By 2003, a study by Nielsen/NetRatings was reporting that pornography and music/film piracy were the most influential factors driving broadband penetration. In other words, what everyone in the porn business knew intuitively, and could discuss anecdotally, finally got its scientific imprimatur. In 2010, this should all be common knowledge, though it might be distasteful for some of the Religious Right to admit.
Because of a huge audience willing to spend hardearned cash on personal, media-centric sexual entertainment, innovators and entrepreneurs coalesced to create the content and the tools that consumers needed. Porn-driven advances include modern means of credit card clearing, the discovery of browser security holes, traffic optimization, mobile services and encryption technologies.
Today, one of the biggest areas of development in the porn industry is adding the sense of touch to technology, called haptics. Even with the advent of live chat, the porn experience was insensate and two-dimensional, at best. Certainly, porn consumers wanted to be on the receiving end, but the first use of haptics headed in the other direction.
"Teledildonics" is the term author and sex educator Violet Blue, proprietress of the not-safe-for-work site Tiny Nibbles, gave to the first generation of tech-enabled peer-to-peer sex work. Adding a remote-controlled sex toy to a live webcam session was a natural progression, with Blue telling PC World magazine that it may herald "the death of the pimp." Although that hasn't happened, Blue assures interested parties that "it remains in lucrative commercial use." In 2010, you can expect a two-lane highway, thanks to another frontier in haptics.
The first haptics-based sex simulator with a 21st century pedigree, RealTouch, is a product of Internet video technology leader AEBN, one of the pioneers of video-on- demand. The device itself is a cross between a football and a rocket model, somehow appropriate as it was developed and tested by a former NASA scientist. Its array of heating elements, moving parts, belts and assorted gadgets work together to mimic authentic sexual acts — blowjobs, vaginal and anal intercourse, hand jobs and more.
The device can be used as a standalone sex toy, albeit a costly one at $199 retail. Its signature purpose, however, is to synchronize over a USB cable with online, streaming media that is available exclusively at RealTouch.com. As users watch the screen, signals are sent from the movie site to the Real Touch unit, putting the viewer literally in the middle (or top or bottom) of the action.
At the 30th Exotic Erotic Ball in San Francisco in October, Scott Coffman, CEO of AEBN, lamented that "people could only experience movies through two senses, sight and sound." Coffman's answer was to have his firm "bring the sense of touch, arguably the most important element to human intimacy, into the equation."
Studios and independent content producers are working with Real Touch to expand the list of available titles, both "retrofitting" existing titles and encoding new productions for the device. It is still not a Vulcan mind-meld, or "holographic" virtual sex, but it is another step closer.
The proliferation of streaming media to the full range of consumer devices (phone, computer, TV), and the continuing convergence of the television with the PC, will make for a very interesting 2010.
"This is a transitional period for porn," says Graham Travis, general manager of Elegant Angel, "and I don't think it's possible to know exactly where we're heading." Echoing the view of several other industry veterans, Travis believes that a return to "quality adult brands" and an emphasis on excellence are required no matter where the technology leads.
At the same time, of course, there are real business challenges to confront. Travis thinks there are a few Internet maneuvers that can make 2010 "a year of opportunity" for the industry. From online media that is "free at the point of use" but incorporates in-player advertising, to "live adult chat" and other interactive technologies, he sees nothing but ongoing change — some proactive, some reactive.
"The means of distribution are transforming," continues Travis, "and potential customers are less and less likely to part with their hard-earned money due to the sheer extent of free porn online."
This means, clearly, that successful porn companies have to push the envelope again, and harder, to develop products and services that answer the age-old query, "How do we compete with 'free'?"
IPTV is growing quickly, offering a multitude of alternatives.
"Freely surfing the Internet through your TV set is just a matter of time," Travis predicts. Of course, visionary porn firms are not waiting to get started with content, which they will make download-ready for everything with a screen.
Joshua, CEO and director at skinworXXX, is certain that "digital downloads will become more and more prevalent for movies, and products such as Apple TV will become more and more prevalent" in the future.
Joshua is preparing for the future now. "We have already prepared HD digital downloads of both 'Deviance' and 'Sun Goddess' and will do so," he continues, "with each and every movie we shoot in 2010."
Among the largest growth areas anticipated in 2010 is the mobile market for, well, everything. With iPhones, WiFi iPods, netbooks, Google-powered phones and tablet PCs, people are taking their adult entertainment on the road as well as downloading it during the journey. The high-tech umbilical cord is here, in all its broadband glory, and one of the best, fastest growing entertainment providers on the web is the Apple App Store.
It can be costly to make (softcore) iPhone apps for every porn performer in a company's filmography. Adam & Eve takes a thoughtful, measured approach to this particular technology.
"We reserve the iPhone apps for our contract stars," says publicist Katy Zvolerin. "Adam & Eve's Bree Olson" and "Adam & Eve's Kayden Kross" were released at the end of November, representing current Adam & Eve starlets, while scores of other "starlet apps" are available and upcoming.
"The apps include some great images, of course, along with bios and news" about the stars, Zvolerin adds. Users, who pay less than two dollars for an app, can use the images as wallpaper, create custom slideshows and e-mail favorite pics to friends. The trend toward social networking goes hand-in-hand with the use of apps with "sharable content," which dovetails nicely into porn companies' viral and experiential marketing plans, too.
And what about Blu-ray?
Zvolerin says Adam & Eve also limits its Blu-ray releases to "top productions and stars," another smart move given the cost. Joshua agrees, opining that "Blu-ray, as great as it is, is cost prohibitive for both adult and mainstream," and does not see it as a big growth area, much less a money-maker. On the other hand, as many directors will tell you, there are still plenty of people who want to hold a physical product in their hands, and Blu-ray gives them the best viewing experience, bar none (so far).
Legendary director Andrew Blake says he likes "the physical object as part of my appreciation, whatever the art form. I like to sit down with a physical object, sit comfortably to read a book, watch a movie." He speaks for many porn consumers, too, when he reiterates his belief "in the physical object, not the virtual one. I want to get my hands on it as well as put my head into it."
Elegant Angel's Travis concurs that there is "still a significant market for hard products," and his firm has a strong presence on the BRDVD lists. Blu-ray players (not recorders) have dropped to less than $100, and when they hit the commodity-price level of $39-49 sometime this coming year, all tech and porn observers will need to revisit the topic. Perhaps Blu-ray will catch on, and maybe it won't. In Joshua's estimation, for the moment at least, it "just doesn't have a strong enough foothold in the business to last."
Today's porn business reflects a very consolidated marketplace with far fewer production studios than just three years ago. This shakeout is good for the business, and combined with a resurgent economy should offer a solid foundation on which those aforementioned quality adult brands can prosper. The consumer's desire for private sexual entertainment drove major advances in computers, communications, digital video and other technologies, and as the economy recovers, so will the creative energies of inventors and innovators.
"We are planning on six big movies for 2010," skinworXXX's Joshua states, "and each one of those will not only push the boundaries of sex, but new technology as well." It is with this kind of energy and attitude that the porn business, and the global economy as a whole, will shake off the doldrums of the last few years and surge forward once again.