President Tim Valenti follows what he calls Business Ethics 101 when it comes to guiding the Web’s premium gay Video-on-Demand destination, NakedSword.com: “Treat people right. Help them however you can.”
This has made NakedSword.com not only one of the best-rated services for adult gay streaming video, but a community. Inspired by this, Valenti’s been busy creating exclusive content for this audience of subscribers, fans and surfers.
“We didn’t want to just be like a vending machine [for streaming video],” Valenti says. “I really did want it to be like a Home Box Office and a Showtime. I wanted to have the best and the biggest variety of content for our particular audience, and then I wanted to be able to produce what I thought was content that our audience would love, and that would differentiate us.
“I think those have been the guidelines. It’s not something that can happen overnight; we worked very hard at it. We’re able to do this with the support of the studios and the content-makers. And it’s all because we have great relationships with them. We help studios a lot because of our background in technology and building an enterprise online.”
Enter Wet Palms, a hardcore gay soap opera produced by Jet Set Productions (http://www.jetset2000.com/nonmem/index.html) and NakedSword.com. The series follows the residents of fictional digs “Wet Palms” (based on and filmed at the San Vicente Inn in West Hollywood) in “their search for seduction, success, and revenge,” and will premiere on the Web as a DRM download. Episodes will be packaged by Marina Pacific and distributed on DVD.
Wet Palms isn’t the first show to see production at NakedSword.com; The Tim & Roma! Show, starring Valenti and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence social rights activist Sister Roma!, has flourished on the site since evolving from Valenti’s broadcasts of Weekly and the Daily Reports.
“We started the Weekly Report as a way to communicate with our members and provide them with streaming interviews and industry commentary not then available in any form of media,” Valenti says.
The Tim & Roma! Show is a half-hour program “covering gay adult video news with an irreverent mix of witty repartee, sexual entendrés and outrageous interviews,” according to its press.
This year has brought bolder ambitions to the show: “We’re going to expand our presence and cover all kinds of events, all over the country, while broadening our reach and pursuing broadcasting opportunities in different types of media.” Valenti’s goal is to make the show a “household name” as the leading resource for gay adult news and entertainment.
As a streaming site, NakedSword.com boasts the widest variety and largest amount of films available for VoD in the industry, paired with a dedication to porn that drives the site’s contributions of gossip; videographies; and stats and bios of stars, directors and studios. Their “General Cinema” offers full-length, full-screen films with new titles added daily and an easy search database – and one of the company’s many points of pride is the technological expertise that powers the NakedSword.com engine.
Gregory Lindberg, CTO, expresses NakedSword.com’s future-thinking attitude in the way the company’s embracing DRM technology. “The only way to protect streams and downloads in this environment is by using a Digital Rights Management [DRM] system. All our properties are currently being converted and encrypted to [Microsoft’s DRM]. Our newest property, NakedSword Direct, is strictly DRM-protected.
“We’ll be distributing DRM-protected content on a vast variety of distribution points and formats, including downloadable clips on cell phones, PDAs and other wireless devices; as well as more traditional channels such as the Internet, and even cable TV. Methods for charging for these clips will also change dramatically as newer micro-payment options are developed and deployed on a large scale, like SMS e-commerce.”
NakedSword.com developed out of a business Lindberg runs with Valenti called Cubik Media. “We started the company in 1996,” Valenti says, “and we built corporate enterprises online for companies like Hitachi, E-Trade – Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, anything that you saw online that had to do with them – we built it. We started to learn about streaming. And I can’t tell you exactly when, but for some reason I just came in one day, and it was like, ‘Gee, why don’t we stream porn movies?’”
Valenti adds, “My background is in advertising, a very creative and marketing-oriented background. And what I was seeing happen [with the advent of the Web] was that there were people who either came from a creative perspective who had no marketing or technical experience; or technical people who had no understanding of marketing or creating. And I was like, ‘If we could put all three of these together and get great synergy, we’ve got something here.’ And, ya know, we lucked out. We did a really good job at picking the people we wanted to work with.
“Our company just turned eight years old in March, and 35 percent of my staff is from the original first year of the company. That’s in San Francisco where we had the biggest tech boom in the country, and any of these people could have worked anywhere else for three times as much.
“We still do a lot of work on the Cubik Media side, with corporate clientele and various different types of business. And sometimes we have to invent or build our own little piece of software or an application, so we can fulfill what we need to do for a particular client.
“It’s extremely helpful, obviously, with NakedSword.com, because we have that background. Nothing that goes out online, either on NakedSword.com or anything from Cubik, is made [anywhere other than at] Cubik. We don’t use contractors. We do not have other companies build anything for us. It’s all homemade.”
NakedSword.com started out using a “tokens” or “buy time” model, but that’s changing to PPV:
“We still believe in the cinema model, the membership model,” Valenti says. “[But] come fall, pretty much everything on NakedSword, whether it’s in the General Cinema or not, will be pay-per-view.” Visitors will be able to get access to a title whether they’re General Cinema members or not. Valenti imagines a retool of General Cinema to include only the “upper-crust titles,” about 500 out of the site’s 3,000 – they’ll take the remainder and “break them up into smaller membership sites that will cost half as much money. If you’re really into hunks or kink or [whatever], then we’ve got a site for you. If not, you don’t have to buy the whole package. You can just buy what you’re into. And then you can go and buy pay-per-view for things that may not be included in that.”
Also in the fall, surfers can look for a complete site face-lift. “Every two years, just because it’s me and I’m a designer at heart,” Valenti confesses, “I’ve gotta change the look and feel. We’re just about to embark on that. You’ll see a whole new look for NakedSword.com, probably in early October.”
Valenti describes an aggressive launch of new product in the coming months, including the company’s direct site, NakedSword Direct, “which is our build-your-own Website.
“It’s really cool, because you can pretty much do whatever you want. You can control the movies that you have on the site. You can pick what you want to feature. And you get the best of NakedSword.com as well.”
NakedSword Direct will feature NakedSword design in addition to “really strong back-end programming. It’s all been built in-house. And it’s very flexible, but yet it’s got that NakedSword.com, community-based, feature-oriented aspect to it.”
Better business practices inform company philosophy about studio exclusivity – “We think that our site is so good,” Valenti explains, “and that our traffic is so good, that we don’t expect studios to be exclusive with us. Because we think that people are gonna come to us to see what they want to see.”
Of course, “There are certain studios that have certain profiles and certain brands and identities [that make it natural for them to] choose to be exclusive with us. Falcon is a really good example. You know, they consider us to be a premium streaming site, and they only want to be associated with a premium streaming site. Same thing with Titan.
“But there are a lot of studios that so badly want to be on NakedSword,” Valenti adds, “but are locked into exclusive contracts with competitors of us. And they’re stuck with just one revenue stream.”
NakedSword.com’s reputation among the studios has partly come out of the reputation it’s earned among its customers.
“You’d have to have half a brain to not know that being a member on NakedSword is a hell of a good deal. Because of that, we’ve got really loyal members. They hang around. They spend a lot of time on the site.”
This is the ultimate motivating factor behind developing things like Wet Palms: “We know [customers are] interested in the actors, in the directors, behind-the-scenes stuff, the gossipy thing,” Valenti describes. “And it’s all fun, and we love to do it, to get to be a part of it.
“The first step in this process is we’re sort of turning ourselves into a Gay HBO or Showtime, where we’ve got all this great content from studios that we run and we play, and we have some of our own content, like Tim & Roma!. We’ve gotten a lot of offers from studios who understand that we want to be able to produce our own content. And because of the great relationships that we have with [the studios], they’re helping us to do that.”
Wet Palms is the first of three projects to be introduced over the course of the year.
Reena Patel, the company’s director of strategic accounts and marketing, adds that a community-based focus led to the development of the Gay Porn Blog (www.gaypornblog.com), which has been ranked as the Internet’s leading source for gay porn, according to search engine Google.
The site, edited by Michael Stabile and Jack Shamama, has been up for a little over a year, and in that time has grown in popularity and influence enough to be ranked number one. “The editors have been working hard on a daily basis by adding a lot of the keyword dynamics to the blog, making sure it’s linked elsewhere, and just being on top of it,” Patel said. “With blogs, as long as they’re updated daily and have relevant keywords and content, you can do really well with them.”
The blog serves to direct traffic to NakedSword.com. “Anyone can look at it, post comments to it and have discussions using it – and they do,” Patel says. “That’s one sort of really good avenue to keep consumers informed, to keep Webmasters informed. We’re gonna be launching a couple of other blogs, like a Tim & Roma! Show blog, so people can hear of what’s going on outside of the show [alone].
“We’re also pursuing completely different avenues.... We’re working with someone who makes comic books who’s gonna introduce a ‘NakedSwordsman’ as a gay superhero.”
It’s a bird... it’s a plane... oh. Of course. It’s NakedSword.com, doing what it does best, and no cape is necessary.