Cams Report: Optimizing the Experience With Tech
Today’s live cam marketplace is evolving right alongside (and driven by) advances in the technology that powers it. While virtual reality and haptics are getting a lot of buzz these days, a range of other new technologies are making inroads into the adult webcam marketplace — or are poised to serve it in the near future.
For example, one major change currently underway is in the way that live cam feeds are streamed.
“As everybody knows,” ImLive’s vice president of marketing and business development, Shay Efron, says, “Flash streaming, which virtually every cam site uses to stream chats, is phasing out.”
“On mobile devices, it is already nonexistent, and is also becoming challenging on desktop computers,” Efron explains. “Several alternative standards and technologies are emerging however, such as WEB-RTC, DASH and HLS, each with its advantages and disadvantages. We are focusing on all technologies to find the optimal one for each product scenario.”
Supermen.com consultant Douglas Richter tells XBIZ that on the technology front, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should — but he points to tools allowing performers to cam via their mobile devices as being 2016’s hot tech.
“Mobile broadcasting is the real current trend in live cams,” Richter adds, “and ImLive is the only major network with this technology.”
Indeed, a growing percentage of fans enjoy viewing cam sites on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, while performers seek to broadcast via mobile for a unique “on the road” experience that fits their lifestyle and audience demands — so much so that Richter says catering to mobile users is no longer an option.
“If your site’s mobile, tablet and desktop versions do not mirror one another or provide a consistent experience, then you are doing something wrong,” Richter opines. “Keep in mind that 50 percent of desktop users will also visit via mobile devices, [so mobile compatibility] isn’t an option, it is a must.”
According to AWE’s Bence Pipo, mobile revenue represents an important part of the company’s income, and he credits its past years’ growth in this sector in part to the success of its sites’ mobile version.
“We even developed a mobile browser to offer the best user experience,” Pipo told XBIZ. “The product design fits on every mobile device, offers an easy way to search for girls, and many payment solutions, while tablet users get a mobile site that is easy to navigate.”
SNR Productions’ Steve Ranieri says his company provides a completely separate mobile platform for the half of its users that visit using mobile devices.
“Anyone that comes from a tablet or phone automatically gets sent to our ‘m dot’ version of the site, which is completely built for any mobile device,” Ranieri reveals. “Our mobile users are now equal to desktop users, and yes, we currently allow performers to broadcast through their mobile device.”
Efron says that it’s no secret that the world is going mobile, and reports a high portion of the company’s customers arriving via mobile devices — a percentage that is still growing.
“I believe we provide today’s best mobile webcam experience on all devices, iOS and Android alike; and we also pay affiliates the exact same revenue share, PPS or PPL, for all platforms out there,” Efron says. “There’s still a lot of shifting of the same users between desktops and mobile/tablets, so that must be taken into consideration as well to provide each user with what suits him best.”
For example, Efron says that many users prefer to sign up through a desktop computer, but then end up enjoying most of their live chats using a mobile device — or they may do it the other way around — with these multiplatform customers keeping service providers at the top of their game.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into staying at the forefront of technology for the webcam industry,” Efron told XBIZ. “Recently, we launched a new service that allows models to broadcast their own cam shows from their mobile phones.”
“This is a real tech achievement that allows our 80,000 models to work more hours and to make more money,” Efron adds. “It also allows our 65 million members to follow their favorite performer ‘out of her bed’ to experience some of her outdoor activities, and giving new products to our members in the process.”
To underscore his view of mobile broadcasting’s potential to boost cam revenues, Efron relates the story of a recent trade show experience, where he joined one of ImLive’s models for a quick business talk: “All this time, she was in a private session with one of her veteran members, who was tipping her online for every drink she had!” exclaims Efron. “It was an unbelievable experience for all.”
Cams.com Model Manager Steve Hamilton agrees that mobile’s potential is enormous, and growing.
“It’s obvious when you go anywhere: everyone is glued to their mobile devices. They’re everywhere, and the entertainment industries are reacting accordingly,” Hamilton says. “TV stations and sports leagues are investing in the ability to watch their programming on the go, and the adult entertainment industry is no different.”
Hamilton notes that more than half of Cams.com customer traffic is mobile, and points to opportunities the technology presents for performers.
“The next big horizon for us is mobile broadcasting, which will change the cams game completely,” Hamilton says. “The challenge now is to get the broadcast stream to be as small as possible.”
Like the others, DatingGold Digital Products Manager David Pfahlert also sees around a 50/50 split between mobile and desktop users, and says that taking a mobile-first design approach is the key to a great user-facing experience.
“Tablet users fall more into the mobile category,” Pfahlert told XBIZ. “However, we split out [desktop, mobile and tablets] in terms of determining metrics and quality of the traffic for each device type.”
Pfahlert says that having a consistent, responsive interface across all devices makes it easier on users.
“Many sites in the beginning phases of mobile rollout build out separate interfaces between mobile and desktop which creates two different experiences and makes it more difficult for users to adapt,” Pfahlert explains, noting that like other players, “In the coming months our models will have the option to broadcast from their mobile devices, which will in turn render a more realistic experience to the user.”
Flirt4Free Vice President Brad Estes says that the growth of mobile has caused a major shift in how the company approaches both new and existing functionality on its sites, but believes mobile broadcasting is not as important for the site’s premium user base.
“Not only is mobile compatibility included in the original development, we are also focused on how to make that compatible experience ‘easy’ on a handheld device,” Estes told XBIZ. “Tablet users are neither lumped in with mobile or desktop users — they are their own specification — because in many ways, their interfaces are closer to desktop PCs given the larger screen size, but from a user-input standpoint, we give careful consideration to users without a physical keyboard.”
“In terms of broadcasting, we do not yet offer the ability to broadcast from a handheld device, although we have had performers broadcast from some creative and interesting locations using laptops,” Estes explains. “In our system, customers want to chat and interact with the performer, not just watch them dance, so mobile broadcasting from handhelds has less priority on our roadmap.”
The mobilization of the marketplace is not only forcing cam companies to keep up with the needs of cammers and customers, but with affiliates too — staying competitive by offering advanced promo tools such as mobile-friendly HTML5 video feeds, responsive apps and white labels, intelligent ads and more.
According to Flirt4Free Affiliate Manager Kimi Graffin, the company has completely overhauled its flagship site along with its white label sites, to not only be mobile responsive, but also translated and available in multiple languages.
“We’re one of the first to convert to HTML 5, increasing visibility across mobile platforms,” Graffin says, adding, “HTML5 ads and retargeting are definitely projects that we’re testing.”
“Our affiliates enjoy a plethora of different tools, including the ability to pull dynamic content directly through our API,” Graffin told XBIZ, “and we continually post new ads for our affiliates to use, as we find what works internally.”
Ranieri says that SNR is currently performing a complete mobile-friendly redesign for CamWithHer.
“We’ve already switched from a Flash to HTML5 chat room, and we’ve also already added a standalone mobile version for both our sites and white labels,” Ranieri says. “There’s still a lot of sections that aren’t completely mobile-friendly yet, which we’re still working on, but all the pay per minute cam sessions can be done through mobile now — and our white labels automatically come with mobile-friendly templates that affiliates can customize through CamClone.com.”
Evolution is vital, Supermen’s Richter tells XBIZ, but it should be based on need and not on novelty.
“Responsive apps and intelligent ads area must, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” Richter says, noting that “rushing to a new technology doesn’t always make for a stable product.”
For example, Richter points to high-promise technologies that have failed to live up to expectations.
“I am a fan of offering an experience to users where they won’t be subjected to jittery acceleration and deceleration problems simply because new streaming technology sounds cutting edge,” Richter reveals. “I am sure some will disagree with me, but I tend to favor the proven over the trendy.” Pfahlert says that DatingGold is always hard at work to improve its front-facing member experience, regardless of the device the user accesses it with.
“This includes having a fully responsive design and keeping up with mobile streaming technologies and enhancements,” Pfahlert told XBIZ. “[We also focus on] the nuances between different devices, such as Apple and Android, as well as the various browsers they support.”
Big Data Drives Cam Site Optimization
Another hot topic in tech circles these days (including in the cam business) is “Big Data,” with cam sites busy collecting and using data to improve their customers’ user experience, and the performance of the company’s affiliates, network, revenue and traffic.
For example, while displaying basic lists of top affiliates or performers are nice touches, by providing anonymized statistical data, programs can help affiliates and performers benchmark their own success — and there are many other ways in which detailed information can drive better cam site operations.
“Everyone who works in the live cam vertical understands the power and value in actionable metrics,” Richter says. “Without good data, we are flying blind.”
Efron agrees that big data is a very big topic today, and that it can be used in many ways.
“We’re obligated to keep each affiliate’s stats private, but after more than 12 years of operation, with tens of 1000’s of affiliates promoting us, we can tell affiliates the ratios they should expect to reach due to their unique source of traffic — and help make sure they’ll get there,” Efron says. “This massive data allows our BI to be highly advanced and provides curtail inputs for affiliate traffic in real time.”
Pfahlert notes that big data can help traffic partners better monetize their inventory and investment.
“We’re in the early stages of developing a self-monitoring campaign performance tool that affiliates and networks alike can use to collect campaign-specific data and assess its success, giving them the ability to pause or adjust their traffic accordingly,” Pfahlert told XBIZ. “We collect as much data as possible to know where traffic performs best, which can be broken down as granular as on a state-by-state basis and by type of browser. Having these details helps traffic partners by segmenting traffic accordingly.”
Chaturbate COO Shirley Lara told XBIZ that the company uses data to drive a long list of features that it plans to add over time.
“The way we determine priority,” Lara says, “is by understanding what tools broadcasters need to enhance the user experience, including data analysis and mainstream trends.”
Broadcasting Infrastructure Key to Quality
One technological aspect of the overall cam experience that receives comparatively little attention is the quality of the performer’s home camming setup, which Efron calls “one of the most important elements in becoming a successful broadcaster.”
“Things like a quality cam, good internet connection speed (especially beefy uplink), lighting conditions, and overall appearance of the room make a huge difference. Virtually all successful models get it right,” Efron explains. “Obviously you need to be good looking, attentive and a natural performer, but it will be hard to become really successful without having a good broadcasting environment.”
Will this need for more control, plus the other increasing technical demands, dictate a more professional studio-based approach with bigger bandwidth, better lighting, and expensive camera arrays that could put an end to home-based performances?
“Yes,” Lara says. “Most successful broadcasters know this, and so they continue to research available options that don’t cost a fortune to produce a great broadcast set-up.”
Pipo says it’s a natural evolution of the marketplace, and notes that for years, the best customers have demanded that studios only use the best possible equipment, because they want high quality streams.
For his part, Efron is more cautious about the future of home broadcasting.
“Indeed, on one hand, the technical demands are constantly increasing and what was great last year is only mediocre now. However, at the same time, equipment prices and internet connectivity costs are dropping; although it remains hard for a single person broadcasting from home to achieve the technical levels of professional studios,” Efron says. “On the other hand, many performers still prefer to remain independent, and can now achieve very good broadcasting quality from home; so we do not expect any big shifts from individuals to studios.”
Richter warns that pro studios offer a completely different set up than do home studios and notes that “this is not an area you jump into lightly.”
Pfahlert agrees, saying high quality (and VR) cam feeds, which users are increasingly coming to expect, require higher technical demands on the performer; such as better bandwidth, equipment, and lighting — higher demands that not all studios, home-based or otherwise, will be able to meet.
“Studio operators have to keep up with the standards that many users have come to expect, and be able to facilitate the necessary ever-changing environments for their models,” Pfahlert says. “As technology and standards evolve, studio overhead increases, which in time will decrease the number of competitive facilities available.”
Pipo says studios provide the most professional environment for models to work from, which can offer a competitive advantage.
“We were personally visiting a lot of studios in the past. You cannot imagine the luxurious, professional environment some offer,” Pipo told XBIZ. “Each models’ room is equipped with gear that photographers and movie producers use for their work. They even hire a hair dresser and makeup artist so the models will look their best in front of the camera.”
Flirt4Free’s director of product, Jaime Rodriguez agrees, that studios can be a great structure and support for models without the resources to do everything on their own.
“We have studios broadcasting on our network that do everything from provide a beautiful environment to cam from, to managing a model’s social media accounts,” she says.
“Studio’s bear all the tech supremacy that will allow the host to provide better shows; however, solid good streaming and experiences can also be achieved by hosts working from home,” Efron notes. “I would say that in some parts of the world, hosts will prefer to work for a studio not only for the tech reasons, but also for ‘cultural reasons,’ and the lack of basic webcam equipment at their private homes.”
“Typically studios offer better sound quality, bandwidth, lighting, and cameras, and as a result those models get better attention and earn more money,” Richter offered. “That said, some of my most successful models have been girls who work from home, and some have even become studio owners in their own right.”
Hamilton says that a model’s choice to use an outside studio or not really depends on the situation.
“Many models want to just come in and perform,” Hamilton explains. “They don’t want to think about the things that are required for independent models, such as taxes, renting a space, managing bills, etc. — and sometimes the models have family situations where they are not able to broadcast from home.”
Pfahlert says that the studio scene has changed over the years, but for those who are new to the cam business as a performer, starting at a studio can teach them the basic fundamentals for being successful.
“We come across a lot of models that, for whatever reason, can’t work from home,” Pfahlert tells XBIZ. “A quality studio facility will provide performers with all of the necessary tools of the trade and give them a clean and secure environment to work in. For a performer starting out on a budget, this can be a great opportunity to rent a space with a professional setup, learn the business, and then figure out if it’s something they really want to pursue.”
Technology Empowers Cam Performers
Of course, all of this new technology can be daunting for performers who need to focus on attracting, pleasing and retaining paying customers. As a result, some cam companies are taking steps to make it easier for performers to interact with their customers — without letting the technology get in the way.
Pipo says that the two most important tools for interacting with paying customers are a high-quality camera feed and good use of audio.
“Paying customers have the opportunity to share their own camera feed, and also enable their audio device, so both parties are able to focus on their conversation without touching their computers,” Pipo told XBIZ. “We also provide as many channels of communication as we can, so that the performers can interact with the members even when they are offline. For example, performers can read the messages they receive from members via their mobile device — while their premium fan clubs offer professional content (such as videos, pictures, notes), which then encourage the member to find the model online.”
Rodriguez says that the company is focused on providing models with flexible, easy to use tools.
“We have a comprehensive backend that gives models multiple ways to engage with users on a one-by-one basis, as well as using automation tools that will reach multiple customers with little effort,” says Rodriguez. “From email marketing interfaces to auto-tweeting technology, we’re giving models ways to maximize their impact online.”
Efron tells XBIZ that ImLive sees technology as a pro and never a minus for its performers, as it enables them to focus on interacting with their customers; which at the end of the day, is the most important thing in this business.
“ImLive prides itself on having a very simple interface that allows anyone to become a webcam star regardless of their technical knowhow — you only need to have a good webcam, internet and computer. With these you can simply go online and start making money from day one, and you won’t hear from us every other day wanting you to upgrade your equipment,” Efron says. “We are using technology to enhance the user experience on ImLive and we now offer our hosts the option to interact with their fans and also to go online from their mobile anywhere, anytime anyplace.”
“Technology just helps our hosts,” Efron adds, “without any need for them to really be tech-oriented.”
Richter agrees, saying that ImLive (the company that powers Supermen.com) is leading the way with clever new features for its models.
“We are the only major network to offer our hosts the ability to broadcast from anywhere with their mobile device,” Richter explains. “Our users get to see every layer of a models life with this feature — from going to the gym to the grocery store to the bedroom, models can share all aspects of their lives.”
Hamilton says that one area where Cams.com is innovating is in its ability to connect the member and the model via voice,which is a capability it is currently enhancing — but he notes that the more features the company adds, the more important it is to not lose track of what first made webcams so popular — chatting with the model of your dreams and having the ability to enjoy her in a one-on-one experience.
“Our improvements are focused on making the experience more intimate, while making things simpler,” Hamilton notes. “A shared belief in our organization is that technology should make things simpler, not more difficult.”
Pfahlert says that creating shortcuts and hotkeys for performers is a great way for DatingGold’s models to save time when working on the platform.
“Simplifying and decluttering the design and layout of the model’s broadcast environments by grouping bells and whistles into icon-triggered containers aides in the model’s focus and ease of accessibility,” Pfahlert explains. “Also, we try to migrate any repetitive manual performer actions into automated or semi-automated fashions, which increases productivity by saving the performers time and effort.”
All of these benefits are part of the empowerment that camming offers to individual performers.
Better Billing Boosts Bucks
Finally, one often overlooked way that cam companies use technology is for better billing practices that boost revenues — with some firms taking this seriously enough to create their own banking resources.
“We monitor all of the billing partners and try to add the most popular providers,” Pipo says. “We also have an in-house payment solution called Escalion, which we created to be the most suitable payment gateway for cam customers, based on our own experience in the live cam industry.”
For his part, Ranieri believes that SNR was one of the first, if not the first cam company to use Bitcoins — a move he is proud of.
“Now we’re using the one-click adds through CCBill and Epoch, and those really come in handy for our customers,” Ranieri says. “They like the convenience of just having to click a button to add more funds.”
Efron says that ImLive uses the three leading third-party billers serving the adult industry: CCBill, Epoch, and SegPay, along with many local alternative payment solutions, based on the user’s regional location.
“We also integrated many other billing solutions, such as NETbilling, RocketGate, BillingCentro and more on the B2B side. This allows us to offer one-click integrations for partners in no time, with a dedicated 24/7 team that will make any integration with these processors easy and fast,” Efron says. “Today we’re capable of offering almost any billing structure and integration for any affiliate.”
“On the B2C side,” Efron adds, “our users enjoy proven credit card processors plus local billing solutions, in order to improve the conversions as much as possible.”
Richter says that flexible billing options are valuable for cam companies and their partners alike.
“Depending on your level of expertise in billing, there are many options,” Richter offers. “From using our trusted billing and taking advantage of its one-click upsells and proven scrubbing methodology, to even integrating your own billing and payment gateway using our API.”
Pfahlert notes that it’s important for customers to be able to “top off” their credits without having to go to a special payment page — a sure way to interrupt a cam session that is burning bucks by the minute.
“We make it as easy as possible for the user to purchase at any time, regardless of where they are in the platform, Pfahlert says. “Having customized one-click purchase options are great for the end-user, and especially for any paid interactions.”
Taking all of these factors and more into consideration, including the additional layer of complexity that is added by haptic and VR cam tech, it is clear that today’s live cam business is increasingly relying on the newest technology, while not yet abandoning the stability of its roots — but the process moves forward, bringing a promise of anytime, anywhere, customized, immersive and interactive adult entertainment to cam consumers around the world.