Razzle and Dazzle

Cheryl Cain
In a previous article, we made mention of the number of consumers still on dialup as opposed to having Broadband access to the Internet. In that article, we quoted a 2004 JD Powers and Associates study that put dialup use at 61 percent of all Internet access in the U.S. and 73 percent when expanded to the world market.

Newer studies paint those numbers in a different light. A mere year-and-a-half after the JD Powers study, Kagan research, a Monterey, Calif.-based research firm ran an independent study that concludes that broadband use has finally closed the gap, exceeding dialup by just fewer than 60 percent. Adult industry Internet publishers might begin to cheer at those numbers, hoping that their predictions of a much broader use of VOD is finally coming to be; however, those numbers do come with an ominous note.

In the same study, the numbers also show a significant slowing of broadband expansion. In 2005, broadband subscriptions totaled 9.3 million new users, down from 9.5 million for the same period in 2004. Based on a number of factors that include variables such as market saturation and customer costs, that number is expected to fall to 8.1 million in 2006 and continue to decrease for years thereafter.

The study goes on to predict that there will be a re-balancing of sorts, with dialup competition as phone companies continue to upgrade their equipment and an ever expanding array of high performance software is pushed into service by ISP dial-up suppliers. Topping that logic is that the cost for the dialup variety of high-speed access will continue to be far less expensive than broadband.

So what is the impact to the adult industry? In the simplest terms, we may have to re-think the lofty expectations of bandwidth intensive streams and graphics. The problem comes not just from the fact that we may have to live with 50-ish percentages of dialup users, but also that those users will be increasingly using these new high-speed versions of dial-up access. That is actually an older problem that we have known about since the first implementation of AOL's "Top Speed Technology," where automatic compression of graphics and images resulted in less than optimal images being delivered to the customer. In that instance, there was a saving grace in that a customer could change a setting to allow the unaltered graphic to be delivered, but that came at a cost to content providers that spent countless hours in customer support telling users how that was done.

A further complication is that in the race for dialup market share, these new dialup high-speed companies have a vested interested in driving costs down to provide a clear alternative to broadband service. That has the unfortunate side effect of not allowing for the disabling of the server-side compression like we could do with the original technology. That has the potential of being very troubling for our industry, as it is dependent on the quality of our imagery.

One variable that has yet to be figured into the long-range equation is that of the up-and-coming wide-area wireless access that is debuting in so many cities these days. It will take time before that market emerges to the extent that its impact on the access balance will become known. It also remains to be seen what the stable costs will settle out to be and how widespread the technology becomes. With one of the reasons for the re-balancing between dial-up and broadband being consumer costs, it has the potential to significantly alter that balance if the price stabilizes out at some point in between the two clear choices.

The bottom line is that not much is going to change in the delivery mechanism in the foreseeable future. We will continue to see a varying 40-50 percent market share in slower dialup access that will mandate the use of slower feed options for streaming video and in some cases more basic graphics and images. Designers that have been chaffing at the bit to deliver more far-reaching "razzle and dazzle" will have to resign themselves to bandwidth-conscious creations and/or dual versions to accommodate the dial-up world. Modernization of access speeds and technologies will continue to progress, but most experts seem to agree that the pace will be substantially slower than that of the onset of cable-based broadband. But for those of us that harbored dreams of a relentless expansion of broadband that would permit artistic expression to really soar, we may have to bring those dreams back down to more practical levels.