It might be a good time to reflect on how this holiday has, for as long as anyone can remember, been associated with binge-drinking college students engaging in a variety of acts they may well find themselves regretting later on (provided they are able to remember them, that is). One of the most, if not the most, representative symbols of this unique sub-culture is the Girls Gone Wild series of videos, that throughout most the '90s and much of the first decade of the new millennium, used to tantalize viewers with the promise of helplessly drunken, unrestrained co-eds in its ubiquitous calypso-drum themed late-night commercials.
The Girls Gone Wild franchise has been absent from television screens for some time now, though, due to the very expensive legal troubles of its founder Joe Francis. Late in February of this year, the company officially filed for bankruptcy as a result of a lawsuit filed against Francis by casino mogul Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts (WYNN).
It could very well be the end of an era or at least the end of an aesthetic (as Spring Break shenanigans are not likely to go away anytime soon). The kids aren’t watching MTV’s (VIA) Spring Break show (do they even still tape that show?), or The Grind anymore, and now, no more “Girls Gone Wild” either. But that does not mean that sex isn’t still big business-just watch your garden-variety television commercial or flip through a celebrity magazine the next time you are waiting in line at the grocery store if you need confirmation of this thesis.
Girls Gone Wild was probably one of the dying gasps of the previously dominant adult VHS/DVD industry. Sex-entertainment has since migrated from that back room of the local convenience mart or adult book store to the internet, and business is positively booming, even if the profits are being made by a new class of entrepreneurs. Sex is one of the oldest commodities in the history of our species, a fact that will certainly not change any time soon.
The traditional adult-entertainment industry hasn’t just disappeared either, it’s just had to make do with the new web-based reality like a great many other industries have.
What is curious, however, is that you would not necessarily notice the obscene amount of money that is being made, more than ever with the help of the internet, by looking at the markets. Indeed, there are very few adult-entertainment companies that are publicly traded.
Rick’s Cabaret International, Inc. (RICK) owns and operates private nightclubs “that offer live adult entertainment, restaurant, and bar services primarily for businessmen and professionals in the United States”, according to their website. This company is unique not only because it is publicly traded, but also because its business is the live experience. Their market cap is $84.6 million, and their shares on Friday were trading at a gain of 3.74 percent, or $8.88. The company has managed to keep up with the internet age by partnering with the adult video giant Vivid for showcase events, and to incorporate live webcams into their club experience.
The other publicly traded companies are less remarkable in terms of their performance on the market.
FriendFinder Networks, Inc. (FFN) is what is left of Bob Guccione’s Penthouse Magazine, which is a sad tale in itself. After various transformations that have always been plagued by financial issues, FFN is now a holding company that owns popular sex-themed social media and pornography websites like AdultFriendFinder.com, Cams.com, and, yes, SeniorFriendFinder.com and AsianFriendFinder.com. The company’s market cap is currently $17.66 million, with shares trading at a mere $0.55 (down 1.61 percent). The company attempted to IPO back in 2008, but was thwarted by the economic crisis, and finally managed to do so in May of 2011.
Scores Holding Company (SCRH) is somewhat similar to Rick’s Cabaret in that it provides licensing to men’s nightclubs that feature topless entertainment to accompany sporting events, private parties, and the like. The company’s market cap is $4.96 million, with shares trading at a whopping $0.03. The company also operates an online chat/webcam site, Scoreslive.com.
Private Media Group (PRVT) is a Barcelona-based provider of sex-videos for media platforms around the world. It also provides proprietary content in the form of videos, films, and magazines for distribution through the internet and retail stores. PRVT’s market cap is $6.54 million, with shares currently trading at $0.30.
Aside from Rick’s Cabaret, who seem to have created a niche-market for themselves, it is clear that adult-entertainment does not do well on the market.
If you want to know where the money is, you will have to consider companies such as Larry Flint’s Hustler, who, aside from making magazines and films, operates retail stores and casinos, as well as the now standard web services.
More interesting still is Manwin Holdings, the company founded by the mysterious or at least extremely self-effacing German computer programmer Fabian Thylmann. Perhaps more than any other company, Manwin has been at the forefront of adult-entertainment and particularly pornography’s migration to the internet.
Thylmann developed Next-Generation Affiliate Tracking Software (NATS) which revolutionized how adult videos were watched on the internet. Much to the chagrin of the traditional adult industry, he is considered by many to be the “King” of porn, even though it is not even clear whether or not he has set foot on a set (see the New York Magazine article linked above for more on his fascinating story).
Aside from having acquired Playboy, Manwin’s websites like Brazzers and YouPorn get 16 billion hits per month, and are considered to be the most visited websites in the world.
[Image via Flickr]
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