CoolVision, an Israeli company that runs one of the largest online pornography networks and rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, is considering an initial public stock offering somewhere overseas.
Company representatives apparently met recently with local underwriting companies - which will collaborate with foreign underwriters - to draft a plan for floating the company.
CoolVision executives realize it will be difficult to issue shares on stock exchanges in the United States, as many investors view the porn industry as problematic. This is likely the reason CoolVision decided to steer clear of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, too.
A more reasonable choice is the London stock exchange, which in the past few years has become a haven for companies with dubious moral images, such as online gambling companies. CoolVision, which is defined as an online support and maintenance service company, is owned by serial entrepreneur Muly Litvak (98.5%). Prof. Rafi Eldor of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, owns the remaining 1.5%, which he received in exchange for economic consulting services.
CoolVision manages dozens of porn sites and develops technology platforms for displaying video content at sex sites. These sites include live content of a sexual nature and online chat services via a unique chat server. CoolVision also operates several Web sites that offer business consulting, astrology and other services, provided by experts in various fields.
Although the sites themselves are apparently not owned by CoolVision, the company receives a large chunk of its revenues for operating them and developing Internet technologies for them. CoolVision was originally called NetMatch.
Most of the servers that host CoolVision's Web sites are located outside Israel, and most sites cannot even be accessed from Israel. CoolVision also does not accept credit cards issued in Israel. The company receives legal advice from one of Israel largest law firms, to ensure that the Web sites' activities conform to the laws of their host countries.
CoolVision's administrative and financial headquarters are in the 23rd floor of the Museum Tower in Tel Aviv. CoolVision has about 140 employees, mostly software developers and Web site managers. The company's operations are connected with those of Sobonito Investments, which was sued in 2005 by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for anti-spam law violations. Sobonito is registered in Limassol, Cyprus, and owns a large share of the sites managed by CoolVision. One of Litvak's first companies, TargetMatch, offered the investing public a piece of its action in 2000, when that company was managing a variety of Web sites, including tourism and online dating sites. When the dot.com bubble burst, however, TargetMatch's share price declined and Litvak bought back the shares and delisted the company a few years later.
In 1999, Laura Ziv, a content editor at a TargetMatch dating site, claimed that Litvak had ordered her to edit a sex site called FantasyMatch.com. Litvak denied any connection between the sites, and TargetMatch's investors included Prof. Yaakov Neeman, now Israel's justice minister, and Leora Meridor, wife of Deputy Prime Minister and Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor.
A CoolVision spokesperson denied any plans to issue shares in the near future, noting that the sites were managed by the foreign company that owned them, and the Israeli company was involved in research, development and site maintenance.
Prospective investors will not find any scantily-clad women wandering around CoolVision's Tel Aviv offices. "Everything here operates as a high-tech company in every way," said a former CoolVision employee. "The systems operate like a bank, collecting money in real time. Whenever there's a problem, the money stops flowing in. A monitor constantly displays how much money the company is banking. When I worked there I was shocked by the sums that pour in every minute. Sometimes we would be woken at 2 in the morning to fix a glitch so the company would not lose out."
In addition to online chat services and products sold at the Web sites, CoolVision has independent productions. "A while ago the sites offered live broadcasts from bars in Thailand that included sexual activity," notes a CoolVision employee.
The mainstay of CoolVision's network is the video chat service, which offers subscribers a peek at men and women disrobing and complying with requests sent to them. Viewers buy virtual money via their credit card, and maintain an account at CoolVision's sites. The virtual money is then used to pay for movies and participation in video chats.
CoolVision attracts clients with banner ads, film clips and pop-up windows that try to engage viewers in conversation. "The pop-up chat windows are operated from offices a few blocks away from the head office in the Museum Tower," says a former employee. "A few workers at the pop-up window offices make small talk with people who visit the Web sites and don't yet have accounts, and try to persuade them to enter the video chats."
When a client enters a video chat site, he sees pictures of boys and girls interested in engaging in a video conversation. He can just watch them, or can tell them how he wants them to remove their clothes or make other intimate requests. The moment a client begins such a conversation, the balance in his virtual account starts declining, and the stripper's job is to keep the client watching for as long as possible. Most of the strippers are not CoolVision employees, but rather subscribers who have opened accounts with CoolVision, to make money from video chats by keeping viewers "chatting." About 10% of the money they earn for CoolVision will be transferred to the account they opened via the company's customer service department on the 23rd floor of the Museum Tower.