Making Mobile Millions?

Stephen Yagielowicz
For even casual observers of today’s adult entertainment marketplace, one of the prevailing messages is that the future (and, according to some, the present) belongs to mobile applications. Whether intended for cellphones and PDAs, PSPs or Video iPods, it’s clear that the concept of mobile erotica enjoys widespread support among service providers, but does the reality live up to all of the hype?

Indeed, there is a growing perception, at least among American operators, rather than Europeans or Asians, that the opportunities for marketing mobile adult content are all hype and lacking in substance. While the lack of advanced 3G infrastructures in U.S. is partly to blame for this poor perception, recent mobile multimedia inroads such as Sprint’s Sprint TV service and the offerings by ampdMobile, as well as the adult content offerings of companies such as Xobile and others, point the way to success.

Despite the tantalizing possibilities for profit, the rapidly evolving mobile marketplace poses serious concerns for operators and prospective operators, including issues over age verification and marketing. I left “technology” off the list because this is primarily a domestic U.S. issue — and an issue that is rapidly being worked out due to high consumer demand for next-generation mobile services. In this regard, time will solve the problems.

For responsible content providers working in the mobile arena, one of the most important considerations is the evaluation of age-verification mechanisms for protecting underage children from unauthorized access to adult content. Age verification is a hot-button topic for legislators, carriers and content providers as well, but for all of this concern, there still are sizable barriers to widespread, workable solutions.

As early as 2003, the Internet Association, Japan and U.K.- based Childnet International, among others, were bringing the issue of children’s access to potentially harmful mobile content to the forefront. Citing rapid growth and high-use rates of mobile technologies among children, especially in Japan and certain European countries, the Internet Association and Japan — whose charter is to identify the social challenges that new technologies pose — held a symposium to address these pressing issues.

Youth access to mobile technology is not just a concern for the Japanese and U.K. markets, what with Scandinavian countries being noted for their high per-capita ratios of mobile phone ownership — with an estimated mobile penetration of more than 75 percent of Sweden’s population. While mobile phone adoption among American children has been noticeably slower, the numbers are growing significantly, with current estimates of more than 40 percent of American teens owning mobile devices.

While the problems of minors accessing adult content may be more prevalent in Japan and elsewhere now that 3G mobile technology provides Internet access, including web surfing and email, enhanced graphics, audio and video capabilities, the concerns are vital for U.S.-based providers and others in emerging 3G markets to avoid overly restrictive legislation through self-regulation.

Promotional Possibilities
Given the increasing sensitivity over minors’ exposure to adult content, particularly on the mobile front, the challenge of marketing mobile adult content becomes problematic, not only because of the question “To whom should the marketing be addressed?” but because “How should it be delivered?” and “To what end?” come into play.

The issue of marketing mobile adult content is complicated by the fact that while the target devices are mass-market items, they are not necessarily used in the same way as their larger counterparts. For example, while many mobile devices are Internet-enabled, the percentage of casual “surfing” done on them seems to be fairly insignificant, limiting the effectiveness of traditional Internet-based advertising methods such as search engine placement. In other words, don’t count on marketing your mobile adult offering through Google searches alone.

This then brings up the question of: Should mobile offerings be made to build the brand, or should the brand build the mobile offerings? This question is very much like the classic “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” For example, when powerhouse pay-per-view provider AEBN wanted to go mobile, they launched Xobile and quickly built the brand based upon their existing traffic and customer base.

This is a very different scenario than if market newcomer “Ben’s Busty Babes” wanted to launch a mobile site. Without a “Girl’s Gone Wild” sized budget (and similarly tame content offerings), the chances of mass-media promotion are just about nil, making the launch of a fresh mobile destination site reliant on marketing to existing adult consumers, primarily through traditional online venues.

While mainstream operators have tested the waters by offering ringtones and wallpapers, along with 900-style offerings such as psychic consultations and horoscopes, the main “adult” offerings seem to be in the realm of dating. Hardcore sites have tried to penetrate the consumer realm with varying degrees of success, but at this point, the reality for the domestic market seems to be that mobile adult offerings are best used as a brand-building exercise or brand-extending exercise, bringing in new customers while further satisfying existing ones.

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