Porn's Most Powerful Players
Performers might take the spotlight in the porn industry, but they rarely (if ever) have any of the power.
Instead, the people pulling the strings often tend to remain behind the scenes. While some have familiar names, the majority prefer to keep a low profile. And more and more, the most powerful people in porn have no direct ties to onscreen sex.
CNBC spoke with industry insiders, ranging from executives to stars, to get their thoughts on who are the true power brokers in the world of porn today.
By Chris Morris
Posted 14 Jan. 2013
When it comes to video, there is no one more powerful in the porn world than Thylmann, who is managing partner of Manwin Group. He is simultaneously feared, hated and admired by many within the industry. Notoriously press- and camera-shy, he controls the Brazzers and Reality Kings collection of websites as well as several adult "tube" sites (think YouTube for porn), Digital Playground and Playboy TV. Manwin has been on a buying spree for years. His power position could be in jeopardy, though. In December, Thylmann was arrested on suspicion of evading taxes – and Die Welt reported German officials seized several computers and documents at Manwin's German offices.
The creator of Hustler and other adult publications (along with at least one video game magazine) is one of the most well-known people in porn. And he seems to be making a power play these days. Last November, his company, LFP, acquired New Frontier Media, the once publicly traded owner of nine adult-themed pay-per-view networks in a surprise bid. (Manwin and Longkloof Limited, the company's previous largest shareholder, were the original bidders.) Some in the industry believe the New Frontier acquisition marked the beginning of a showdown between Manwin and Flynt (and his right hand man, LFP president Michael Klein).
As co-founder of L.A. Direct Models, Hay is one of the industry's biggest talent agents. A one-time performer, he now focuses on the business side of things exclusively and reportedly runs a tight ship. That's something directors appreciate, as actresses show up on time and ready to work.His clients include some of the biggest names in the industry, including Allie Haze, Tori Black and Lexi Belle.
If a porn company wants to make money online, it almost always has to go through Ron Cadwell. His company, CCBill, (where he is CEO) handles online billing for adult-themed websites, since many other billing companies shy away from the adult industry. Today, the company processes more than $1 billion in transactions per year – and for the past 15 years, hiscompany has organized The Phoenix Forum, an annual spring conference for the adult online industry.
Hirsch, who is co-chairman and founder of Vivid Entertainment, is in many ways the voice of the industry. Polished and well-spoken, he's a go-to person for media outlets. He also has a sense of what viewers want, which includes celebrity sex tapes. His company has launched some of the industry's biggest stars and has expanded into different areas of the mainstream world, including its own line of vodka.
Randazza is a first amendment attorney who has frequently defended the adult entertainment industry – especially in copyright infringement cases. He has filed several bit torrent lawsuits on behalf of porn companies. Last year, he launched an investigation into the website IsAnybodyDown?, which posted women's nude pictures and contact information without their consent. (The site closed as a result, but it has since reopened). He also oversaw adult studio Liberty Media's court case against file hosting service Oron, which resulted in a settlement and the shutdown of Oron.
Korestsky's East Coast News and IVD are by far the largest distribution companies in the porn industry worldwide. He also owns Baci Lingerie and is active in the commercial and residential real estate businesses. If it's on the shelf at your local adult store, odds are it has passed through one of his warehouses.
When it comes to sex toys, there's no bigger name than DocJohnson. The company puts out roughly 100 new adult novelties each year, dominating the market through sheer volume. Braverman is CEO of the company and has overseen it since 1976. What might surprise some people is Doc Johnson is a family business. Chad Braverman, Ron's son, is the company's chief operating officer.
South is the Nikki Finke of the porn industry. His blog, which is never short on opinion, is a must-read among industry insiders and his spy network is vast. His style is unique, but he is also a leading agent of change within the industry. South was the first to identify patient zero in last summer's syphilis outbreak that shut down production. He also led the charge to shut down Porn Wikileaks, which published the real names and addresses of industry stars. These days, he has Manwin in his sights, regularly taking shots at the company. Like Manwin's Thylmann, there are few fence-sitters when it comes to opinions about South, but no one ignores him.
While "Fifty Shades of Grey" gave a boost to the entire porn industry, Acworth might be the biggest beneficiary. Acworth's the owner of Kink.com, a fetish entertainment conglomerate that owns several websites and also focuses on education of bondage-related fetishes. He started the company while he was a PhD student in finance at Columbia University in 1997. In 2006, he purchased the San Francisco Armory for $14.5 million and made it the base of the company's operations. It has continued to grow since then – and at this year's Sundance Film Festival, actor James Franco will release a documentary about Acworth's empire.