminent downturn.
Clips4Sale’s Dariusz also reported an increase in traffic and uploads to his platform, but like Grooby, he stressed that “we don’t know what’s gonna happen next month.” Dariusz encouraged the production community to build into their routines some productive activities that could be done during the quarantine, starting with “maintenance you can do at home,” from improving keywords to re-editing content that might have under-performed
Wasteland’s Colin Rowntree and other participants in the sidebar chat continued the conversation by sharing tips on how to maximize the downtime. “You’d be surprised by how many of us have videos we forgot to release,” offered Lydia Love. “Going through old memory cards is important right now.”
Others recommended the repackaging of old content with super-cuts and releasing director’s cuts.
MojoHost’s Brad Mitchell spoke about his “bird’s-eye view of activity,” with companies hosting with his representing cam sites, premium sites, clip sites, tube sites and advertising networks.
Looking at the picture from his level, the business is “up by 15 percent, not as much as I would have guessed as a layperson.”
Traffic is up, and higher, on platforms like CAM4 and Flirt4Free, but clients that are dependent on content production and not distribution are not doing as well.
The FSC’s Michelle LeBlanc mentioned that the people most affected by the quarantine are not top talent, but “the crew and small independent producers.” The FSC has activated its Emergency Fund to help these people “who are hurting right now.”
Among the panelists, “we are hearing from people who are okay,” LeBlanc observed. “Everyone on this call will be fine at the end of this, probably, but we don’t have representation on this panel from people who aren’t fine, and weren’t fine a week after the production hold went in, people who were already living paycheck-to-paycheck.”
Kink.com’s Fivestar, who participated via the chat, asked LeBlanc about PASS testing for performers who were shooting while being quarantined together. According to the FSC director, the PASS system has been left open — despite the voluntary production halt the group recommended — precisely because of situations like that.
Later, LeBlanc explained that performers who would like “to talk through a specific safety scenario regarding a shoot and testing status” should email the FSC’s Ian O’Brien.
Leya Tanit from Pineapple Support said she had been researching the long-term effects of isolation on mental health. She has been seeing people stressed about their income, about the uncertainty of the future, and people who are passing the quarantine in a place that is not safe.
More people, Tanit said, are reaching out over social media proactively, in case they ever need the mental health resources Pineapple Support offers to sex workers.
Industry attorney Corey Silverstein was asked by Helmy about the economic relief programs offered by the U.S. government, and how they apply to adult businesses, webmasters and talent. Silverstein parsed out the differences between two different packages of support: EIDL (non-forgivable) loans, with “generous” terms and the PPP program.
Silverstein mentioned the EIDL’s application page’s notorious “prurient” exclusion, which appears to disqualify sex workers and sex businesses from application. He encouraged stakeholders to speak with their legal counsel about it before assuming that the “pruriency clause” applied to them.
But the attorney strongly encouraged people to apply for the PPP, “an SBA loan that you apply [for] through your bank.” He advised the group to find a financial institution that will assist with the process, and emphasized that it is “a forgivable loan,” which amounts to “free money” that companies can use for “group health care, insurance [and] some interest payments.”
Another noted industry attorney, Joe Obenberger, posting on the chat conversation, commented the EIDL.
Obenberger has “advised clients to check the ‘nonprurience’ box and I’m not alone among the lawyers representing adult. In the Supreme Court case, Brocket v. Spokane Arcade, the high court had a great deal to say about what ‘prurience’ is and is not. When SBA chose to use to the term, they adopted the meaning of ‘prurience’ given it by the Supreme Court. That’s my opinion, but it’s not legal advice to anyone here. Consult your own attorney.”
As Helmy brought the discussion to a close, Michelle LeBlanc offered that one good thing to come out of the current pandemic is the many ways in which performers are giving back to each other, from large donations to the FSC Emergency Fund, to whatever they’re able to give, including their camming tips for the day.
Romi Rain closed the town hall encouraging talent to “get on premiums! Webcam site, OnlyFans, FanCentro, MayVids! Traffic is up. Join them all!”
“It was really inspiring and interesting,” Rain told XBIZ after the 100-minute town hall had wrapped. “I really enjoyed that we all had slightly different but comparable perspectives in our unique industry facets.”
“I hope XBIZ does more of them!” Rain added.