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The Softer Side of Sex

11 Jan, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

While it may be inaccurate to say the erotic video market seeks youthful consumers, it's apparent suppliers see tremendous opportunities in the Generation X demographic that's all grown up and has cash to spend.

Playboy Home Video began dividing its product into several different lines last year -- some of them softer than others -- and is looking to do more with contemporary music in its videos. The goal is to combine the hot artists of today with traditional, Playboy-styled images.

“The idea to marry Playboy tradition with popular music, hip-hop music and other artists was a natural,” said Tony Borg, sales and promotions director for Playboy Home Video. “It's the first step in what will be an ongoing approach to reaching the demographic interested in both music and Playboy.”

The Playboy organization itself is in a new era as it seeks to reinvent itself, and music is a strong hook.

“Playboy videos have always been like extended music videos in a way,” Borg said. “Music is such an important component of what we do.”

There have been multiple components added to the traditional Playboy line, with Playboy Home Video last year establishing Playboy Classic, Playboy TV and Playboy Exposed. The first offers traditional-styled Playboy product on video. The second offers some of the edgier product from the Playboy Channel. And the Exposed line is reality-styled product, with everyday women exposing more than they normally would in public.

“It was apparent to us that the customers were divided into people who wanted these categories and would also crossover on some titles,” Borg said. “It's worked out very well. It used to be homogenous, but the product became so varied, we needed a little running room. We also continue to make our own full-length titles in both ‘R' and unrated versions.”

Retail has responded, Borg said.

“We've had great success in the music-video combination chains,” Borg said. “The retailers appreciate the fact that we never have nudity on the cover, and we offer consistently high-quality product. Our covers are usually more conservative than the covers of Vogue or Cosmopolitan.

Consumers purchase 75 percent of Playboy videos on DVD, Borg said, but the company will continue to sell VHS and even add special features through the use of bonus cassettes.

The desire to do something fresh with erotica is also found at Pendulum Pictures, which is looking to release about six titles a year, starting this month with Porn, starring the February 2002 Playmate of the Month, Anka Romensky.

“We wanted something new, something beyond just another T&A line of films,” said Pendulum president Darrin Ramage. “We wanted to tap into a demographic that has not been tapped into in this market, and that's Generation X.

“Most people who get their erotica from Cinemax or rent hard erotica are not the younger generation. But [the younger] generation is on the cutting edge. They seek something with more of an edge.”

Pendulum has even given its line a new genre name that goes beyond erotica, calling it a “mystique” line. A sister company of Pendulum is the horror-minded Brain Damage Films.

“We asked the regulars who like that line what they wanted from erotica titles,” Ramage said. “They wanted titles that had a story and were a little edgy. They wanted fresh twists. The 18-year-old-and-slightly-older crowd was raised on reality TV. It's a world they understand.”

Erotica fare runs the gamut: the classic and traditional, such as the consistently strong-selling Penthouse titles distributed by Image Entertainment; the titles geared toward the Gen X market; and the art-film-styled erotica product offered by several successful suppliers.

In that last vein, Wellspring Media is repromoting its International Erotic Collection, a special package of the critically acclaimed titles on DVD: Lies, In the Realm of the Senses, A Real Young Girl, Pola X, L'Ennui and Erotique. The titles also are available individually.

“Erotica means so many things, and we like to think of our collection as going from not pushing the envelope all that much to really pushing the envelope,” said Wellspring VP Dan Gurlitz. “Some are in English, some are in other languages, but all have some level of sophistication.

“These are titles film fans like to watch: classic and contemporary films with sensuality as much as sexuality, and intelligence.”

First Run Features, meanwhile, continues to do well with its Radley Metzger line, distributing films from the legendary director.

“There is always an audience discovering classic erotica for the first time,” said Matt Kiernan, sales executive for major accounts at First Run Features. “We can continue to reinvent the titles through DVD and other means.”

The suppliers say supportive retailers such as Best Buy, Tower Records and Video, and Virgin Megastores are open-minded to the product and enjoy success with erotica.

“It depends on the title, of course,” said John Thrasher, VP of video purchasing for Tower. “We try to separate our stores into adult product and more mainstream fare. We rate our titles and hope that helps the consumer.”

TLA Releasing offers both gay and straight erotica titles, using low price-point strategies.

“When you can offer three VHS cassettes for $13 in this genre, it has a great effect,” said Richard Wolff, ownership partner and marketing director for TLA. “If there is good product to go along with good pricing, it sells.”

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