Larry Flynt, 66, is the best known figure in the adult entertainment business. The creator of the Hustler magazine, he has combined building his business with headline-making court cases and battles with members of the establishment that sought to curb Hustler’s output and Flynt’s outbursts. Flynt’s life was committed to film in the 1996 movie The People Versus… He talks to about TBI Hustler and the adult TV business.
TBI: You have been in the business for several decades, what have been the landmark events that have shaped the adult entertainment sector?
The landmark event was the VCR and home video, which made it possible to have adult entertainment in the house. Then, the introduction of broadband also changed things substantially. But the [home video] market was probably capped off about ten-to-twelve years ago.
What part does TV play in the Larry Flynt Publications‘ empire?
We’re the largest adult content provider in the world. There’s a vast wasteland in TV and a lot of channels out there that have no decent programming. Hustler has helped fill that void.
The 500lb gorilla for us is broadcasting. I’ll admit to something, [Hustler] magazine sales are down considerably, directly as a result of the Internet and broadcasting. We have lost the magazine but we still have broadcast.
The Hustler magazine has a lot of humor and satire alongside the photoshoots, is it possible to transfer that to the TV channels?
The magazine is an entertainment as well as a sex publication and there’s satire as well. In TV we’ve never tried to transfer that to the channels.
How can you compete with the Internet and the multitude of free content out there?
In the end what separates everyone is quality. You can’t just go to the forest with a handheld camera and come back with a porn video anymore. In my view, if you don’t deliver quality then you won’t be around much longer.
How have technological advances changed the business?
Four or five years ago Bill Gates wrote The Road Ahead and talked about how our lives would be changed by the digital revolution. Many of those predictions have happened. One control will merge the Internet and TV so you will manage everything with one remote.
You pushed the boundaries of what could be shown in terms of adult entertainment. Is it possible to keep doing that over time?
We’re still selling the same story that’s been around for 2,000 years. Sex has been around since day one – there’s only so many different ways you can present it.
What we’ve always wanted to do is plain old vanilla sex; we’ve stayed away from behaviour that’s not acceptable even though there’s a demand for that. It means we have fewer problems with the authorities.
You are a high profile figure, has that helped or hindered the Hustler business?
It cuts both ways. It’s probably hurt me, but I have strong political views and I’m not willing to hide that. What really makes a difference is the product we have. We’re a cash cow for most of the companies that we do business with, but [my profile] does hurt us from time to time. Some cable operators can be a little gun-shy.
What effect is the recession having on the business?
It’s hard to tell yet if there’s any effect on broadcast, but it definitely will affect our merchandise and DVD businesses. But it’s difficult to assess the impact at the moment.
You asked for a Federal bail-out for the adult industry. Were you being serious or making a political point about the bank and auto industry bail outs?
Well, I didn’t expect we would get it! We were trying to make a point. I have a solution for the car industry and Wall Street and it’s called bankruptcy. I don’t believe most American citizens want us to bail out these industries.
Are you still as enthusiastic about the adult business as you ever were?
Yes, definitely. The genie is out of the bottle, there have been leather-bound editions of porn publications since the Victorian era, but now it’s everywhere.
Will you always be in the business or might you sell up at some point?
No, I’m getting old and I can’t think what I would do if I retired.
What will your legacy be?
I’d like to think it would be that I tried to expand the parameters of freedom of speech and that, having been involved in one of the most important Supreme Court cases in American history, that I was always part of that fight.
What does the future hold for the adult business?
Someone like Bill Gates could answer that a lot better than me. We have to keep our eye on technology, how it’s used will shape the future.