Site That Bills Itself as a Movie Reviewer Finds That Sex Sells
In the movie “Knocked Up,” the character played by Seth Rogen has a get-rich scheme to start a Web site that features Hollywood nude scenes, but his plans are dashed when he learns that another site, MrSkin.com, beat him to the punch.
What’s bad news for the movie’s protagonist turns out to be good news for Mr. Skin, an actual site, which saw a 35 percent bump in new visitors in June, when the movie was released.
But “Knocked Up,” which had permission to feature the site, was not the first to notice it. Mr. Skin had revenue of $5.3 million last year, primarily though $29.95-a-month subscriptions. With more than 175,000 revealing pictures and video clips of about 15,000 actresses (yes, only actresses), the site drew 2.9 million unique visitors in June, according to comScore, the Web traffic tracker.
“We don’t care about cinematography or great acting or anything like that,” Jim McBride, who favors the title chief sexecutive officer, said on the phone from his company’s Chicago offices. “We’re concerned about the nudity — who’s naked, and what they show.”
Mr. McBride, 44, a former futures trader, made nude-scene compilations on VHS tapes as a hobby before starting the site in 1999. Today his privately held company has nearly 40 employees, and Mr. McBride, the majority owner, appears frequently on radio shows (including Howard Stern’s) to highlight the naughty bits on new theatrical and DVD releases.
Given that Mr. Skin is in the business of selling access to copyrighted material without permission, it might seem logical that the company would be mired in legal challenges, but it is not. Mr. Skin bills itself as a movie-review site — though one that assesses only starlet nudity — so Mr. McBride argues that the clips can be shown under the fair-use doctrine, which permits excerpting copyrighted material for the purpose of criticism.
That legal defense turns out to be moot, though, because the movie studios not only tolerate Mr. McBride but also court him by sending advance screeners of DVD releases.
“The movie companies aren’t stupid,” Mr. McBride said. “I’m a guest on radio shows at least 300 times a year as the expert on celebrity nudity in film. If I’m on the radio talking about a movie like ‘Ask the Dust,’ and telling guys, ‘You’ve got to check it out: Salma Hayek has a full-frontal at the 33-minute mark,’ it’s going to make guys want to rent or buy the movie.”
More than 75 movie companies — including Universal, Fox, Paramount and Lionsgate — regularly send advance DVDs to Mr. McBride’s company. And his subscribers buy hundreds of DVDs every day, said Brian Sokel, director of marketing at TLAvideo.com, which sells DVDs on the site. (He declined to provide precise figures.)
Mr. Sokel finds nothing untoward about selling a film solely on nudity.
“That’s why filmmakers and Hollywood put sex scenes in movies — because it sells,” Mr. Sokel said. “People have a problem with raw or open sexuality, but for our company and for Mr. Skin, it doesn’t have to be a demonized concept. This is normal; you’re not a freak for wanting to see a Hollywood star in a film be naked.”
Mr. McBride is the author of “Mr. Skin’s Skincyclopedia: The A-to-Z Guide to Finding Your Favorite Actresses Naked,” a 670-page book that includes (avert your pun-weary eyes) a “skindex.” Since its publication two years ago, it has sold 11,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. “Mr. Skin’s Skintastic Video Guide: The 501 Greatest Movies for Sex & Nudity on DVD,” will appear in September.
Mr. McBride bristles at suggestions that his site is pornographic, since it features PG- and R-rated movies (and some NC-17 ones). That distinction helps it draw mainstream advertisers like film companies and National Lampoon.
The site’s membership is 98.4 percent men; members spend an average of 13 minutes at the site per visit.
“I’m sure there are many men checking it out only at work versus worrying about their wife seeing them view it at home,” said Mr. McBride. When he scanned subscribers’ e-mail addresses, “I see ‘.gov’ and ‘.edus’ all the time,” the e-mail domains for governmental agencies and post-secondary schools. “But it is an R-rated site, not a porn site, so hopefully men aren’t too embarrassed to tell their wives.”
Mr. McBride said his wife is copacetic with his livelihood. And he dedicated his first book to his baby daughter, writing: “I dread the day you figure out what Daddy actually does for a living.”