ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J.—Mainstream news coverage of the adult industry has come a long way since CBS aired its hit piece "48 Hours Looks at Porn" back in the early '90s. For its one-hour documentary Porn: Business of Pleasure, airing Wednesday, July 15, CNBC actually talked to some of the biggest names in the adult industry, and limited the industry bashing to brief interviews with former prosecutor Patrick Trueman and self-described "porn addict" Michael Leahy.
The focus of the CNBC documentary, however, is the personalities that drive the movie production facet of the business: Vivid owner Steve Hirsch, Digital Playground co-president Samantha Lewis, Wicked Pictures VP Joy King and Pink Visual's Alison Beavis. But the producers of Porn: Business of Pleasure also find time to cover Max Hardcore's last days before beginning his prison term for obscenity, Sasha Grey's experiences crossing over from porn to mainstream, Joanna Angel's rise from posing nude on websites during her college days to her current alt-porn superstar status, and Jesse Jane's juggling of her career in Porn Valley and her home life in Oklahoma City.
CNBC reporter Melissa Lee begins and ends Porn: Business of Pleasure standing in the middle of Times Square, which she notes was formerly the "epicenter of porn" until Mayor Rudy Giuliani gentrified the area. From there, she and her writers tackle issues about the industry that rarely get mentioned in the mainstream press, including the challenges of free online material and piracy, as well as the effect the flagging U.S. economy has had on DVD sales.
Beginning with a brief history of porn production in the U.S., Lee credits 1972's Deep Throat with "pull[ing] porn closer to the mainstream," and later notes, "Porn has always been at the cutting edge of technology, helping VHS win the battle over Beta, and Blu-Ray over HD-DVD. It's also been an early adopter of e-commerce, giving customers the anonymity they couldn't have when visiting XXX stores. But now technology's created porn's biggest challenges. It's eliminated all barriers to entry. Anyone willing to have sex on camera can be a porn star, and anyone who can post a video online can be a producer. And even worse for the business, technology has given birth to free porn."
Indeed, CNBC delves into just about every aspect of modern technology's effects on the business, from the prediction that "mobile porn sales are projected to double to $5 billion globally by 2013," to NextGen Technologies' development of Internet Protocol (IP) TV, "which lets viewers find and buy movies online to watch on their televisions," to Pink Visual's "three dimensional porn which will with the aid of special glasses make sex scenes jump off the screen." And after stating, "Of the top 100 websites in the U.S., five are porn tube sites," they even record Steve Hirsch making this startling admission: "We need to be sure that our [distribution] model works, and maybe that means that ultimately we give our movies away and we're advertiser supported."
"In some cases we're playing defense, and it's more than just the technology thing; it's the economy at the same time," Hirsch continues. "So I think that many industries, and Hollywood as well, they're dealing with these same exact issues that we're saying, okay, let's hold our own; let's continue to look forward to the future. We're continuing to invest in movies, continuing to invest in our different businesses, our internet business, and then as things get better, so will our business. ... Pornography has been around since the time of the caveman; it's not going away."
Porn: Business of Pleasure also spends some time discussing the phenomenon of Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, and has Samantha Lewis detailing some of the quirks of adult movie distribution, including the fact that the company had to tone down the sword-fighting for the movie's Australian release, since that country prohibits the depictions of violence in too-close proximity to hardcore sex.
"There are even releases that strip out the sex," Lee notes. "Originally a 129-minute X-rated film, Pirates II was cut down to an 82 minute R-rated feature for sale at Blockbuster and Borders bookstores, and in Japan, Pirates II is G-rated family fare. In all, more than a dozen different versions of Pirates II have been released."
In a later segment of Porn: Business of Pleasure, Joy King discusses the increasing role of women in the adult industry, and tells Lee, "What I tell my directors is, I want a stronger female lead. I don’t want it all to be about the guy. ... It should be focused on the woman, not just the man. ... People want to see a woman have an orgasm too, not just the guy."
All of the above isn't to say that there aren't some questionable statements made during the course of the show. During the segment where Lee interviews former Obscenity Unit prosecutor Patrick Trueman, she states, "While there are federal and state laws that prohibit the distribution of obscene materials, they are rarely enforced, but if they were, according to some legal experts, studios that sell porn, cable and satellite TV companies that put porn on their systems, and hotels that offer porn on pay per view, they would all be offenders, just like Max Hardcore." Those would be "legal experts" like Trueman, who favor prosecution of all hardcore material from the mildest to the most extreme, but few First Amendment attorneys would give credence to Lee's statement.
The CNBC documentary also claims that "82 percent of adults [are] in favor of vigorous enforcement of federal laws against internet obscenity, including the distribution of hardcore porn," but that statistic's origin is a push-poll conducted by Morality In Media and can hardly be considered statistically valid.
One thing that can't be disputed, however, is Lee's closing statement: "As long as people are interested in sex, there will be an appetite for porn."
Porn: Business of Pleasure will premiere on CNBC on July 15 at 9 p.m., with repeat showings at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Eastern time. As porn documentaries go, it's definitely worth a look.