THE ADULT FILM MINUTE: Once per month, except for occasionally when it’s more frequent than that, Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals will be telling us a little bit about what’s going on in adult entertainment and why it should matter to you.
It feels like the crack of dawn, and with the time change it kind of is. I’m 20 miles outside downtown Pittsburgh in a fancy residential neighborhood, complete with confusing curvy roads lined by an unreal amount of foresty vegetation. I am definitely in the wrong place.
My jokester of an Uber driver laughs at the blurry-eyed tourist beside him, informing me in full-on yinzer, a dialect spoken by many Pittsburgh locals – “Der-ain’t no porno n’at dahn-aire, sweet cheeks.” Translation: “There’s no porn here, ma’am.”
But he was wrong. I’d gotten into town the night before specifically because there is porn there. I was en route to Pittsburgh’s own Adult Empire.
Much like the city of Pittsburgh itself, Adult Empire is going through a bit of a renaissance. Started in 1997 by computer programmers Jeff Rix and John-Michael D’Arcangelo, the Hollywood film-focused DVD Empire and its subsequently formed porno sister, Adult DVD Empire (where the money’s at, let’s be honest), crashed pretty hard in 2008. The company went from 120 employees to about half that – the economy was dead, DVD was dead, and so was porn. Except… not really.
“We are an entertainment business,” D’Arcangelo told me, “And when times get tough, entertainment is the first thing people cut from their budgets. My partners at the time wanted to sell, but I couldn’t see myself ever doing anything else, so I bought the business from them and doubled-down on our web, video, and digital technologies.”
Adult Empire made it through an extremely challenging period and is now back on the upswing. Though they dropped the “DVD” from their name, they currently offer over 60,000 DVD and blu-ray titles and 4,500 different sex toys. They expanded their VOD capabilities dramatically and boast a massive video on demand library, as well as a Netflix-like monthly subscription service – Adult Empire Unlimited – which taps over 30,000 streaming movies and 150,000 individual scenes. Put simply, Adult Empire offers a staggering amount of porn. They’ve also thrown a lot of effort into building their online community – blogs and v-logs and reviews and contests and things, which was why I was there.
I burst through Adult Empire’s main entrance a full 25 minutes late after having given my Uber driver the correct street address, but with the incorrect zip code. I was ushered quickly into the their in-house studio set and almost immediately began recording footage for YouTube-based “The Chelsea & Becky Show.”
Chelsea McCain and Becky Merbler [This name sounds completely made up and I love it -Ed.] work for “The Empire” (as they call it) as Director of Novelties and Director of Product Management, respectively, but their campy-ham dynamic-duo schtick prompted D’Arcangelo to propose a show – these two goofballs dress up in costumes, review sex toys and porn, and go out on the town to cover community happenings, like Pittsburgh Pride and events at local strip club, Blush. They’re hilarious and humanizing, and I was getting to be a guest to talk about my new book, Exposure.
After 90 minutes of free-form discussion and a lot of laughing (“What historical event do you most want to see parodied in porn?”) McCain and Merbler, Adult Empire’s Director of Marketing Megan Wozniak, and I were off to tour their three separate physical locations.
The main office, where we were already sitting, was as inconspicuous and banal as any other commercial office space, save some brightly colored walls. As we toured our way through a labyrinth of cubicles and past a sweet in-house gym, I noticed a data-nerd’s delight affixed to a wall in a main hallway – a large screen scrolling up-to-the-minute stats about sales activity on all nine of their e-tail sites. I was transfixed for a moment as I watched obvious and surprising titles scroll past – the brand new Megan Rain: Get Wet, 2013’s BDSM-themed The Submission of Emma Marx, and ever topical superheroes a la Batman v. Superman XXX (links NSFW). Then it was time to go to the warehouse.