RealTime IT News

A Sexy IPO?

It can fairly be argued that, if not for pornography, the Internet as we know it today would not exist.

Back in the mid-'90s, when America Online Inc. (AOL) was blanketing the country with starter disks and Webcrawler was the de facto search engine of choice, thousands of people - overwhelmingly male - were logging on for the first time.

And what kept them online, more than anything else, was their desire to look at naked pictures of women without having to make a personal appearance at the corner convenience store or local video shop.

The flourishing of online porn sites accelerated the development of a number of technologies and business models. Streaming video, filtering software, paid subscriber models - all owe a huge debt to pornography.

Which makes you wonder why it has taken so long for a major online purveyor of adult pictures to cash in with an IPO. Soon, however, millions of stock investors will have a chance to put their money where their libidos are.

Playboy.com, the Internet unit of Playboy Enterprises, plans an initial public offering designed to raise up to $50 million. The stock will trade under the Nasdaq symbol PBOY, and lead underwriter is Credit Suisse First Boston. The Chicago-based parent company will retain majority ownership.

According to its S-1 filing, Playboy.com is "dedicated to the lifestyle and entertainment interests of young men (just like Hef!) around the world."

Its online business is centered around the Web site, where Internet users can go to "read those articles" for free. It also includes the Playboy Cyber Club -- a subscription-based feature that offers photos and home pages for Playmates, where they no doubt share their thoughts on important issues of the day - and Playboy Marketplace, which offers online shopping.

Traffic to the site is brisk. An audit by ABC Interactive shows that Playboy.com had more than 100 million page views and 16 million visits to its Web sites last November.

Revenue growth has been solid, if not spectacular, rising from $3.4 million in 1997 to $5.6 million in 1998 to $6.7 million through the first three quarters of last year. Based on the quarterly growth trend, Playboy.com likely had revenue in '99 of about $9.6 million, or 71% more than the previous year.

On the other side of the ledger, the company had a net loss of $6.9 million in 1998 and $7.2 million through Q3 last year. A promising sign is that the company has kept quarterly net losses between $2.2 million and $2.5 million for the past five quarters, so the bunny isn't bleeding profusely.

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