Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2017

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AVN boss: Porn industry ‘on the upswing,’ but not moving to Vegas

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Mikayla Whitmore

A fan takes a photo with Vicki Chase during the 2016 AVN/Adult Entertainment Expo on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Hard Rock Hotel.

With almost 30,000 attendees from 35 countries and a record 800 industry stars set to participate, the annual AVN Adult Entertainment Expo arrives this week at the Hard Rock Hotel for the sixth consecutive year.

The expo runs from Wednesday through Saturday’s awards show. Admission ranges from $80 for a one-day pass to $1,500 for a four-day VIP ticket. One of five major conventions in the city this week, AVN is among the first to use the Hard Rock’s additional 18,000 square feet of convention space built last year.

AVN CEO Tony Rios spoke to the Sun about new trends, products and stars to anticipate at this week’s show:

Last year, we were told that porn is more popular than ever but it’s also more difficult to monetize because of piracy and free videos available on the internet. Has that changed since last year’s convention?

Absolutely, as new people enter the industry, we’re finding that higher-quality content is bringing buyers back. There was a point in the industry where all of the content started to look the same. It was all just very generic, and now it has forced everyone to step up their game from a content perspective. So you have sites that are now more mobile-friendly and have a higher-quality picture. It’s beautiful content.

The best ways to combat the lower-quality videos and piracy are to release more scenes with more frequency and have better relationships with the companies where the piracy problem originated from. We’re building stronger working relationships with all the major players, and they’re actually working on ways to make sure everyone is able to monetize their content.

We’ve got performers who are coming into the industry now who have always had tube sites. And instead of us looking at them as the people who ruined the industry, we’re looking at them as people who have valuable ways to market their product. That’s the right approach.

Tube sites, meaning their own streams?

A tube site is any sort of site that’s giving the content away for free. That has been the challenge for us with content creation. We’re spending the money to create the content, and we have to compete with free. How are we going recoup our costs? It’s very difficult. But the industry is on an upswing, and content production is on the rise. It’s a great time for the industry.

If the porn industry is on the upswing, when would you say it hit its low point?

It really started to fall in 2008. It coincided with the financial crisis, the Great Recession. Everybody thought that porn wouldn’t get hit, because we didn’t think anyone was going to give up porn. But it did get hit.

As the economy started to go back up, the piracy problem also started to go back up. It was just kind of like a perfect storm. The years 2008, 2009 and 2010 were difficult for the industry.

But we’ve been slowly ramping back up and retooling and coming up with new products that are not able to be pirated. We have a lot of companies moving into the novelty space; the live-cam arena has taken off tremendously, too.

We’ve heard a lot about virtual reality last year and saw at least five companies showing off VR porn products. Are we going to see more of that this year?

We’re definitely going to see more VR at this year’s show. We’ve added two VR categories to the AVN Awards, and we’ve had a phenomenal response. We had a ton of submissions, and it’s definitely coming and it’s here and it’s the future. We’re still waiting to see what becomes of it, how people start to monetize it and make it successful. We have a bunch of companies that are coming with different VR products and different ways and different ideas. It’s still in its infancy, but it’s definitely here to stay.

One of the biggest sectors we’re seeing is the cams — they’re growing and growing. It’s not something you can touch and feel, but you’ve got better frame rates and girls now that can broadcast from their cellphones to live-stream out to the world. It’s pretty impressive. In the novelty space, the teledildonics area is continuing to grow. We’re getting companies that are finding ways to connect these devices to the internet so you can have that experience with somebody else over the web.

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AVN CEO Tony Rios appears at the 2016 AVN Awards in Las Vegas.

We’ve been hearing about a potential mass industry shift from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for many years. Measure B, mandating condom use in adult films shot in Los Angeles County, passed in 2012. Prop 60, which would have mandated condom use in adult films throughout California, was rejected in November. Is there any reason to think there’s still going to be major industry growth in Las Vegas?

Defeating Prop 60 is something that we’re very proud of as an industry. I spoke with many stars and producers who were ready to move to Vegas because they had no choice — they have to be able to produce their content. They were ready to go, and there was shock when Prop 60 was actually defeated. The girls who were just like, “So we don’t have to move?” They were pleasantly surprised. The California industry is ramping up again; people are not moving.

With that being said, porn is a global marketplace, so you will have all content being created all over the world. We’ve got a lot in Europe and all over South America. A lot, of course, in Vegas and Florida and other places in the United States. But California is a great place for us. It has very good laws that protect our rights. We love California. We’re happy we don’t have to move and that we’re not violating any laws by remaining in the state.

So if Prop 60 had passed, that would have led to a big migration to Las Vegas?

It would have. Definitely.

How has the convention grown since you moved to the Hard Rock in 2012?

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The 2016 AVN Awards red carpet Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel.

This year alone, we’re almost doubling the amount of talent from last year. Among about 800 performers taking pictures and signing autographs, Sunny Lane, Riley Reid and Aspen Rae will all be here. Uma Jolie and Gina Valentina are our trophy girls. Angela White, Alexis Texas, Ron Jeremy and Romi Rain are all going to be here, too.

We’re hoping to hit the 1,000- to 1,200-performer mark for the awards.

Does having all of the other conventions in town affect you, either for better or for worse?

It’s definitely good for us. We love having people from other conventions take a little time off and enjoy the show. They love it when they find out their convention is coinciding with our expo. They sneak away and they’re super excited.

Is the industry holding its breath as Donald Trump takes office?

It’s really hard to go beyond speculation with the Trump administration. He has always been a very good supporter of our industry. He loves porn stars, and there are tons and tons of pictures of him out with girls. He’s no stranger to the adult industry, so it’s certainly hypocritical to hear that he’s in support of anti-porn legislation.

Based on who he has appointed to his cabinet, it has definitely been far right. We’re bracing for a rough four to eight years. It’s typical when we get Republicans in office there have been increases in obscenity prosecutions and just tighter reins on our industry.

When we have a Democratic administration, we’re left alone and freedom of speech prevails as it should. We’re just going to hunker down and see what happens. I’ll give Trump the benefit of the doubt. What if he’s an actually a good president? Everything we’ve seen thus far isn’t making it look that way, but I’m going to sit back and give him a fair chance.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of years AVN has been at the Hard Rock Hotel. This is AVN's sixth consecutive year at the property. | (January 18, 2017)

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