Wrapped tightly inside a black gown with eye-grabbing side slits and a strategically cut gap across her straining bosom, Keri Windsor doesn't look like your typical e-commerce analyst. Indeed her ownership of a stripper agency, and her starring roles in X-rated films such as Low Down Dirty Dames, I Touch Myself, Four Finger Club #9, and Miss Jackie's Full Service Salon aren't occupations that scream of an intimate familiarity with the Internet economy. Appearances, however, are deceiving.
"The adult business is very much Internet-driven," Windsor hollers into Kulchur's ear above the blaring sound system inside the Living Room nightclub. Being in the adult business, the Internet is slammed in your face. And Windsor has been taking close notes. Which is why, even as newspapers are filled with stories of content-oriented Websites hemorrhaging employees while their stocks trade at all-time lows, Windsor has enthusiastically made the jump on to the Net. She is the new cohost of RodmanTV.com, which promises -- for $19.95 a month -- an uncensored, unedited, and uninhibited look at both the Newport Beach, California, home of "the enigma that is Dennis Rodman" (via live Webcams), as well as the notorious basketball-star-cum-actor's late-night shenanigans (via a three-man video crew) at parties such as this evening's shindig on South Beach.
Windsor is well aware that the word on Wall Street these days is the Internet gold rush is over, a grim mood perfectly captured by the cover of last week's Fortune magazine, where, beneath the bold headline Lessons From the Dot-Com Crash, a frazzled executive cries out: It all seemed so grand! We were changing the world! We were rich.... Now what? Nonsense, Windsor counsels. Her own Net-investment advice? Try taking your clothes off.
The sites that stay alive are the ones that provide nudity, she says. First and foremost RodmanTV.com has adult content, and adult-content sites aren't going down so much [in value]. It's the ones that are trying to go mainstream that aren't doing so well.
Windsor's viewpoint is borne out by the numbers. Mainstream Hollywood may be pulling back from the Internet as a new viewing forum (the recent collapse of megamoguls David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Steven Spielberg's joint venture Pop.com is only the most dramatic example of this shift), and the notion of charging a subscription fee to readers has been abandoned by virtually every online magazine. Inside.com, the much ballyhooed entertainment-industry news site, has quietly stopped enforcing its own fee for full access while simultaneously announcing the launch of that creaky old-economy standby -- an ink-and-paper version -- in an effort to garner both readers and revenue.
Meanwhile over in the adult sphere, just the opposite is true. According to Nielsen NetRatings, 21 million Americans regularly visit sex sites on the Web, a number that's doubled since 1999. Even more important, these visitors are willing to pony up their credit card numbers. A Forrester Research study claims sex sites will generate at least one billion dollars this year. Factor in Western Europe, and several other analysts expect that sum to triple by 2003.
Joy King, vice president of the Los Angeles-based Wicked Pictures, one of the most prominent adult-film producers and the parent company of RodmanTV.com, is even more optimistic about future growth. Our industry has always been in the back room, kept in the closet, King explains. But now that people don't even have to leave their home to have access to our product, it really opens up an entirely new set of eyes to us. People don't have to go to an adult bookstore. They can surf to us at work, at home; it just gives people a certain amount of privacy. Nobody has to know they're looking at this material.
Accordingly RodmanTV.com provides the opportunity not only for immediate profits but also for Wicked Pictures to increase its mainstream exposure. Jenna Jameson, a former Miamian who appears regularly in Wicked's films, has already buoyed the company's profile (as well as adult movies in general) via frequent radio and TV appearances on The Howard Stern Show, plus guest-host stints with the E! Entertainment channel. King expects to see other Wicked performers (such as Keri Windsor) on both RodmanTV.com and at Rodman's frequent public appearances.
Rodman is a controversial high-profile celebrity, King notes, and his name is always out there -- good, bad, or indifferent -- which will keep people interested in his career even if he's not playing basketball.
By 2:00 a.m. Rodman's enduring celebrity status is on full display at the Living Room. There's no other star power in sight (old-hat altrockers Live are the only figures of any renown here), the fashionista contingent is preoccupied with the opening of the 320 nightclub across town, and a cringe-inducing DJ has shifted from spinning bar-mitzvah staples to the de rigueur Beach diet of trance. Yet the club is packed with folks craning their necks for a glimpse of Rodman, whose six-foot-nine-inch frame is tucked into a VIP-section banquette. Indeed onlookers are so frantic that the VIP velvet-rope don is demanding "$100 a head" for anyone to pass through. He grudgingly accepts a traveler's check from a desperate clutch of European tourists as RodmanTV's cameramen circle the scene.
The reason [RodmanTV.com] will work is because people are entranced by stars and athletes, Keri Windsor observes knowingly. They like to live their lives through someone else. Dennis is absolutely wild, crazy, and unpredictable. People respond to that.
Right now, though, Rodman isn't exactly raging. In fact he's just relaxing while several vinyl-clad women gyrate around him, which is where Windsor's duties kick in. If you just watch people partying, it can get pretty boring, she concedes. As cohost I motivate certain things to happen.
So far those things have been relatively tame, at least in light of Windsor's previous oeuvre. The RodmanTV.com site consists largely of jerky poor-resolution videos: Rodman and a pal cavort in the back of a limo; a female fan drops her pants so Rodman can autograph her nether region; on-again, off-again Rodman wife Carmen Electra attests to her hubby's graceful courtside talents (this snippet apparently taped before the couple's arrest at the Beach's Bentley Hotel last November for physically beating each other).
Although Windsor promises the site's heat quotient soon will rise ("We're going to be field-testing vibrators next week"), there is a line that won't be crossed. Referring to Rodman's home, which has seen more than 70 police visits over the past two years for noise complaints, she says, There are no cameras in Dennis's room or upstairs. So none of Dennis's sexual partners, if you will -- that's not going to be available to the viewer. Not that she sees such limits as any kind of financial liability.
One of the top adult sites is DannisHardDrive.com, and there is no actual sex there. [The site's owner Danni Ashe] has 16,000 members who pay her $19.95 a month. It's still photos and streaming videos of Danni in bed with other girls, but there is no penetration whatsoever. It's not always about sex. It's about fantasy. (A spokeswoman for Danni's Hard Drive claims the site currently has 27,000 subscribers and is anticipating revenues of seven million dollars this year.)
Rodman himself finally is ready to speak with Kulchur. He scoots his giant chassis across the couch, in the process causing several members of his entourage to scramble to catch the bottles of liquor his long legs cause to tumble off the low table. With one hand he tips up the brim of a gargantuan feather-studded Three Musketeers-style hat, allowing Kulchur's head to come in close.
Every other day I'm on TV or in the papers somewhere, Rodman begins, so if you're going to write a lot of bad things about me, why not show it to 'em. Let's show people my life and let them decide if I'm bad or not. Like my Website says: Come into my world!'
It's easy talking with Rodman about the site's economics and his goals for it. I don't have 100 people working for me, he reports. It's just me, a couple computers, and a couple of my friends. I don't think we'll ever go out of business. I'm hoping HBO picks it up as a series." Attempting to plumb the depths of Rodman's psyche is another matter. While his off-the-cuff thoughts on being a rebel and keeping it real might pass for deep philosophy amid the South Beach brain trust, it's clear he's simply reciting stock lines practiced during literally hundreds of interviews.
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Kulchur tries a different tack: The U.S. embargo against Cuba -- keep it or lift it? Rodman turns uncharacteristically silent. He juts out a bottom lip pierced with several rings: What?
The U.S. embargo against Cuba -- keep it or lift it?
Looking straight ahead through a blur of dancing bodies, Rodman exclaims, I really don't care! Then without missing a beat, he continues: We as Americans, as a free country, seem to spend more money trying to build everybody else up, bring peace and harmony around the world. But what about our own environment? Suddenly he stops short, perhaps thinking better of delving into foreign policy. Casting an eye down at Kulchur, he says sharply: "I really don't give a damn!"