Meeting VOD Demands of Women, Gay Viewers

Trans Digital Media launched Playgirl TV in 2004 with the belief that female adult entertainment viewers needed a network of their own. But some programmers question the idea of separating female-targeted content as a distinct genre, and Playgirl TV has since developed a significant viewership with an entirely different audience that is garnering more attention -- gay men.

Trans Digital CEO Geoffrey Lurie believes Playgirl has managed to find its niche because it “offered a totally new angle, with programming aimed at women and couples. It emphasizes high-class productions in terms of sets and clothing; and the lighting is not nearly as harsh.” Two smaller outfits, Inpulse and 2 Hearts, failed to make much of a dent distribution-wise because they lacked the brand recognition and track record of Playgirl and Trans Media.

Still, not everyone agrees with the by-gender distinction. New Frontier Media spent $250,000 on research and focus groups and found that women’s tastes are more similar to men than might be expected. “That idea that women want romance and fantasy with a soft-focus lens is based on what men think women want,” said New Frontier president Ken Boenish. Men are just “dead wrong. Men have no idea. Women want a little more context and affection but they enjoy the explicit stuff just as much as men.”

As a result, Boenish said, there’s an “awful lot more woman and couples viewing of our channels than even we imagined.”

Lurie acknowledges that Trans Digital knew from the start they would attract gay men. Playgirl Magazine’s readership has always been about 50% male, Lurie said, and while the network was not promoted to cable operators for its gay appeal -- “We didn’t want to go there” -- it was common knowledge that’s what was going on.

“We opened that market and communicated to the cable community that when they were ready we would be there,” said Lurie, whose company is now touting Gayplay On Demand. “We have the ear and sensitivity for it.”

Hustler TV president Michael Klein said his company is also exploring similar on-demand options, and New Frontier is just starting to roll out its own gay VOD content.

“You will see a pretty wide rollout over the next 24 months,” Boenish said, though he added that quality content is in relatively short supply. “There is not as much high-quality gay porn out there, and there are just a handful of good studios,” he said.

But Pure Play Broadcasting senior vice president of network development Bill Furrelle disagrees. “There’s a lot of really good gay content,” said Furrelle, whose company relies on Internet porn providers for content and plans to soon roll out a gay package of its own.

The bigger issue, Furrelle said, is editing material to address cable operators’ concerns. Gay adult fare qualifies as XXX content, according to industry edit standards regarding sexual content, and many operators are reluctant to distribute anything beyond a XX rating.

But Furrelle said that if adult programmers tame their content too much, they risk turning off consumers and losing VOD dollars.

“If the MSOs [multiple-system operators] only show XX it could [anger] consumers and they are not going to come back to VOD,” said Furrell, who added that his company is having an internal debate about how to pursue this properly. “Gay men have a lot of disposable income and are not shy about going to the video store or the Internet. We would be crazy to alienate them.”

Stuart Miller

Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.