Playboy places its bets online

Playboy Enterprises is ending an era of fuzzy dice and cheap novelty items and looking toward the Internet for its future, its leader says.

The corporation, best known for the flagship Playboy magazine that promotes its name-brand lifestyle, has met mixed success online, says Christie Hefner, Playboy chair and chief executive. Although it was one of the first magazines to go online, she does not project profits until 2002, Hefner told attendees of the Seybold Seminars publishing conference here this week.

Next, Playboy plans to launch an online gaming destination where people can bet on sporting events online. Online gambling is illegal in the United States, and Playboy plans to implement safeguards to restrict access by U.S. Web surfers. Hefner, daughter of the Playboy empire's founder, says the gaming site PlayboySportsBook.com will launch by June and will be followed by an online casino gambling Web site near the end of this year.

"We want to be a lifestyles destination Web site," Hefner says. Playboy is striving to become an online powerhouse of activities other than chic smut, Hefner says.

Playboy is also expanding the online editions of its print publication. First will be Playboy.de in Germany. A subscription site for Playboy's racier television sibling SpiceTV.com is already live. The next wave of Playboy technology will include Playboy interactive TV programming, video-on-demand services, and wireless access to its online gambling sites.

Virtual Bunnies Struggle

Although Playboy was among the first publications to hang a virtual shingle, and its site is subscription-based, the company has learned that even peddling porn online can be costly.

Last November, Playboy indefinitely shelved its plans to spin off its online arm Playboy.com, citing poor market conditions. Hefner says Playboy's online losses will hit about $12 million this year. She expects Playboy.com will eke out its first profits by early 2002. However, she claims 4.4 million people visit one of Playboy.com's family of Web sites monthly. So far, the collection includes Playboy.com, Cyber Club, Rouze, Playboy Store, and Playboy Auctions.

Playboy's sites have made money from banner ads and selling magazine subscriptions and merchandise. But Hefner concedes those revenues are insufficient, even though they draw an audience. For example, Playboy.com's "Cyber Club" charges $60 annually, and drew 60,000 subscribers, Hefner says.

As for ongoing critics of Playboy and its wares, Hefner notes, "If you think Playboy is bad, what is good?" She pointed to a large swath of brazen adult Web sites proliferating on the Net today.

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