Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi has said, “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it must be protected and preserved.” Although the Minority Leader was addressing Congress on the 49th anniversary of the end of the discriminatory poll tax, she could as easily have been referring to another vaunted American tradition: Mile High Media Madness, an annual tournament where porn fans can submit and vote for their favorite pornography pairings on Facebook and Twitter.
Sponsored by Montreal-based adult production company Mile High Media, Mile High Madness is modeled after the NCAA March Madness tournament, in which fans fill out brackets predicting the winners of the college basketball tournament. But instead of predicting whether LSU will face off against George Mason in the semifinals, porn fans are asked to vote whether they’d prefer to see, say, James Deen and Asa Akira get it on in a hardcore boy/girl scene, or Nina Hartley and Chanel Preston be paired up for girl/girl.
The result is a first in the world of adult media: an attempt to crowdsource casting, while providing a venue for fans to participate in their own porn fantasy leagues. “Obviously, there is a correlation between fans who like this kind of content and fans who like sports,” says Mile High PR director Dusty Marie. “This is just like any fantasy league for guys’ sports, except they’re actually calling the shots.”
Just like March Madness, the tournament features 64 fan-submitted porn pairings, which are divided into four “regions” (three based on Mile High Media’s studios): Sweet Sinner (for couples), Sweetheart Video (girl/girl), Reality Junkies (hardcore), and newcomer O.L. Entertainment (both couples and hardcore).
The winners of the four individual brackets get to shoot their own scene for Mile High Media, with the original submitter of the pairing winning a free six-month membership to a Mile High Media studio website.
Launched in 2011, the tournament originated as a way for Mile High Media to generate more Twitter followers by engaging the company’s fans, who consistently besieged the company with requests for who to shoot. “One of the favorite things fans like to do is say, ‘Oh, please shoot this person with that person,’ or ‘We’d love to see this girl work w/ this person,’ or ‘Why don’t you shoot her for this studio?’” says Marie. “So we decided to just give the fans power to cast the scenes they wanna see.”
In the insular, tight-knit porn community, it’s relatively rare to find established performers who have not worked with each other in some capacity. What Mile High Madness does is allow fans to generate pairings from all ends of the porn spectrum: a performer who specializes in girl/girl may be selected for a rare boy/girl scene, for instance, or someone who predominantly tops could shoot a scene as a bottom. It’s the porn buff’s version of a fantasy football league, or the lineup for an all-star jam session; the one difference is that, provided the performers agree to the pairings, Mile High Madness turns them into a reality.
Previously, adult media sites have organized smaller-scale contests as a way to get fans to engage with their content, while simultaneously promoting their talent (most recently, adult film stars have taken to Twitter to encourage fans to vote for them for the AVN Awards, which takes place this month). Yet Marie says that while the idea of crowdsourcing casting is relatively new, it resonated immediately with porn fans: Each year during the contest, Mile High Media gets more than 10,000 new followers.
“Everyone, for some reason, loves making lists and ranking things in order and whittling them down, especially men,” says Marie. “I think that’s probably the main thing that we’ve tapped into with this.”
The tournament is divided into a few stages: After fans submit their picks, the most popular pairings are listed in each region. Fans are then asked to vote for their favorite pairing to ensure they go on to the next round. The winners of each region—and the tournament as a whole—are revealed in April.
Like the March Madness tournament, the submissions vary widely from top-seeded frontrunners (the North Carolinas and Ohio States of the adult world, so to speak) to less-established dark horses.
“We try to get a good sampling of the entire industry,” says Marie. “Obviously we want some of the big names in there, but we also want the transgender performers, the lesser-known girls. We want every fan to feel like there’s a submission they can get behind.”
Unlike March Madness, however, a Mile High Madness victory is predicated largely on the social media efforts of the performers in the pairings, who are encouraged to rally their fans to vote for them, particularly if they are relatively new to the industry. “The newer girls, it seems like, are the ones who are usually guaranteed to win, because they’re tuned into social media, they understand their brand, and they’re really good at interacting with their fans,” says Marie.
Case in point: adult performer Lily Cade (NSFW), who was paired with veteran porn star Nina Hartley for the Sweetheart Videos region last year. While Marie says Cade is not your conventional adult film star—“she only does girl-girl, she doesn’t do these crazy things, she looks a little more butchy”—she and Hartley won the entire region, in large part due to how effectively she motivated her fans to rally behind her during the competition.
“I was very active during the competition, and my fans were very responsive and happy to vote,” says Cade, who promised her fans a custom selfie for every vote she received. “Some of them told me later they were happy to be a part of it, to have this interaction with me and have some input, so it was a lot of fun to engage with them on that level.”
Cade and Hartley’s victory in the Mile High Madness tournament also provided them with the opportunity to expand their horizons as performers. “I don’t know if I would’ve ever shot a one-on-one with Nina if I hadn’t won the contest. We’re both very aggressive, and I’m usually hired with younger girls, to be a top in a scene with someone who has less experience than me,” says Cade. “But I’m really glad it happened, because we were able to have this chemistry and do this scene that was really fun and cool and hot.” (Their scene is featured in Tombois 2 [trailer SFW, kinda?], released by Sweetheart Video last December.)
Cade and Hartley just barely missed out on clinching the whole tournament—they were bested by Giovanni Francesco and MILF performer Magdalene St. Michaels, another fan favorite who was highly active on Twitter during the competition. Yet St. Michaels has high hopes for this year’s tournament, having already received dozens of fan submissions. Her success in the tournament is testament not only to her social media acumen, but to the general skills performers need to establish themselves in today’s porn world.
“Today, in the world of piracy and all that, there’s so much free content that the only way performers can distinguish themselves is if they have a unique product,” says Marie. “What we’re seeing is that through this contest, instead of being like, ‘Oh, I’ve never worked with her, who is she?’, the girls are establishing themselves by getting their fans to vote to them, and once they’ve established they have a solid fan base, other studios start shooting them too. So it works both ways for both them and their fans.”
The first round of voting for Mile High Madness begins today. Votes can be cast via Facebook, Twitter (under the hashtag #milehighmadness), and email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Winners will be announced April 14.
Illustration by Jason Reed