Live Cams: Relative Calm in a Stormy Market

Q. Boyer

Since first bursting onto the scene in the late 1990s, adult live cam services have evolved from something of a novelty sideshow tucked into the members area of subscription sites to massive revenue generators that have weathered the storm of piracy, global economic slowdown and shaken consumer confidence far better than the bulk of paysites on the market.

The continued resilience of the live cam business model flows in large part from its interactive and immediate nature, AWEmpire’s Douglas Richter told XBIZ.

Free cam sites have not affected paid services in the way that many paysite operators believe tube sites have undermined the subscription site model.

“You cannot so easily pirate a live private experience; once it is recorded it has less value because it is now simply a solo video,” Richter said. “Still hot, but lacking in the interactive component, its value decreases significantly to those users looking for that premium, one-onone live chat.”

Still, the live cam sector is not immune to change, and some of the recent trends and changes in the market will have a familiar ring to adult webmasters – including a shift and consolidation in affiliate-driven traffic sources.

“There’s greater awareness of super affiliates and affiliate networks today than say, as recently four or five years ago, and you find affiliates aggregating under larger networks,” said Tim Sayre, chief marketing office for iFriends. “We’re regularly approached by super affiliate networks that depend on their large number of affiliate referrals to reach volume bonuses and we’re very happy to payout. At the same time, we have a pretty consistent volume of independent webmasters and affiliates that we support.”

For many of the same reasons that live cam sites are less impacted by piracy than are static adult sites, free cam sites have not affected paid services in the way that many paysite operators believe tube sites have undermined the subscription site model.

“The vast majority of people are looking for something for free, so they will go for free cam services,” David Martin, managing director of Wow Zoom Live Ltd. told XBIZ. “As in everything else in life, ultimately, you get what you pay for; free cams are no different. For people who are prepared to pay, they want something better than you can get free, and that is what we focus on.”

Richter concurred with Martin, noting that free cam services are “an alternate form of entertainment with an entirely different user experience.”

“Free cam sites are like the main room at the strip club, and the premium services are the champagne room,” Richter said.

More than price, the experts polled by XBIZ agreed that the major points of differentiation between live cam sites on the market today boil down to stream quality, breadth of selection and general quality and consistency of the service.

An interesting subset of the live cam phenomenon, singular live events have gained some steam in recent years, both as direct revenue generators and as vehicles for site promotion and member retention. Examples include Streamate and Immoral Productions’ regularly scheduled sex shows and LiveGonzo’s interactive live video shoots, among many others.

One of the more creative and unusual forays into live shows in recent memory was a live fembot show put on by SciFiDreamGirls.com, the brainchild of industry veteran and Wasteland.com founder Colin Rowntree.

Describing the even as more like “watching a cast on a stage rather than solo girls,” Rowntree said the format was an instant hit with his site’s members.

“This sort of presentation really pops out as far as promo and member happiness,” Rowntree said. “In the case of SciFiDreamgirls.com, our episodic formula for film creation really lends itself to live performances by the cast, as the members have already established a bond with our fembots, mad scientists and lab technicians. It’s already a bit like ‘Dr. Who Meets Saturday Night Live,’ with a recurring ensemble of actors and actresses, so this is a natural progression and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis from here on out.”

Rowntree said the most valuable lesson learned from the inaugural fembot show had little to do with the technology at hand, and a lot to do with lower tech logistics.

“Streaming live events which are theatrical in nature with multiple cast members takes a great deal of pre-production planning and a tight delivery while the show is going on,” Rowntree said. Time will tell whether ambitious live events like the SciFiDreamGirls fembot show catch on and become a full-fledged trend in live adult content, but if they do, Rowntree said that it will require an approach quite different from traditional one-one-one live chat sessions, and a different sort of audience, as well.

“Another consideration for live events is that these do not have the traditional live sex chat structure in which viewers move things in and out of private chat,” Rowntree said. “They are audience members for the show. Then, after the formal show, it switches over to the more traditional format in a free live informal chat, during which viewers can hit the button to go one-on-one with the fembots. I think of it as a little like the old ‘Leonard Bernstein Young People Concerts’ in which he would conduct the orchestra through the formal concert, and then sit on the apron of the stage for informal Q&A.”

Naturally, consumer behaviors and preferences shape the market and define its progress and evolution to an even greater extent than innovation and creativity on the production side, as companies move and shift to meet the expectations of their customers. Not surprisingly, use of mobile devices to consume live content is one of the more significant trends that live content distributors are keeping an eye on these days.

While Richter said that desktop users still represent the lion’s share of AWEmpire’s user and traffic base, the migration to mobile has been significant enough to compel savvy live content companies to ensure their sites and feeds accommodate a wide range of devices and platforms.

“Our sites are designed to be responsive, such to give our users a consistent experience no matter what device they are using,” Richter said. “This way their favorites, preferred billing options and settings sync, no matter what device they use, or from where they access the site.”

When all is said and done, the major trends defining the contours of the live cam sector are not that different from those shaping the market for ‘canned’ content: ever-improving streaming quality, high expectations for consistent performance on the part of consumers, the increasing importance of cross-platform compatibility and enhanced interactivity in products and properties.

Going forward, the challenge of mastering the live cam market will vary depending on one’s position: are you an established player looking for a leg up on the competition, or a new entrant to the market seeking to carve out a share of this lucrative space?

For existing companies, the key lies in improving and enhancing your existing service to keep pace with consumer demand. For those looking to break into the live cam sector, the challenge will be to differentiate yourself from the current market leaders, be it by niche, nuance or novelty.