The porn industry has seen better days.
DVD sales are down. Internet piracy is up. And there are thousands of online sites where people can watch whatever they want for free — sending the message that porn’s value is zero.
The technology it helped popularize is now costing it millions, so porn companies are on the hunt for the next big thing.
Many people don’t realize that adult entertainment has been responsible for some of the biggest technological shifts in their living rooms over the past 20 years. When Beta and VHS
were duking it out for market relevance, the VHS won the battle chiefly because porn companies backed the format, offering low-cost tapes. Similarly, CD-ROMs, DVDs and (arguably) the Internet all grew at faster paces because of the industry’s contributions.
These days, the studios are exploring a variety of burgeoning technologies — each with its pros and cons.
“Moving forward, I think it’s going to be all about IPTV,” says Steven Hirsch, co-founder of Vivid Entertainment. “When your TV and computer become the same thing, I think it’s an absolute game changer.”
IPTV — short for Internet Protocol Television — allows programming to be delivered online, rather than via traditional methods. Most IPTV sites, like YouTube and Hulu.com, have focused on delivering to the PC audience. But new TVs are coming with Internet ports – allowing manufacturers to feature apps such as Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” option or Amazon on Demand.
Hirsch thinks it’s only a matter of time before adult entertainment helps drive demand for those sets.
The problem, though, is that the industry will have to convince manufacturers, such as Sony, Sanyo and Panasonic, to feature their films — which is bound to be an uphill battle. Internet-enabled sets do not offer a typical Web surfing experience.
“There may be (resistance),” Hirsch notes. “Whenever there’s a new technology, there’s resistance when it comes to adult entertainment, but as long as proper age verification is in place, I think it’s just a matter of time.”
The coming flood of 3D TVs is also on porn’s radar. To date, there’s only one 3D porn film on the market – from Pure Play Media. The company is looking to quickly expand its selection, though, saying it plans to shoot a new 3D film every quarter moving forward.
Other adult entertainment companies are taking a more cautious approach to 3D. The coming sets’ dependence on specialized glasses, they say, could be a notable barrier that prevents people from buying one. But once a manufacturer comes out with a good set that doesn’t require glasses, they say, look for an onslaught of 3D porn.
Not everyone in adult entertainment is looking for new distribution formats, though.
Scott Coffman, president and CEO of the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network, believes online video on demand is going to continue to be the way of the future. While piracy is a problem, he acknowledges, the company has just introduced a new haptic technology peripheral/sex toy that it’s betting will prove appealing to men.
The RealTouch is a mechanical male masturbation device that is programmed to work in conjunction with films on AEBN’s Website and simulate the sensation of the sex happening onscreen. Owners pay $0.49 per minute for the experience — on top of the $200 upfront costs for the device.
Coffman knows there will be customer trepidation and acknowledges that overcoming those fears will take some time — but he likens his PR challenge to the one Nintendo faced when it first unveiled the Wii.
“As we saw the Wii come out with their controller, it really solidified our thought,” he says. “You can sit and play a game, but once it becomes interactive, that changes the game. And that’s what we want to do in porn.”
Early sales, he says, have been good, though he declines to give specifics — and the device has been available for just over one month.
Regardless of the next big tech for porn, the industry plans to move a bit more cautiously. The early adoption of putting content online made adult films available to a much larger audience, but in the rush to establish their presence there, companies unintentionally sabotaged their DVD business.
“In some ways the adult entertainment industry jumped the gun on that and didn’t have our ducks in a row,” says Hirsch. “We didn’t properly window our movies and made our newest movies available for free simultaneous when they were available on DVD. In retrospect, we should have thought that through a bit more.”