opinion

The U.K.: Cross-Atlantic Porn

Julian Becker

My entry into the U.K. adult market like so many in our industry wasn’t a planned event but more a seizing of an opportunity.

During the 1990s I had been relatively successful in the telecom industry in London selling cheap international minutes to corporate types and then to the ethnic communities based in the U.K. — those who wanted to phone home.

U.K. legislation, such as Rule 11, hasn’t helped and for some content producers was very much the straw that broke the camel’s back.

By the mid 2000s the margins in this market had been greatly reduced and I was actively looking for new more lucrative projects.

I don’t speak Chinese, however a picture say’s a thousand words and while studying a Chinese magazine I was advertising in I noted that they advertised what appeared to be prostitution, but what I found more interesting was that they did not advertise premium rate numbers, which usually were promoted in the same section in other U.K. media.

The editor revealed to me that the reason for this was not that Chinese men were not attracted to these services but because 90 percent of his readership did not speak English. With my telecoms background I was able to provide and license a premium rate number, employing a call center in Hong Kong to provide the first sex talk service in the U.K. for Chinese speaking men.

I was fascinated by the fact that Chinese men wouldn’t spend more than one pence a minute to call their own mother; however, they were prepared to spend £1.50 a minute to talk with some random female in a call center.

Lindsay (AKA Ben Dover) and myself met later that year and although I was very much sold on the emotional element of pornographic content, our business relationship was very much based initially on my predictions that content in the U.K. was a diminishing market, due mainly to the ease of physical and online piracy and that in order for the business to survive the company would need to diversify into other sectors utilizing the brand awareness that had been built through many years of filming hugely popular content.

My predictions for adult content in the U.K. were not too far from the reality that we find ourselves at in 2012. The dominance of the delivery of content online has meant that most U.K. producers no longer manufacture physical DVDs for their new films.

I read some years ago a director of one of the large U.K. mobile operators saying that in an office if a man is seen by his colleagues going to the toilet with an adult magazine this would be frowned upon and could even lead to disciplinary procedures, however if he goes to the toilet with a mobile phone no one questions it. The irony being that you can now view more pornography on a mobile than you ever could in a magazine.

With the advances in mobile technology in both phones and tablets, combined with faster Internet connectivity (in the U.K. we have recently launched mobile 4G services) the consumer has an ever-increasing choice on where and how they can view content.

The definition of the word consumer is a subject in past articles specifically regarding our anti piracy projects that I have taken issue with.

There is no doubt that the amount of content consumed in the U.K. over the last 10 years online has increased exponentially to levels unprecedented in relation to any other media in history, however revenue and profitability of U.K. adult producers has been decimated.

Most “producers” I meet at industry events in England I would term hobbyists often with day jobs, merely wanting to justify their own sexual preferences by claiming to be filming for commercial reasons.

So as regards to consumption of online content there is no doubt that in the U.K. this is at record levels, however true consumers who actually pay for it are at an all-time low.

On a positive note, the revenues are not insignificant and there are still legitimate customers paying for our product both through our own web and mobile sites as well as the various VOD site partners we have both in the U.K. and internationally.

From our own experience and other producers I have spoken to it would appear that the dramatic revenue losses have slowed and although the business show’s no sign of recovery the downward freefall is at least flattening into a more gentle slope.

I’ve also noticed trends that would indicate that the more bizarre the content is, the more likely the chances of people actually paying for the product rather than taking the risk of pirating.

Content swapping has become a lot more popular with producers/actors/actresses more likely to be working on revenue sharing and joint ownership projects than the traditional day rate model.

Tube sites in my opinion have been as damaging to online sales as file sharing. Until recently they appeared to be infringing copyright, however since some notable court action in the U.S., they now sponsor industry events and are becoming focal to sales of online content.

Taking emotion away from any decision on whether we want to do business with organizations who in effect have been greatly responsible for stealing content and decimating profits, there is no doubt that rightly or wrongly they control and attract huge traffic to their sites.

Their legitimate sales strategy to producers (rather than just pirating their content) is that by allowing them to stream edited scenes, the users will then be given the opportunity to pay for full scenes on some kind of profit share basis.

With the huge volume of traffic that these sites generate, this would appear to be an excellent way of achieving increased paying customers and with sales being decimated by piracy what is there to lose. Although I don’t want to be dismissive, I’m not convinced that these sites are designed to increase revenue for producers, but merely use their content as a carrot to pull in traffic.

The user experience is fantastic with most genres catered for all within an easy click or two, once they have had their two pumps and a squirt the last thought on their minds would be to go off site and pay for content.

However I do take on board the argument that it only takes a tiny fraction of uptake with these vast numbers to make it worthwhile, however my belief is that the sites are far more lucrative for associated products such as live cam and male enhancement offerings.

U.K. regulations and laws concerning pornography and licensed sex shops have always been somewhat tricky to navigate.

DVDs could never be distributed directly to the public from the U.K., unless through licensed sex shops. They had to be sent to Holland or other European neighboring countries to then be sent back to the U.K. from these off shore businesses both increasing postage costs and also losing the U.K. tax revenue and job opportunities.

Ben Dover’s online infrastructure has never been based in the U.K., so we haven’t experienced the negative impact of Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) policies such as its Rule 11.

Several other U.K. producers have not been so fortunate. I asked Jason Maskell from the Adult Industry Trade Association (AITA) in London about what they thought about ATVOD and their policies.

He told me, “Like all responsible stakeholders in the adult industry AITA fully supports the goal to protect children from viewing inappropriate content and has representation on the board of IFFOR (the International Foundation For Online Responsibility).

However, the stance taken by ATVOD is, in our opinion, a short-term solution that penalizes U.K. business and individuals who trade on a global stage.

ATVOD leaders admit that it is not a level playing field as they have no jurisdiction over free tube sites hosted outside the U.K. As we all know these sites have had a hugely negative effect on the adult industry with many companies ceasing to produce films and the consequent knock on effect for producers and performers.

AITA has lobbied ATVOD and will continue perusing a considered legal option of ATVOD’s alleged outreach and unfair tactics, whilst collaborating with our colleagues world wide to provide a more fulfilling solution, which allows all companies in this market sector to be treated equally.”

In summary the U.K. market has been decimated by piracy and the majority of those still involved are either using the content as the carrot to attract traffic to sell other goods and services or live events or are true amateurs with other sources of income who enjoy producing, rather than viewing it as a commercially viable venture.

U.K. legislation hasn’t helped and for some content producers was very much the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The popularity of adult content and viewing options online in the U.K., especially with the recent introduction of a 4G mobile network means that with creative production techniques for keeping costs to a minimum including content swaps there is still worthwhile revenue that can be achieved.

Julian Becker is commercial director and spokesman for Ben Dover Productions.

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