And who are these would-be players? In many cases, today they represent a whole new generation of adult entertainment entrepreneur — or are mere pawns — members of a far greater corporate structure. In either case, they come bearing well-practiced smiles and expansive spreadsheets containing all of the latest mobile industry facts and figures.
These aren't stoners who saw a late-night HBO special and decided they "could do that too," and opened a website the next day; these are business people coming to get theirs.
Whether they represent global telecoms seeking a solution to the problems of mobile erotica in the domestic market (most notably tied to puritanical public pressure and the lack of widespread, consistent and effective mobile age verification mechanisms); or are economically driven visionaries, the appeal of adult has taken hold — or at least proven to be an irresistible flirtation that must be explored further.
Wearing business suits and apprehensive smiles as they entered Hollywood's luxurious Sofitel hotel for the XBIZ event, unsure of what blatant horrors of human degradation and overtly nefarious characters might await them at their first "porn convention," these greenhorns became instantly at ease with what has become a decidedly corporate affair.
No longer does an adult event guarantee debauchery in the hallways and all manner of visual distraction, along with endless libation and the loud excesses of 18-year-old porn moguls hitting Vegas with a million dollars in spare pocket change to blow. Indeed, outside observers of XBIZ LA would be forgiven for easily mistaking the event as the after-hours cocktail party for the local Chamber of Commerce.
Talking to some of these folks, I noticed the refreshing optimism and "comfort" with the thought of being in "the biz" that was once shown by a previous generation of adult entertainment trailblazers.
The early days of the adult Internet were fueled by a massive influx of new faces from the mainstream, entering the industry at a level they found "acceptable." These folks were not "pornographers" — they were technologists and early adopters; dreamers with a home computer and this new fangled thing called the Internet; that according to the news reports of the day, was the quickest road to riches.
Today, rather than saying "It's not 'porn' — it's 'the Internet,'" these new operators are consoling themselves by saying "It's not 'porn' — it's 'mobile media,'" or whichever buzz phrase du jour they feel most comforted by, while ushering in whole new ways of doing business and distributing adult content.
It is on some levels a refreshing blast of new blood that this industry so desperately needs today: bringing in new ideas, energy and optimism. On the other hand, it is another new wave of competition and complication for the established industry, which faces profound challenges that leave many attractive opportunities for highly organized corporate raiders.
And just as the Internet changed the playing field, so to will mobile. Doubtless many online operators will say, "We have nothing to worry about from them," but I suspect that's what many operators of men's magazines said about the Internet. Magazines that today, only a few short years later, are either dead or dying.
Indeed, this reluctance to acknowledge let alone accept and embrace change still hampers many segments of the industry today. For example, at XBIZ LA, I spoke to several very well known, veteran industry professionals; steeped in the traditions of old-school porn, from print to video to the Internet. And it's that last bit that's giving them trouble, making folks who 20 years ago thought they'd sail through to an easy retirement, now struggle to sell what was once so much in demand.
Just as it's a bit late in the game for these guys to be asking what an affiliate program is; so to is the clock running down on online operators who haven't begun to seriously look at the rapidly evolving mobile marketplace.
One such company that has taken the writing on the wall seriously is TopBucks, or should I say "TopBucks Mobile," as the company seems to have gone irreversibly down the portable path, launching one mobile imitative after another, and bringing its affiliates along for the ride; providing education and support for this growing market segment.
Long seen as a program at the pinnacle of its game and a leader within the industry, from an outsider's perspective, the lion's share of its revenue now seems to come from mobile offerings — and whether that's an indication of the strength of those offerings, or of the massive decline in traditional adult paysite revenues, the message is clear: TopBucks is now a mobile porn company. Truly serving as adult industry leaders, the TopBucks team shows how a successful enterprise can navigate our changing market conditions through forward-thinking operations and first-to-market share domination, continually morphing the company to stay ahead of the curve.
Experienced personnel, solid traffic resources, a stellar reputation, and a remarkable skill at bringing its message to the mainstream (and garnering widespread media attention in the process), sets TopBucks apart from its competitors and serves as an inspiration for others in the industry to evolve.
Contrast this with newcomers to the adult space MiKandi. A hip young team with a plan, they lack the resources and infrastructure of a company like TopBucks, but have attacked the mobile market from a different perspective; offering an adult app store and developer services in tune with the needs of today's marketplace. And they are just one example of a whole new generation of companies that will transform the face of adult entertainment.
And make no mistake about it: that face is a mainstream, corporate one. And it runs on a mobile device — anytime, anywhere, always with you, right there in the palm of your hand (but at least your other hand will be free for other uses).
Just as Vegas evolved from small-time gambling houses to family style hotels, theme resorts and now into a world class architectural showcase run by the world's largest conglomerates, so to is adult media moving from the backrooms and basements into the boardrooms and broadcast centers. At this point, fear of public backlash is the only thing keeping the likes of Microsoft and AT&T from "Wal-marting" porn and putting you out of business once and for all. But the trend is pointing in one direction and sooner or later, the mainstream acceptability of erotic content will change the landscape dramatically.
And mobile will lead the way, carried along in the hands of an audience raised on porn, technology, and open, instant communication.