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Tech and Porn Go Hand in Hand in Vegas

Adult Entertainment Expo
Adult Entertainment Expo

Let me be perfectly upfront about this: I didn't want to go to the Adult Entertainment Expo at the Sands Convention Center today. I didn't.

I was ready to file a few more times from the Consumer Electronics Show today and then fly home, when my assignment suddenly changed last night. I didn't want to go because I was tired, the adult show is over the top, and I didn't see much of a story there. Wow, I was wrong.

The porn industry--they prefer "adult entertainment"--is a $12 billion annual business by some estimates. And it has been quite the catalyst for all kinds of tech development. It's no accident this expo is in the same town, at the same time, as CES. These two industries have walked hand in hand since the VCR.

But this year, the 10th anniversary of the expo, technology transition is once again gripping the industry. High Definition TVs and DVDs, the net, mobile. It's all coming together at once, and with change comes opportunity. And challenge.

And 300 companies and 30,000 attendees want to see what happens next.

John Stagliano, Evil Angel Video's founder, a former performer, a pioneer in so-called Gonzo porn, tells me today, "I hate to say this, but In my old age here, I never thought I'd have to continue to learn new stuff but I have to in order to compete."

Sex sells, the old saying goes, but he says the business is "still growing and it's growing faster than ever before because of new technology."

New technology also poses new problems. Vivid Entertainment, the industry's biggest player, is suing Porno-tube in a kind of Viacom vs. YouTube/Google piracy case that the entire industry is watching.

High-definition has been a novel selling point for video producers, making for better looking productions, and, how shall I say this delicately, a new level of interactivity on HD DVD and Blu-ray disks.

It's something porn actress Jesse Jane tells me she loves: "I like HD, it's more realistic... It's a perfect picture. It's a crazy picture it's real." But it also offers unprecedented detail which could limit the shelf-life of her career. Something she's very sensitive about, but something superstar porn actress Tera Patrick isn't concerned with. "My career has lasted 10 years and I think it will last 10 more years, so I don't think it will affect me," she says to me.

To compete with free content online, producers are creating online webisodes, like sitcoms and dramas, to hook viewers for the long term, and then charge them by the minute for access.

Mobile porn is also gaining momentum. Jupiter Media projects this sector will generate $3.5 billion in revenue by 2011 thanks to bigger and better mobile screens and smart phones, particularly Apple's iPhone, and the now aptly named iPod Touch.

Says Pink Visual President Allison Vivas, "You joke that it was built pretty much for porn."

The industry is a fascinating one. Titillating, sure, but make no mistake: There are a lot of bright people on both the tech, production, distribution and performance sides of this business. And it's very much a business embracing the change and transition.

I didn't want to go. But I'm glad I did. And for all the right reasons.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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