As U.K. Internet surfers prepare for major changes to the availability of online porn, U.S. adult entertainment companies are scrambling to determine the potential consequences on their bottom lines.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday that the U.K.'s four biggest Internet service providers will automatically block access to porn sites for both new and existing connections, unless users specifically request that the filters be disabled. The new measures are expected to be in place before the end of the year.
"Young people have always been curious about pornography and they have always sought it out," Cameron said in a speech. "But it used to be that society could protect children by enforcing age restrictions on the ground whether that was setting a minimum age for buying top-shelf magazines, putting watersheds on the TV, or age rating films and DVDs. But the explosion of pornography on the Internet—and the explosion of the Internet into children's lives—has changed all that profoundly. It's made it much harder to enforce age restrictions and much more difficult for parents to know what's going on."
Forecasting the economic impact of the action on the porn industry isn't proving easy. Globally, porn is a $97 billion industry, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University. At present, $10 billion to $12 billion comes from the United States, but it's harder to determine how big a percentage the U.K. represents.
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A 2006 study by Nielsen NetRatings, however, found Britain to be the world's fastest growing pornography market—with almost 40 percent of the country's male population visiting porn sites at least once a year.
That's due in part to the country's already stringent policies on adult content. (Television is restrictive about what can be shown and adult DVDs sold are often censored versions.) For people wanting to see hardcore porn, the Web is often the best option.
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"It's going to hurt the big boys," said Ogi Ogas, author of "A Billion Wicked Thoughts," a pop psychology book. "They're going to feel it. It will probably help places like Tumblr and such, where amateurs are free to publish whatever they want. Corporations are going to suffer."