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Testing Pulse for Women's Adult VOD

Four female entrepreneurs have gathered together in a common cause: to produce erotic films that would appeal to women, and to sell them via video-on-demand and other pay mechanisms.

Calling themselves Inpulse Digital TV Group and based in Chatsworth, Calif., they've been meeting with cable and satellite-TV executives over the last several weeks — they say no affiliate deals have been done yet — and are preparing for a March launch.

"They're calling us," Kimberly Wilson, one of the four principals, said recently about cable operators' interest after Inpulse introduced itself in November. "They're so anxious to see the product."

"It's unique," Inpulse CEO Sandra Staggs said. "Who would have thought that there would be another niche of adult programming?"

ROOM ON 'THE VIEW'

The novelty factor helped attract the interest of The View— the ABC morning talk show starring Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Meredith Vieira and Star Jones — on which Staggs and Inpulse's Shirley Rohn-Saito were booked to appear last Friday (Jan. 23).

Staggs said Inpulse is hoping for a subscriber base of 7 to 10 million subscribers at launch — a combination of cable VOD-capable customers and satellite subscribers with digital video recording capabilities.

"I think that's realistic," Rohn-Saito said of the launch-base target, "based on the conversations I've had. Everybody's looking for a shot in the arm for the adult category."

She confirmed that no affiliate deals were in place yet, but added: "I've been in this industry for 28 years, and I think we have some firm handshakes. How about that?"

Wilson's role as production president is one of the key reasons Inpulse can get going so fast, only a few months after forming the company with Rohn-Saito (chairman), Staggs and Anne Aaronson (president).

Wilson has been producing sexually oriented programming for pay-per-view for over a decade: among other outlets, VCA Pictures (Opening Misty Beethoven), where she formerly worked, is the primary adult-video supplier to SeaChange International Inc.'s GuestServe hotel PPV unit and had supplied the former adult PPV channel Adam & Eve.

Wilson said that by early December her new Inpulse Pictures production company had already completed six 90-minute features — all but the first two shot in HDTV format — and planned to have at least 10 movies done by early February.

"Kimberly finished the 10th movie over the weekend, so we're on target with that," Rohn-Saito said last Wednesday from Los Angeles, before saying she and Staggs were "chewing our nails" over their trip to New York for The View.

Wilson also said Inpulse plans to bring in revenue before securing TV distribution, selling Inpulse Pictures DVDs, starting in February. Inpulse's corporate Web site (inpulsedigital.com) launched in late December.

Wilson said she'd wanted to at least launch a line of women-targeted erotic videos for quite some time, but could never interest the existing studios in branching out to target women.

THEIR BACKGROUNDS

The Inpulse vehicle arose from a blending of interests with the other three principals.

Staggs had worked for MSOs InterMedia Partners, Rifkin & Associates and Viacom Cable before becoming a marketer for Fireworks Pictures, producer of films such as Rules of Engagement. She and Aaronson had been trying to develop reality TV shows and sitcoms. They had a notion to start a women-oriented lifestyles network.

Staggs and Aaronson met with Rohn-Saito, whose background is in affiliate sales at such cable networks as ESPN (early on, in 1980), Video Juke Box, Adam & Eve and Spice.

Rohn-Saito then brought in the entrepreneurial Wilson, and the business focus shifted to erotic entertainment tailored to women.

Wilson said Inpulse Pictures, the production entity, is fully funded. But Staggs said Inpulse is taking steps to raise about $5 million privately to develop the distribution side of the business. "We can produce a lot more movies and do a lot more things if we raise some money," Staggs said.

Inpulse has begun talks with VOD distributors TVN Corp. and In Demand — the PPV distributor owned by several key MSOs — about distributing the Inpulse channel, which would share revenue along standard lines (with distributors likely keeping about 85%).

As for per-film prices, Rohn-Saito said it should be comparable to what operators charge for adult films aimed at men.

'IT'S ABOUT TIME'

Jim Riley, senior vice president of sales and business development at VOD distributor TVN Entertainment, said he's met with the Inpulse team but hasn't struck a deal with them, at least not yet.

"We're going to support whatever our [cable] affiliates want us to support, so ultimately it's going to come down to distribution arrangements they can pull off. However, that said, I will tell you that I've heard from several industry executives who have said: It's about time.

"Now — I will tell you," he added, "that is largely the female industry executives."

"It's an interesting concept," Riley said, "and I think there's a fair chance that they'll meet with success."

Inpulse will apparently have some competition in the niche. Around the same time as Inpulse announced itself to the world, start-up adult network Blu-TV said it had teamed up with adult-magazine publisher Blue Horizon Media Inc. to create three adult-oriented pay-per-view networks, including a 24-hour adult PPV network using the Playgirl magazine brand.

'PLAYGIRL' FACTOR

Playgirl TV plans to launch in April, Trans Digital Media LLC senior vice president of sales and marketing Lisa Sumja said.

Wilson said the backers of the Playgirl channel had approached her in hopes of finding content, so she feels Inpulse's in-house production capabilities give it the edge.

Sumja said Playgirl TV had early on been looking for outside-supplied content but found very little. "So we decided our programming should be 90% originally produced by us," she said.

In addition to the Playgirl brand, "strong financial backing" and the presence of PPV veteran Mark Graff in the project, Sumja said Playgirl TV has "30 years of experience" with the magazine of knowing "what women want."

It's also targeting gay men, who make up half of Playgirl's readership, she said.