"Global warming" is the buzzword du jour. When it refers to climate change, the term is less than flattering. In fact, it can be downright scary.
However, the adult entertainment industry seems constantly to generate global warming of an entirely different kind -- and that's a good thing. Despite a worldwide economic slowdown, some segments of the adult industry are heating up in exciting new ways. From performers and websites that sizzle to companies and trends that are fanning the flames of innovation, AVN Online each year tracks the trailblazers that are likely to burn the brightest.
Without further ado, here is our list for 2009.
After being named Web Starlet of the Year during the 2009 AVN Awards in January, there's little doubt Catalina Cruz is smokin' hot. The sultry, exotic beauty loves to please and does a damn fine job of it, whether heating up the screen alone or with a partner of either sex.
Cruz started her website, CatalinaCruz.com, in 1999 - proving she's not only beautiful, but also prescient and brainy. Together, she and Brandon Michaels founded Fantasy Girl Revenue to help other starlets get a manicured foothold in cyberspace, and the program has launched some other careers. In 2005 Cruz launched her first DVD series, License to Blow, and her star has been on the rise ever since.
Part of Cruz's power comes from an energy level that doesn't know the meaning of the term "ebb." According to Michaels, Cruz has been in full-speed-ahead mode for 10 years, and she shows no sign of slowing down.
"I think most girls that are in the biz shoot for many companies and get burned out," he told AVN Online. "Catalina only shoots for her own site and company. She is a very sexual woman by nature, and her performances are very fresh and real. Most of her orgasms on film are real.
"I think her fans feel her passion and connect with her. Plus, when she chats with her fans on live cam shows she is just a cool chick to talk to. She makes people feel good."
As AVN's 2009 Performer of the Year, Jenna Haze proved she could turn heads and raise heart rates without even trying when she gave her award a quick tongue-lashing on stage. Her breakout feature role as Samantha in X-Play/Adam & Eve's 2008 tour de farce Not Bewitched XXX demonstrated Haze can carry a comedy as well as she can ... ahem ... do other things.
The diminutive sexual dynamo is equally at home on the Web, where her site JennaHaze.com is a top performer for affiliate program PremiumCash. "Jenna's site is a huge part of PremiumCash," said spokeswoman Cindy Gawrich. "She started in the industry in July 2001, and for the past nine years she has worked very hard to distinguish herself within the industry as well as with her fans."
Haze's love for sexual experimentation is a large part of her charm. "I don't want my scenes on my website to be typical porn," she told AVN Online. "I want all the blow-bangs and hardcore and anal and all that, but I also have fetish videos. I have scenes and live shows where I just tease and talk dirty to the camera. I think fans just want to see me being me.
"I get a lot of messages on my forum and on my blog from fans who are supportive of the way that I am, and they don't want me to change," she added. "As long as my fans keep watching me cum, I'll keep fucking."
"Early 2004, Ryan Keely disappeared from a library parking lot in the Pacific NW [sic]. A year later, under an assumed name, the former good girl was top of America's Most Wanted."
So begins the bio on the homepage of one of the most mysterious women in porn. The bio is completely fabricated, of course ... or is it? Since we couldn't reach her for comment in this feature, we can't say for sure. She maintains a blog at ReadRyan.com, though, and since she appeared among the cast on the set of PopPorn.com's recent movie shoot, she doesn't seem to be hiding. Her Patty Hearst-like disappearance story and Stockholm Syndrome-esque conversion to über-slut make for good reading, though. Fans apparently eat it up. Since her website RyanKeely.com appeared in 2008, more than one blog has referred to the vixen as "the new IT girl."
Priya Anjali Rai's exotic looks are only the tip of the erotic iceberg. Actually, "iceberg" is a mischaracterization. There's nothing frigid about this bisexual firecracker, whose "personality shines through" in the high-definition photo sets and videos, members-only live-cam shows and diary on her website, according to Rachel Aziani. Aziani's AzianiGold.com affiliate program launched PriyaAnjaliRai.com in February, and both of the women have enjoyed the heck out of it ever since, Aziani said.
"Priya's popularity stems not only from her stunning looks, but also from her unique ethnic heritage, which makes her an immediate standout," Aziani told AVN Online. "Her site quickly has become a favorite with porn star, Indian, big boob, and masturbation traffic.
"Members not only get to enjoy Priya's incredible beauty, but are also treated to the compelling mix of her upbeat, sweet personality and abundant sexual appetites," Aziani added. "Priya's goal is to have a place to share herself, her personality, and her sexuality with her fans."
Reese Ridout's appearance on the January 2009 cover of Men magazine helped propel the issue to best-seller status at Barnes & Noble, according to Unzipped Media Publisher Dustin Tyner. That's hardly surprising, considering the effect the RandyBlue.com exclusive has on fans. Reportedly straight - but willing and able to perform as both top and bottom in gay productions -- Rideout not only hits the "straight-guy-seduction" niche head-on, but also appeals to mass audiences with an ever-present sense of humor and a notorious inventive streak. Nude sing-a-longs and penis puppetry, anyone?
According to Blue, Rideout is destined for bona-fide stardom, owing in large part to his oft-expressed attitude that sex should be guilt-free, sweaty and frequent, regardless what activities or partners are involved.
"Reese Rideout has something that so many young men just don't have today in our industry: true star power," Blue told AVN Online. "He is the ultimate package of looks and charm with an incredible sex drive. No one works as hard as Reese, and he gives it all back to his fans."
Gay performer Mason Wyler looks like the boy next door. Clean-cut, soft-spoken, reasonably fit but not muscle-bound and with skin unblemished by tattoos or piercings, he stands out as something of an anomaly in the gay-porn world. He's not a twink, but those innocent blue eyes and boyish smile place him outside the realm of masterful stud, too. He just seems too nice for porn.
As it turns out, that's part of his charm. A self-described nerd and gay-sex addict, Wyler loves to be the center of attention - positive or negative. His adventures, described in excruciating detail at least once daily on his blog at WylerNation.com, are just too fascinating to ignore. Whether he's groveling in submission beneath over-the-top, dominant sex partners; partying hearty at home; tickling the edges of the Deep South's enduring racial divide; recounting the gruesome details of a sexual assault at gunpoint; or fighting with detractors in print, surfers can't help gawking at the train wreck. Fans aren't sure whether they believe everything Wyler says, but they simply can't turn away ... and they can't resist talking back.
With 13 years of gay adult content under its belt, Prague-based BelAmi had a mountain of material upon which to draw when the studio launched its flagship website three years ago. Most of that material is online now in a good-looking, easy-to-access form. In recognition, BelAmiOnline.com was nominated for 2009 GAYVN Awards in two new categories: Best Site of the Year and Best Twink Site.
"BelAmi has invested significant resources in BelAmiOnline.com over the past couple of years," the studio's publicist told AVN Online. "The result is one of the largest catalogs of content on the Web. [The site's] member features are some of the most advanced. The whole thing is very customizable, making it easy for consumers to find specific content and models.
"We've seen an overwhelming number of BelAmi fans join our subscription site, and new fans are being built everyday because of it," he added. "Not to mention there is only one place you can find the most beautiful Eastern European boys in porn."
Online since 2002, OnlyTease "started small with a team of dedicated professionals who all realized there was a hole in the market for UK girls who were gorgeous and beautifully shot," according to spokesman Paul. The site always wanted to be something different, and it found its niche in young, natural women who enjoy the softer side of good, old-fashioned sex.
Although the temptation to follow the ultra-hardcore trend existed, OnlyTease stuck to its guns - with profitable results. "When a marketplace is flooded with anything - be that hardcore content, McDonald's or the Windows operating system - there will always be room for an alternative," Paul told AVN Online. "People will always want the prettier version: Mac OSX instead of Vista [for example]. People will want something that tastes better: a Kobe-beef burger over a Big Mac. And people will always want to see beautiful girls getting naked without someone choking them or delivering a triple anal cream pie."
That's not to say the site hasn't changed and expanded over time. "Over the years we've improved the site functionality, shot more girls - now there are more than a million images on the site - and branched out into related niches," Paul said. "Our OnlyOpaques.com site is a great example of this. We knew from OnlyTease that pantyhose and stockings were very popular with our members, so we opened a site dedicated to just that specific microniche.
"Being able to gather the business intelligence to drive the decision to open such a microniche site is just one of the things that makes OnlyTease as strong, flexible and agile as it is."
For the past few years the über-blog about the adult industry has been Fleshbot.com. This year, the raunchy sibling of mainstream gossip site Gawker has a brash contender with which to deal. PopPorn.com barreled out of the cyber-gates with in-your-face attitude to spare. In less than a year, the operation extended its reach into the brick-and-mortar market by announcing a deal to co-produce a DVD with Zero Tolerance Entertainment. Even a risky bid to generate controversial buzz about the production - a publicity stunt that infamously backfired when it took Zero Tolerance by surprise - couldn't stop PopPorn's momentum.
PopPorn is determined to succeed where others have tried and failed, spokesman Brian Bangs told AVN Online. The biggest weapon in the site's arsenal is offbeat humor, he added. "I think there is an obvious void between mainstream media and the adult industry that everyone always wants to cross," Bangs said. "However, it seems that in the past only specific individuals, movies, or news blips actually make the jump. From Day One, we thought it made sense to provide a bridge that was proud to sit squarely in the middle. Someone who is not necessarily a porn hound can delve into the adult industry and discover its quirks and not feel sleazed-up by it, while the most die-hard pornographer can enjoy the site for the levity it brings to the industry and the fact that we can laugh at ourselves."
Gay stars Damien Crosse and Francesco D'Macho have been busy. The pair met less than a year ago, and almost immediately moved to Madrid together and founded their own studio. Their films and the "reality" clips they shoot of their everyday, hardcore life radically expose a shame-free porn lifestyle: clubs, drugs, and intense, often violent, sex. In October they put the whole shebang online at StagHomme.com, and they haven't looked back.
In addition to vignettes from the couple's personal lives, the site includes multimedia presentations of never-before-seen European, U.S., and South American studs in unscripted, real, up-close-and-personal sexual encounters. StagHomme releases three DVDs monthly: two hardcore features and one compilation containing behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes. The studio also webcasts two monthly episodes of "StagTV" and "Coffee with the Stars," based on the tried-and-true television models of ambush interviews and relaxed, informal chats with famous people.
What makes the studio unique is StagHomme's complete disregard for what Crosse called the "artificiality" of the traditional studio system. Although Crosse and D'Macho openly admit basing their work on the techniques and artistry they consciously studied while working for industry titans like Hot House's Steven Scarborough, Raging Stallion's Chris Ward, and TitanMen's Brian Mills, Bruce Cam and Joe Gage, the two said they prefer the "guerilla approach" to porn.
So far, it's working.
If anyone doubts Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network is a force with which to be reckoned in the industry, they've been living in a cave for the past two years. Always an aggressive evangelist for the value of Web-based video-on-demand, AEBN has long-standing contracts to deliver content from some of the largest names among the brick-and-mortar studio crowd. The company also distributes content from Web-based producers in its network of global theaters and provides white-label VOD solutions to broadcasting giants such as Spice TV.
In January 2007, AEBN took a big step toward world domination when it merged with one of the oldest gay VOD providers, NakedSword. The combined company followed that coup with the February 2008 acquisition of award-winning gay adult studio Raging Stallion. Never content to rest for even a few minutes, AEBN honcho Scott Coffman announced new tech innovations every few months, as well. Last summer the company debuted ClipClinic to combine the lure of "tube" sites with the equally attractive siren song of cash for amateur content. Then at January's AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, AEBN bowed a new Web-enabled super-toy, the RealTouch.
Marketing and Communications Director Jim "GonZo" McAnally said AEBN sees no end to the possibilities: "AEBN is excited about bringing real-life experiences to the consumer, and the future is all about creating a variety of experiences that traditionally are had offline."
Winner of the 2009 AVN Award for Site of the Year, Brazzers.com built what spokesman Sal called "a ton of traffic" seemingly overnight. Not content to exist solely on the Web that spawned it, parent company Mansef Productions forged a DVD production and distribution relationship with industry stalwart Jules Jordan Video, which shipped Brazzers' first feature in February 2008.
Known for filming buxom beauties in all sorts of compromising positions, Brazzers has clung to its niche with dedication - but that doesn't mean the company overlooks opportunities in new areas or shies away from technological challenges. One key to Brazzers' success, Sal said, is the company's flexibility and agility in almost everything. Navigating twists and turns between digital and traditional content production and delivery methods becomes second nature after a while, he noted.
"You always need to adapt to the industry you're in," Sal told AVN Online. "Business on the Internet changes very quickly, and you need to be able to follow."
It also helps that both staff members and the company's owners are dedicated to maintaining Brazzers' edge. "Brazzers is beyond just good content," Sal said. "We have the best sales team, the best [technology people], the best designers, and more."
Every so often, a company hits the Web running and makes a huge splash with both consumers and the industry. DDF Productions, founded by adult-industry heavyweight Denys Defrancesco, did exactly that, drawing rave reviews for its stable of sites covering a wide range of niches. With artistic, glamour, hardcore, and extreme fetish content, DDFCash offers something to whet almost every surfer's appetite, and the sites deliver the goods with enormous volumes of original content.
The philosophy behind the phenomenon is simple, according to DDF's Endre: "Give the customers what they want. Customers come first.
"We spend a lot of money on high-quality photography and videos," he told AVN Online. "For instance, we were we were one of the first companies in Europe to add HDTV-quality videos to our websites. We use creative sets to evoke moods in our role-playing and fantasy scenarios: nurses, cowboys and cowgirls, policemen and women, soldiers, medieval aristocrats, and so on. We always use new clothing, costumes, sexy lingerie, and professional makeup."
In addition, the studio insists on female stars with natural bodies, and DDF's talent scouts are "casting fresh European beauties all the time," Endre said.
Billing companies always seem almost ho-hum next to the flashy content producers and providers on the Web, but without the companies' services flashy content would disappear.
ElectraCash never has wanted to be flashy. What it would like, according to CEO Lee Falls, is to change the billing landscape. One of the best ways to do that is to increase consumer confidence in paying for virtual content while at the same time ensuring producers are compensated for their wares. To that end, "this year ElectraCash rolled out an innovative electronic signature capture feature called SignatureSafeTM," Falls told AVN Online. "SignatureSafe assists Web merchants in reducing the risk of ‘friendly fraud,' lowers returns-related costs, and increases revenue due to fewer rejected online checks, including for ACH transactions."
The system requires customers to provide a signature when paying online with their checking account. "The customer actually signs his authorization on the payment page using the computer mouse to manipulate a software-based ‘pen,'" Falls said. Reliable methods for capturing virtual signatures have represented the holy grail of online commerce for a number of years, and ElectraCash believes it has won the financial Crusades with SignatureSafe.
The company also has deployed other fraud-reduction measures that are generating buzz. User-authentication data such as birth date and encrypted social security numbers may be captured at the merchant's option using ElectraCash's Check21 service, which creates and processes real checks without going through an automated clearinghouse.
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of AVN Online. To subscribe, visit AVNMediaNetwork.com/subscribe