In a digital landscape that’s becoming flooded with streaming platforms at an incredible rate, PassionFlix is one that truly stands out.

The premium movie subscription site is tackling the billion-dollar romance novel industry by offering both a catalog of popular romance movies and originals that are being adapted from New York Times best-selling romance novels. The first two that are now available on the site include “Hollywood Dirt,” based on Alessandra Torre’s novel and “Afterburn/Aftershock,” based on Sylvia Day’s novels.

In just 2013 alone, the estimated total sales value of romance novels was placed at over $1 billion and, yet, moviemakers have barely touched this catalog of prime content. Until now, that is.

The three women who co-founded the company, which went live on Sept. 1, might be strangers to the world of entrepreneurship, but they’re not outsiders to the world of entertainment as they’ve all had their hand in the creation of films for the likes of Hallmark, Lifetime and ION.

Joany Kane, screenwriter of TV movies such as “The Christmas Card” and “A Christmas Kiss,” Tosca Musk, who’s directed films like “A Cinderella Christmas,” and Jina Panebianco, who’s a producer of films such as “Our Wild Hearts,” have combined their movie-making skills and passion for romance to create PassionFlix.

passionflix founders
Joany Kane, Jina Panebianco and Tosca Musk founded PassionFlix, a premium streaming service offering original romance movies and other digital content adapted from best-selling books. Courtesy of Passionflix

It all started when Kane thought to herself, “There really needs to be a ‘Fifty Shades’ meets Netflix.” After realizing the need for this type of product and coming up with the idea for PassionFlix in 2013, she immediately purchased the domain on GoDaddy.

But don’t get the platform’s name confused with something that it’s not.

“I wasn’t thinking Cinemax late at night, like passion for sex, it’s more romance has been my passion my entire life,” Kane told International Business Times of coming up with the name. “So that’s why I put ‘passion’ and ‘flix’ together.”

Though the idea was formed in 2013, it wasn’t until two years later when Kane saw ION’s 2015 film “You Cast A Spell On Me” that she found her fellow co-founders, as the film was directed by Musk and produced by Panebianco. Kane simply loved the movie and decided to reach out to Musk and her to read one of Kane’s scripts, which she did, and the two began a dialogue back and forth that only evolved into the partnership that it is now.

That evolution hit a turning point when Kane, Musk and Panebianco had lunch in the winter of 2016 to discuss Kane’s scripts when she also decided to tell them of her idea for PassionFlix.

“They were automatically like, ‘Oh my God, this is the best freaking idea, how come nobody’s doing this? Let’s team up and do it,’” Kane told IBT of the meeting.

The success of romance novels like “Fifty Shades of Grey” helped show that there were many who were passionate about the genre. While the film adaptation of this book wasn’t released until 2015, its movie rights were sold in 2012, which Kane said “definitely showed that there’s certainly a market for it” and that women want it and not so much because of the sex scenes or the BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission), but because “it was just a pure romance. It was just a love story. And Hollywood doesn’t really make those unless you watch the Hallmark Channel and those are all oh-so-vanilla.”

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“Fifty Shades of Grey” and other successful romance novels proved that there was an audience for this type of content. Universal Studios

Musk echoed Kane’s thoughts and mentioned that a driving factor in the three of them forming this partnership was that all these romance novels that have been a success over the years have all been “so female-focused in showing women in a very positive and strong light...all very successful and yet there are very little of that content made.”

Which is why Musk said they focus on covering “positive female roles that are seen in all these romance novels that are not seen outside of them as much.”

It took a couple of years for these women to find each other, but once they did, that’s when the real work began.

Kane, Musk and Panebianco all knew that they had a great idea, but an idea was meant close to nothing unless they could build it up into an actual product and platform. To do that, they needed money, they needed investors.

“We needed to wrap our head around what a business plan deck would look like based on this audience, based on the viewership, the fans, the authors, their followers,” Panebianco said of the beginning stages of going out to investors. “We started to then piece together a deck and a business plan, which showed the romance genre, that it’s a billion-dollar industry, who are the readers, how many books are downloaded, who are these authors that we want to go after and why.”

Once the business plan was set and the deck was created, the entrepreneurs created a list of who they would go after for financial support and set up meetings accordingly.

It took a year and a half of pitch meetings to raise over $4.75 million for PassionFlix, which was their goal amount. Though they ended up reaching their target investment sum for this round of financing, it wasn’t without a bunch of road bumps and learning experiences.

“When you first go out there and you’re speaking to people who don’t really have any idea about the romance industry at all… they’re like, ‘Romance? Oh wow, okay, I didn’t know people even paid attention to romance,’” Musk said. “We’re like, ‘Actually yes, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, people actually do pay attention to it and we would like to make them into movies.’”

Of the ones who did understand that people watch romance movies, some didn’t quite understand what the term “romance” actually meant.

“We got a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, so it’s like porn for women?’ and we’re like, ‘No, we’re not making porn,’” Musk said. “And so then they’re like, ‘Do you make these shows like Maxim magazine?’ and we’re like, ‘No, we can’t do that because that’s for men, we need to make this for women.’”

Aside from having to not just explain their company, but the romance entertainment industry as a whole to people, the women also had to handle going into “six white men in suits” meetings, as they called them, though, sometimes, like with one particular meeting, it was just one man there to hear their idea.

“We actually had one experience where it was the three of us in just a room with one man in it and we were pitching him and after a while, he actually stopped and went, ‘I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, this is the first time I’ve been in a meeting with three women.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, well now you actually understand exactly how we feel every time we go and pitch to just men.’”

Overall, she said the investment process was a “very interesting journey” over the last year and a half of showing (“I hate to use the word ‘educating’”) people the importance of romance and all these books and the “impact it will have in the female industry.”

At the end of the investment round, they had roughly 30 different investors on board, from friends and family members who came in at token amounts to strategic investors who came in anywhere from $600,000 to $1.2 million.

While Musk mentioned that her mother, model Maye Musk, publicly touts being an investor in PassionFlix, she did not share whether or not her brothers, business magnate Elon Musk and entrepreneur Kimbal Musk, are investors, as well. Though she did say that both Elon and Kimbal are very supportive and have given them their “kudos” for creating and building this company, a company that Tosca hopes will help naysayers begin to take the romance entertainment industry a bit more seriously.

While the fact that many, mostly men, still don’t understand the space that romance novels and movies hold, that’s not the main reason why there aren’t that many movies in the genre. Cost-efficiency is the issue.

“Unless any book is selling 30 million copies, like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ did, the big studios are not going to make movies out of them because the cost is too high,” Tosca said.

Though large movie studios are far from quick to make movies out of romance novels, PassionFlix’s business model is built to create these types of adaptations that larger companies rarely touch.

“If a book sells a few hundred thousand copies or a million copies, which is great, it’s perfect for PassionFlix because we don’t have the same overhead as some of the studios do to make these movies,” Tosca said.

This lessened overhead allows for PassionFlix’s creation of multiple originals per year, thus helping Panebianco’s desire that people realize that there all of these women, around the world, in different countries, who are enjoying romance novels, “whether it just be for guilty pleasure for themselves or making them believe in love, believe in romance or want to imagine what that love feels like” and that that’s why they are translating this important genre onto the screen.

For those still wondering how the new movies that these women are creating will be different from the ones they’ve done for Hallmark, Lifetime and ION, it’s all about the themes and the boundaries.

“They [previously-mentioned TV networks] have very specific mandates,” Musk said. “Whether it’s woman in jeopardy or it’s a little bit more inspirational, whereas ours are all based on New York Times International best-selling authors and their work…and, obviously, ours has a lot more passion and is a little sexier.”

She also wanted to note that the within the movies they’re making the women will always be seen in a “strong and positive role” to make sure that they stick to their mandate, which is “empowering women through emotional strength.”

Though female empowerment is a main portion of their mission and movies, “still within that, we still cover a love story and it’s still about two people being in love, falling in love, finding love, looking for love,” Panebianco said.

Since the love stories the women are sharing are all adaptations of best-selling novels, Kane reads about five romance books a week to determine which ones she thinks is a good fit for PassionFlix and then passes them along to her partners once she’s found ones she likes.

Currently, they have over 20 standalone books and series by about 15 different authors, including Emma Chase, CD Reiss, Rachel Van Dyken and K. Bromberg, that have been optioned, but they are always looking for new work.

The plan is to make nine movies this year, 12 the next and then begin to make 24 movies per year after that. This will allow them to dig into the backlog of romance novels, as well as new ones that are always coming out, in all different romance subgenres – historical, paranormal, suspense.

Aside from genre diversity, character and thematic diversity is a big goal of the company’s, as well, which also sets it apart from networks like Hallmark.

“Love is love, whether it’s two men, two women, man and wife, man and woman…we have one based on an Indian family, we have an African American one from Brenda Jackson that we’re doing this year,” Panebianco said of the kinds of movies PassionFlix will be making. “We try to keep it as diverse as possible.”

While you will find diversity amongst their movies, you won’t find them categorized that way on their site and that’s done on purpose because of that one statement that they keep in mind: “Love is love.”

“We don’t want to separate, like, ‘Here’s the gay romance, here’s the African American romance, here’s the Indian romance,’” Tosca said. “It’s all put into categories that we have currently on the platform…because we want to make sure that everybody and every different choice is seen on the same level playing field.”

Once the stories and characters are set, that’s when the heat gets turned up and things get a bit spicier than one would see in a TV movie.

“The fun thing about PassionFlix is that we can make them just a little sexier and there’s so much power for a woman in being able to express their sexuality and their sexiness,” Tosca said. “This platform sort of allows us to dive into these romance novels and not tame them. We want to really show the sexiness that women have, the sensuality, we want women, and men, to be able to express that in life.”

Since so many of these novels include sexual and sensual scenes, fans of the original stories won’t have to worry about the adaptations straying from the books. PassionFlix prides itself on staying true to the author’s vision, story and characters.

Of course, not everything from a novel can make its way into a film, especially some romance novels because then the movie would have “have sex every three minutes,” Tosca said, which their films won’t.

“It’s really about showing the sexuality, the connection, the sexiness, the passion between the two people,” Tosca explained about what the movies aim to show. “That’s what we try to portray more than ‘Here’s a different way of having sex.’”

Panebianco adds: “There’s nothing gratuitous in what we do because we’re women, we definitely don’t want that, but sometimes it’s something as simple as the caress of a hand going over a woman’s face or sliding down her arm, or it can be a passionate kiss that leads into a love scene.”

When it comes down to it, this company is exactly what its name implies, it’s a passion project for all involved – the founders, the authors, the readers, everyone.

“We’re part of making a lot of, mostly women, dreams come true and being a part of a community that’s really so loving and supporting and fun, that's just such a great part of PassionFlix,” Kane said.

Move over Disneyland, PassionFlix is now where dreams come true. No tickets necessary, just a monthly streaming service subscription priced at $5.99 per month.

PassionFlix’s first two original movies, “Hollywood Dirt” and “Afterburn/Aftershock,” are now available to stream. The third, “The Trouble with Mistletoe,” will debut in December.