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Porn Shutdown May Hurt Web Sites More Than Studios

News that an adult entertainment industry performer tested positive for HIV has prompted most porn film studios to shut down production to ensure the safety of their actors and actresses.

Most big companies, including Vivid Entertainment, Digital Playground, Hustler and Wicked Pictures, have voluntarily suspended production for an unspecified period.

The length of the shutdown will depend on information from the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation, which diagnosed the performer and is in the process of creating a quarantine list that extends to four generations of sexual partners. Everyone on that list will be tested twice for the virus.

Assuming that tests and subsequent retests of those performers come back negative, that will likely result in a shut down of roughly two weeks, says Steven Hirsch, co-chairman of Vivid Entertainment. Additional positive tests would lengthen the filming hiatus.

While the porn industry is under significant financial pressure due to piracy and the rise of “amateur” Web sites, insiders say this shutdown should not have a noticeable effect on revenues at major studios. Big players in the porn industry typically have a large stockpile of films awaiting release and can ride out a shutdown.

“We have up to a year’s worth of movies that are in some from of post production,” says Hirsch. “We can withstand several months of being shut down. … Once we get back into production, we’ll be able to make that up.”

The porn industry shoots roughly 20,000 scenes per year. Bigger companies, like Vivid and Digital Playground, tend to produce four or five films per month – with costs reaching upwards to $300,000 – allowing them to stockpile releases.

Smaller studios, though, could face challenges. Many are already struggling and have few (if any) films in their library, as they release the movies as soon as they’re shot. Should this shutdown last several months — as one in 2004 did — it could force them out of business.

Web sites specializing in adult content could also face challenges — particularly those that pull talent from the San Fernando Valley and have no other distribution channels.

“It hits the Web-based companies harder than it does the DVD companies,” says Michael Fattorosi, an attorney with Fattorosi & Associates, a boutique firm that represents the adult industry. “Website members expect constant (content) updates.”

What truly worries adult entertainment industry executives is the politicalization that is accompanying the revelation of this diagnosis. A push for mandatory condom use in porn shoots is underway in California — and proponents of that bill have cited this case as proof that the industry does not adequately protect its performers.

Porn companies insist otherwise, citing the effectiveness of the industry’s mandatory monthly STD screenings. The last time a porn performer was diagnosed with HIV (in 2009), they note, it was contracted when that person had sex with someone who was not in the industry.

“It’s usually someone who goes outside of the industry and brings it back,” says Samantha Lewis, president and CEO of Digital Playground. “The AIDS epidemic is not within our industry.”

Still, an HIV scare could be enough to drive away some performers, regardless of how it’s handled. While most of porn’s big stars won’t drop out, newer actresses might reconsider their career choice, says Fattorosi.

“You’re going to see some talent leaving the industry,” he says. “Whenever this happens, there are some people who decide they don’t want to do this anymore. Something like this wakes people up very quickly.”

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