Atlanta, GA 5/18/12 (StreetBeat) -- Most people over the age of twenty cannot help but remember the days of seeing the television commercials of Youree Dell Harris. Doesn’t ring a bell? Perhaps the name “Miss Cleo,” as Harris was known during her stint as a psychic and shaman for the pay-per-call service Psychic Readers Network, will recharge the memory. The business was estimated to bill more than $1 billion through 900 numbers and credit cards in just over three years, of which it collected at least half. The other half – along with $5 million in fees – was cancelled as part of a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit against Access Resource Services (d/b/a Psychic Readers Network).
Ultimately, the Psychic Readers Network was a knock-off of industry pioneer Inphomation’s widely popular Psychic Friends Network, which launched in 1991 and tallied more than $125 million in annual revenue at its peak of operating the network. The infomercials, set in a talk show format and hosted by music legend Dionne Warwick, were regularly named top infomercial of the year by the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet during its five years of airing.
Competition and what some describe as a loophole in billing laws that allowed hundreds of millions of dollars that were billed by the Psychic Friends Network (PFN) to be deemed unrecoverable by U.S. regulators were the demise of PFN in the late 1990’s; resulting in a bankruptcy filing. In 1999, the creator of PFN, Mike Lasky, re-purchased the company’s assets for $1.85 million. Lasky also won $4.1 million from MCI WorldCom Network Services Inc. in a settlement in 2004.
Believe in soothsayers or not, business is business; and the psychic industry is a huge source of revenue. In fact, the industry is currently estimated at $2 billion a year in the U.S. alone. Lasky is preparing to set the industry on its side again with his son, Marc Lasky, serving as CEO of the new publicly traded Psychic Friends Network, Inc. (OTCBB:PFNI). Going public just a month ago, the company is re-launching the iconic brand utilizing modern-day communication tools and uber-popular actress Vivica A. Fox as a new celebrity host.
"With today's online technology and our strong brand, I believe we are once again positioned to be a market leader," said the younger Lasky in a corporate statement yesterday. The freshly minted public company has pulled together the same management team that generated hundreds of millions in sales and attracted more than ten million customers to build the original company in the 1990’s.
Following the reverse merger with Web Wizard, Inc. in April, PFNI has already been featured in Bloomberg Businessweek for its resurgence in the industry and secured $750,000 in investment capital to complete website development and begin marketing initiatives.
The 21st century PFN will feature a customized state-of-the-art online platform. The new platform has integrated social networking with its own proprietary technology to allow users to build profiles, read reviews and leave comments as well as interact with live professional psychics via mobile and landline phones, computers, laptops, and hand-held devices. For the first time, Psychic Friends customers will be able to speak with psychics through video, voice, or text, according to the company.
Credits or minutes for communication with psychics are purchased securely through the website. Usage can be tracked in a Member’s Area which will provide account information and transaction histories. In a savvy move to help build the brand again, customers will be eligible for free credits by disseminating information about the psychic experience.
While some may doff the psychic industry, this isn’t about tossing chicken bones for some paranormal reading. This is serious business in a multi-billion dollar industry with the pioneer of the industry now a public entity. Whether or not the younger Lasky will parallel or exceed the successes of the elder is yet to be seen, but the pedigree and experience is certainly in place with any potential billing issues apparently remedied this time around. Add in the digital experience and there’s no telling where this may lead in the future, but then again, we are not psychic. Proper due diligence is, as always, encouraged.
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