Porn Overcomes Oversaturation With Revived Focus on Content
The advent of internet-driven content was both bane and boon to the porn industry, giving rise to a profit pendulum that rose sharply skyward, before swinging back brutally to cut revenues. Tube sites were as inevitable as Napster, and just as music producers were forced to adapt, so too has the adult industry.
The intermingling of free content and piracy fed a vast abyss for years, until the depths were filled with such a recycled mound of material, there arose a rabid demand to buck stagnant trends. This hunger for pristinely shot productions, for dazzling inventiveness, for talent buoyed by social media stardom and for disruptive technologies, gained traction.
Now, content is on the verge of a renaissance, its gauntleted hands reaching out to seize back the stolen crown. Wrapped in royal ermine and protected by stalwart sentinels, it stands to inherit the porn kingdom once more.
XBIZ gathered several industry patriarchs to examine the ways in which commoditization crippled content, after so prosperous a golden age in the 90s and early 2000s. Among them is famed director Jules Jordan, who said, “Fortunately, our content has held its value both in the DVD market and online. We treat it as a premium product and have an emotional investment in it. Most traffic guys or businessmen look at content solely as numbers and trends. We try to stick to what we do best and our numbers have been growing and growing across the board. I think too many content producers are chasing online trends and oversaturating the market.”
According to the similarly prescient Steven Hirsch, co-chairman of Vivid Entertainment, the commoditization of adult content actually began before tube sites entered the scene. “I suppose you can say it started with the DVD compilation,” he illuminated. “When people started putting out eight- and 12-hour comps, the price per scene plummeted along with the perceived value.”
The studio chief notes that when video on demand sites such as AEBN and Hot Movies decided to start selling movies by the minute, industry execs held a meeting to discuss how to stop this trend, because at that time there was still money to be made with DVDs.
“Producers looked at it as extra money, but consumers were now able to get what they wanted for a couple of dollars, as opposed to paying for the whole movie,” Hirsch explains. “[Commoditization] could have been prevented if we had stopped our movies from being sold by the minute. The tubes were a different story because they could just steal content and hide behind the DMCA. I’m not sure what could have been done about that.”
According to Girlfriends Films’ president Moose, we live in a world where technology is moving so fast, yet people still want more. “They want it faster, they want it better and more convenient,” he said. “It’s a natural progression. You know, they say hindsight is 20/20. We can look back on anything, and if we knew what was coming maybe it could or could not have been prevented. But it doesn’t matter. Things are what they are, and we need to adapt and constantly adapt to the infrastructure we have to work with — for ourselves and our customers.”
New Sensations founder Scott Taylor says that in his opinion, it all circles back to rampant piracy and tube sites. “The consumer gets so much variety for free, so easily, that the overall value drops,” he said. “Everything is made so readily available that consumers believe free porn to be their right. It happened in the music industry, and now it has happened to ours — and it wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for the porn tube sites.”
Like Hirsch, Taylor blames loopholes in the DMCA process, a practice that he calls “a joke.”
“Once piracy became a business model for tube sites, with limited to no repercussions, it began to commoditize our industry,” he remarked. “It hasn’t taken away all value just yet, but the trend is there.”
And while content may have been commoditized, consumer demand remains the industry’s driving force. “The market tells us what to shoot and how to present it,” explained Evil Angel founder and noted director John Stagliano. “Or we will be out of business.”
As for Jordan, he says that when he took over management of his site it was important to build it based on his own name recognition, and not have to pay for traffic or rely heavily on partners — a strategy he says that has worked out well. “We’re one of few sites that do not currently partner with tube sites,” Jordan said. “I believe that tubes satisfy the basic porn ‘user,’ but I think true fans of erotica want to see more, higher quality and better functionality, or possibly want to see it in the context of the whole film.”
Jordan believes that studios have always been behind the 8-ball in marketing their content online. “Most have relied on partners who don’t necessarily have their best interests at heart and are on a mass production conveyor belt of content delivery without any emotional attachment,” Jordan elucidated.
“We’ve been very fortunate in having organic traffic to JulesJordan.com due to my years of producing great content and very successful in channeling movie traffic from JulesJordanVideo.com to our paysite, converting many DVD fans to our online properties,” he added. “So, we don’t rely on affiliate traffic as much as most sites, which is also very fortunate.”
While “content was king” during the gold rush era of the 90s through early 2000s, it was eventually usurped by web traffic in terms of market importance. As the mass licensed content well runs dry and consumer demand for premium niche content rises again, producers are once again eyeing the power dynamic between content and traffic.
“Some studios really lost out in the mid-2000s licensing DVD content for pennies on the dime, putting traffic masters in the control seat and devaluing content to nothing,” Jordan underscored. “This was the era where the traffic kings rose up, taking full advantage of the ignorance of adult studio content owners.”
Moose likens the situation to anything else in life that has been touched by growth and the demand it generates — such as food, for example. “Talking about the 90s, back then it was all about faster and more convenient, you had a surge in fast food drive-thru joints and microwave food that were all about quick, easy and cheap,” he said. “Now, it’s like, ‘Hey, wait a minute, that stuff isn’t any good.’ So people are turning to organic, healthy foods and paying a premium for it. We have massive discount stores closing hundreds of locations and places such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s can’t file their building permits fast enough.”
Moose noted that being a niche content provider within a niche market is a good thing. “If premium content is the Whole Foods of the adult industry, then a studio such as Girlfriends Films, where we are exclusively all-girl, is like the Vegan section within Whole Foods and it’s a growing trend,” he pointed out. “That’s a great place to be.”
For his part, Stagliano says the situation emphasizes the importance of balancing internet skills with porn creating skills — especially for established producers from the pre-internet era. “Yes! I agree it must be the fault of traffic controllers that I am not still the most commercially successful porno director,” Stagliano exclaimed wryly. “It can’t be that my movies are bad!”
Other producers also acknowledge that traffic has taken the lead, but stress the importance of content and the continuing role it plays in driving both revenues, as well as traffic. “[Today] traffic is king, but if you lead a consumer to a product that they not interested in, then what are you really doing?” Taylor asks, noting a Catch-22 in 2016’s equation. “There has to be a marriage between the content and the traffic, since you can’t afford to buy traffic if you don’t covert — and you can’t build organic traffic without desirable content.”
From this perspective, it becomes increasingly clear that free tube sites with their hundreds of millions of users are driving demand for premium content, even as they devalue it as a whole. In this reality, unsaturated niche and micro-niche content retains a certain value for a limited audience of pornophiles who are unsatisfied with older, lower quality or more generic fare, which might be adequate for the masses of freeloaders.
Taylor explains that while New Sensations successfully operates in a premium niche market, questions remain about the size of the current customer base that is still willing to pay for porn. “How many of those [customers] are there?” he mused, delineating that once the mass licensed product well dries up, providers expect a renewed hunger for quality content. “But I am not sure how deep that well actually is.”
Hirsch says that while he believes there is, and will continue to be, a market for premium niche content, it is important to define what is meant by “market.”
“There will always be a group of people who are willing to pay for something special, or are just opposed to watching what they feel is stolen content — but you still have to compete against ‘free,’” Hirsch said. “The truth is most people are willing to give up their desire for premium when they can get it for free.”
It is a compelling argument against the profitability of porn’s future — but with creativity, high quality and persistence, producers should find paying audiences, even if not in the numbers seen in the past.
“The tubes have literally millions of hours of content, and the well for new content is drying up quickly. Almost everything old is already out there,” Hirsch explains. “But again, when it comes to free, people are much less discerning — and the average porn watcher will never get through all the free content in their lifetime, so there will be a market for connoisseurs who are willing to pay — but it will be smaller.”
Another factor in the tube equation is the issue of traffic, with tubes tying up the overwhelming majority of adult traffic today, according to Hirsch, who notes that because of this, “even if you have interesting unique content, it’s hard to get it out there — not impossible, but difficult.”
“Producers are going to have to find a way to break through,” Hirsch concludes. “We have had success with our celebrity titles because we are not dependent on adult traffic for joins, but these opportunities aren’t reliable and can’t be depended on.”
Stagliano says it is apparent that tube sites are driving consumer demand for premium content, since discriminating viewers want something better than what is available for free. “Why pay for something that is more common?” Stagliano asks, noting there has been a huge increase in the technical quality of cameras and lighting techniques over the last few years that raised the bar for producers and their productions. “People have responded to that.”
Moose says that, as with everything else, the more you have the harder it is to navigate. “The web has gotten so big, so fast, it’s getting harder and harder to find what you’re looking for unless you know what it is,” he explained. “But at some point you have to ask, ‘Is my time and effort worth sifting through all the garbage to find one little treasure?’ Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”
He further notes that people who value something special are willing to pay for it. “We see it in the markets for autos, housing and again food. If you want something good then it’s worth it. All we can do on our end is continue striving to produce the very best quality we can while meeting the demands of our clients. If we keep doing that, I think our fans will stay loyal and continue to support us.”
Jordan says that his goal is to offer the highest quality and resolution available at all times. “With 4K, especially the ability to watch it in full 4K on their TVs, people will seek out the sites offering this resolution,” he asserted. “If we can stay ahead of the technology curve, tube sites won’t be able to keep up. We’ve always had the benefit of being ahead of the technology curve with our content. I was one of the first to shoot in HD and in 4K and to be able to deliver it in these formats, so our content has stood out.”
Taylor agrees that with so much lower-end content available for free on tube sites today, the only way to compete is to make something better. “If tube sites start delivering premium content for free, they will cannibalize that too,” he remarked. “Until that time, we will continue with our high-end productions. Even as sales slow, we spend more money and time to create the best product possible. We have done this with each downturn in this industry and it has worked. It’s not a secret as you look around and see that the biggest companies are now doing some of their best work. It helps us to stand out among the masses.”
While the ultimate fate of porn producers may seem reliant on the whims of the masses, modern trends in various arenas — ranging from premium grocery stores to successful adult ventures — points to a prosperous new age, as consumer demand for high-priced quality surges alongside a stronger economy. And while the fog of war may yet dim that golden glimmer to a silver lining, when the dust clears, a sparkling diadem shall visibly adorn this breaking dawn with crystal clarity. Armed with the lessons imparted by history and encouraged by brave innovators, content’s royal bloodline will be purified.
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