trends

The Death of Downloading

Stewart Tongue
Recent trends toward streaming video in the daily use of many mainstream surfers, fear of content piracy and several other factors are contributing to what appears to be a growing movement among adult site owners toward offering streaming-only content without any authorized downloadable formats for subscribers. That movement has brought out passionate proponents and plenty of opposition from some affiliates, review sites and porn buyers who have submitted feedback about the trend. Does this movement signal the eventual death of downloading?

“In the gay market, Manifest Men has become one of the most popular male muscle sites on the web and we never allow downloads,” said Alexander of MainifestMen.com. “We were told over and over that streaming only would kill our market share but the facts as demonstrated by our sales stats and bank statements prove that streaming-only is a very viable decision.”

“It does not completely prevent content piracy, nothing currently does, but making it harder for people to steal our exclusive content in this way certainly has not hindered any of our sales,” he added.

However, the same company felt a need to change its formatting strategy to be competitive on the straight side of the industry.

“When we decided to expand from ManifestMen into the straight market with BellaGirlsCash.com we discussed the idea of going streaming-only,” said Alexander. “We knew we would need to allow downloads to be competitive with other glamour girl sites already in the market, but we would gladly go streaming-only if the idea gains more momentum.”

Making the topic even more murky is a general disagreement over what “streaming-only” means, what alternatives there are to assist program owners interested in locking-down their content and a number of attempts at creating an innovative solution that satisfies consumers while hindering content piracy.

For some the decision to allow downloads is based on other new technologies that may make it harder for consumers to share content illegally.

“I was considering streaming-only as a policy some time ago,” Nautilus, owner of FerroCash.com, said. “But now there’s better options like encrypting downloadable files instead of only streaming. So I think we’ll go both ways when we’re ready with the technology, encrypted streaming and encrypted downloads — not DRM, just encryption with individual key for each user, which is much softer from a user point of view than traditional Digital Rights Management systems.”

While the hope that new encryption technology will provide the best of both worlds, some tech experts don’t hold out much hope for a bulletproof technological solution.

“No matter what anyone tries to claim, once content is digital it is impossible to stop it from being stolen with a completely tech-based solution,” Jay of ObjectCube.com said. “Every time someone comes up with a way to protect their content, there are thousands of people coming up with a new way to steal it.”

Jay says that website owners need to look at streaming as a value-added service to satisfy end users and not as a magic way to protect content.

“If you provide frequent updates and a better streaming experience, users are going to stay on your site because it is better than downloading your videos and quitting,” Jay offered. “There are many technologies that allow a better viewing experience and streaming can add functionality that an offline player can not. Porn users want instant gratification and streaming allows that, but the thought that if you only provide streaming formats your content is safe from thieves is simply incorrect.”

“People can pirate Flash or any other format and many of the people who steal content are professional thieves,” Jay added. “Remember, once your video is uploaded illegally one time, it is simple for millions of others to download it illegally. The thieves don’t have to each breach your security one at a time.”

One company that has harnessed the full potential of streaming technology from the perspective of promoting a positive user experience is VideosZ.com.

“We still get many requests from members for fully downloadable movies and we are happy to provide them, but we have also noticed a major shift toward streaming thanks in part to new technologies and in part to customer familiarity with sites like YouTube,” says Clement of VideosZ. “We have recently released our own proprietary streaming movie player and it adds a lot of additional functionality beyond the options of many desktop video players. By integrating the player and the site, we can provide site-wide functionality as part of the player interface itself, with menu options linked in to the rest of the site.”

“HD streaming is finally a real possibility and many viewers are adopting instantly viewable streaming as a preference over long download times,” Clement said. “Still, having the most options to keep the greatest number of customers happy is the best way to go in my opinion and for that reason we provide our members with a range of choices so that they can use our content however they prefer.”

Some readers may note that VideosZ is a massive site selling non-exclusive porn DVD content to consumers, but there are also high quality exclusive content sites that are trying to maximize the entertainment value of streaming while providing fully downloadable versions of their videos as well.

“BlazingBucks offers download and Flash streaming options for our members on all of our sites in formats as large as 1920x1080,” said Mark of BlazingBucks.com.

“We recently upgraded our members area interface to include Full HD 1980 x 1020 Flash streaming, and may be the only sites offering that option so far. We also provide WMV download options along with smaller formats and files as well.”

“Our members have responded very favorably to the move and the 1920x1080 streaming files are getting a lot of use from members with high capacity connections,” Mark continued. “However, we are keeping a close watch on the usage stats and I believe that the WMV downloads are running about 50/50 with stream views among our members.

“My conclusion is that offering just a streaming option is not the way to go because many users still prefer to download their movie files, and their satisfaction is our top priority,” Mark concluded. “At the end of the day that’s what earns us great retention numbers and the maximum profits for our affiliates.”

“Reality Kings does take steps to protect our content from piracy but we also believe in the 80/20 rule,” said Stacy of Reality Kings. “No matter what you do with digital content, someone will find a way to copy it, but as long as you take precautions you can limit that to a small minority of people.”

“Most people who steal content wouldn’t pay for it whether you let them download it or stream it, so they aren’t our target audience,” Stacy added. “Also, we believe watermarking is essential and there are other ways that we do our best to get some advantage even when our content gets copied.”

“In a perfect world everyone would pay for the content they watch,” Stacy concluded, saying “but we don’t live in a perfect world, so our strategies are always based on maximizing revenue for our affiliates working in the real world.”

The new Adult Centro content platform was built with all of these considerations in mind.

“Adult Centro is not just a feeds plugin. We provide content from many top studios and exclusive videos that can not be licensed anywhere else, but we provide it in the most flexible way ever offered,” said Stan of AdultCentro.com. “Our customers can create an entire white label website, a streaming-only retention system, or a fully downloadable paysite, while paying for only the bandwidth that they actually use each month.”

“It’s not just the ways content gets downloaded that’s changing,” Stan added. “The big story is in the way site owners can obtain content and manage it with a fraction of the investment that owning a major paysite used to require.”

Among the sites that are opting to offer streaming-only formats, many have expressed anger toward review sites that list a lack of downloadable formats as a negative on their reviews. Some review sites acknowledge that they give reduced scores for sites that choose to withhold downloadable content, but there is an understanding of why paysite owners choose to go that route and also an acceptance that if the trend becomes industry-wide it may not be such a bad thing after all.

Doug, director of marketing for Rabbits Reviews, explained it this way: “Streaming-only videos would be a big step in the right direction if it were industry-wide. Users care about downloads but it’s not like they wouldn’t buy if the industry as a whole only offered streaming-only video,” Doug said. “This strategy of giving so much away is what is killing a lot of programs and profits. At Rabbits Reviews, sites that offer downloads get a five-point bump. We serve our users in the end, but it’s one area I think we’d be happy to give them a little bad news.”

“I had always considered streaming videos to be of far less value than downloadable videos,” said Thomas from AdultReviews.net. “This was mainly due to the fact that the quality of the streaming videos had been low compared to the downloaded versions, and the fact that you can’t save a streaming video on your computer. It’s simply the whole idea of streaming.”

“However, recently a lot has happened with streaming technology and streaming videos can now in many cases compete more evenly with regular downloaded videos when viewed by customers with large bandwidth connections,” he added.

To TheBestPorn.com, it’s all about the feedback from many actual buyers who voice dissatisfaction when they are unable to download and collect their favorite content.

“While we do see the merits of why webmasters would convert to streaming-only in an attempt to protect themselves against piracy, we do not think it is the average consumer’s first preference, and quality review sites (whether it’s for adult paysites, movies, cars or any other products) are written for the consumer,” said Vegas Ken, vice president of marketing for TheBestPorn.com. “Here at TheBestPorn.com we write our reviews for our specific consumers. We take their feedback, emails and forum postings to gather information on what they tell us their preferences are and the overwhelming majority of our consumers want the ability to download.”

“Most consumers are legitimate and are not looking to steal paysite content to use it for illegal purposes. Consumers don’t care why paysites are using streamingonly video delivery,” VegasKen added. “It’s just like shopping at a department store at the mall, consumers don’t care about what loss prevention processes the store uses unless it negatively impacts their own shopping and purchasing experience.”

“Do sites with streaming-only video score lower for not offering downloads? Yes, they do,” VegasKen continued. “Consumers want options and the more options you offer, the better your site will score. A site with streaming video and four different downloadable video formats offers more value to the consumer than a site that just has streamingonly video and so we score them accordingly.”

VegasKen says TheBestPorn.com lists more than 15,000 adult sites — of which, less than 500 are VOD sites — with the rest being paysites.

“Why so many paysites versus VOD sites?” he concluded, “Because paysites traditionally have allowed consumers a better cost value and the ability to download content.”

With so many streaming-only sites trying to avoid saying they are now proponents of some form of DRM, it seems that for some it’s a matter of redefining the concept to be reversecompatible with their current thought process. In essence, if you are creating barriers to prevent subscribers from downloading or using and potentially copying content as they see fit you are a proponent of DRM, and in some ways that may mean that the VOD business model had it right all along.

“Everyone has mixed feelings about it now. For years people thought the video-ondemand model with digital rights management downloads was less attractive to consumers, but now we see more and more sites going to streaming-only, which is even more restrictive than allowing members to download files with DRM,” said Stephane Marchand, a sales executive for AEBN. “Streaming allows us to offer exclusive newly released movies from top name studios that do not want their content copied all over the Internet. The user can watch the content almost instantly and it doesn’t leave any ‘trace’ on their PC.”

“DRM downloads let them go a step farther by giving them a limited license to use the content without the risk that it will end up all over the web illegally,” Marchand added. “However it is true that some honest users do like to collect and download content.”

“So from my point of view,” Marchand concluded, “I think the streaming-only idea is actually validation of many of the things that AEBN has already been doing for many years. Our affiliates have done very well over the years and they know that we are willing to follow the data rather than constantly rethinking things based on unsubstantiated opinions.”

It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same, as content owners are constantly seeking new ways to provide digital materials to that segment of the population that is willing to pay for them. Without subjecting it to the fraction of the public that is notoriously willing and able to proliferate copies, which devalues it at an ever-increasing pace: A situation that leaves publishers to try anything and everything in the hope of stemming the always-rising tide of free porn.

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