opinion

Live Cams: More of the Same, Only Better

Q. Boyer

Essentially by definition, the success of any and all manner of online business is tied closely to technological developments, from the earliest protocols that enabled the development of the World Wide Web to the latest application of orbital angular momentum beams in fiber optic technology.

Perhaps more than any other sector of the online adult entertainment industry, the live cam sector is joined at the hip to technology; while canned adult videos can be downloaded once and watched offline any time, the very nature of a live, interactive broadcast necessitates a fast, constant and stable connection between client and server, customer and performer. As such, shifts in technology and consumer use thereof impact the live cam sector to an even degree than they do the subscription website and free content portal segments of the adult market.

It's crucial to remember that whatever technology serves as the backend of a live service, it’s what happens in front of the camera that’s often most important to the consumer.

For operators and promoters of live cams, and the performers who appear on them, the good news is that the forward march of technology continues to enhance the live environment on an ongoing basis, rendering it possible to offer more and better feeds, improved interactivity, and new platforms on which to enjoy live entertainment. Not surprisingly, many if these improvements trace back to a factor that has been central to the live cam environment from day one: fundamental quality of the video feed.

“Recently, there have been major advancements in web cam feed quality with respect to cost,” Mario Morales, director of information systems for iFriends, told XBIZ. “These new low cost upgrades in hardware have the potential to increase revenue for live cam operators. We’ve personally observed higher revenue with the use of higher quality feeds, and you’ll therefore see high quality cams featured more prominently on iFriends.”

David Martin, managing director of Wow Zoom Live Ltd., concurred with Morales, saying that “increasing bandwidth and a move to much higher quality audio and video have been the most important for us.” While Martin said such advances have not changed anything fundamental about the way Wow Zoom does business, they have “improved how we serve live content,” benefitting the company’s bottom line without requiring substantial new investment in equipment or infrastructure.

AWEmpire’s Douglas Richter also identified feed quality as one of the primary points of differentiation between competing live services, noting that AWE has recently introduced improved HD streams.

“The higher quality streams are coming at you in 30 frames per second (FPS),” Richter said. “As a reference point, the typical stream on the internet is just under 24 FPS, so AWE has roughly a 25 percent increase in quality over our competition.”

Just as other forms of adult sites have witnessed a significant migration of users from desktop machines to mobile devices, the live cam sector reports the same trend, driving live cam service providers to improve and refine their mobile compatibility and improve the experience for mobile users who hit their sites.

“The shift from PC to mobile devices is a consistent trend,” said Morales. “Users are consuming live content on mobile devices, including tablets, at an increasing rate. Technically, the transition has been challenging given the hardware and software fragmentation between Apple and Android devices, especially with respect to varied video support and data transfer protocols. This results in user experiences that are limited to what is exposed by the mobile device’s web browser.”

Morales identified another recent development that changed the way many providers serve live content in a fundamental way: the effective death of Flash as a format, going forward. “With Adobe ending Flash support for mobile phones and tablets, there was a growing need to consider and implement alternatives to display live video for these various devices and their operating systems,” Morales said.

The sudden decline of a format as popular as Flash underscores one of the core challenges of operating live cam services: third-party decisions and unanticipated market developments can unexpectedly and suddenly force changes in protocol and future plans in a heartbeat.

To guard against such uncertainties, Richter said the key is in making sure that you’re properties and services are as broadly compatible with existing devices and operating systems as possible, so major changes to one format, device or environment don’t cause too much disruption in your operations.

Of course, another bulwark against sudden change is to try to get out ahead of trends, and to keep an eye on emerging technologies, with the goal of evolving your services in pace with advances in technology and shifts in the consumer market.

Toward that end, Martin recommends that feed providers, promoters and users train a watchful eye on Internet-enabled televisions, which he says have a “stellar potential,” as well as the continued exodus from desktops to mobile devices on the part of consumers.

While its name and technological core might raise the hackles of many adult content producers and distributors, another development in live streaming technology that adult entrepreneurs would be wise to keep an eye on is BitTorrent’s live streaming platform, which was released in March by BitTorrent Inc.

Turning one of the fundamental challenges of the live streaming environment on its head, due to the distributed, non-centralized nature of the protocol, BitTorrent streaming reliability and stability actually increase as more viewers receive the stream.

“It’s based on the principles of the BitTorrent protocol,” BitTorrent’s Justin Knoll said in an interview published by TorrentFreak. “It’s designed to make real-time reporting, and open expression available to all: eliminating bandwidth, cost, and infrastructure as broadcast barriers. The more people who tune in, the more resilient your stream will be.”

Knoll added that the service was designed to be the “perfect means of sharing events with the masses in real time and with low latencies, but without the astronomical bandwidth requirements that traditionally restrain constrain content creators.”

It’s doubtful that such a protocol has any application whatsoever for providers of one-on-one live chat shows — which, by definition, can’t include a large pool of viewers and the shared resources that come with them — but for those who stage one-time live events, like awards shows, behind-the-scenes feeds from live porn shoots, or performances that don’t lend themselves to one-on-one interaction between performer and viewer, a distributed live streaming mechanism could make perfect sense.

Nobody can say what lurks around the corner in live cam tech developments, but given the current direction that most online consumers appear to want things to move in, it’s a safe bet that the trends will be greater cross-platform compatibility, broadcasts that welcome at least some degree of sharing, and continual improvements in interactivity.

What we likely won’t see is a widespread adoption of closed and proprietary thirdparty platforms like Apple’s FaceTime, in part because such third parties tend to be averse to working with adult entertainment companies, making it hard to develop applications and portals that work with their technologies and protocols.

Of course, it’s crucial to remember that whatever technology serves as the backend of a live service, it’s what happens in front of the camera that’s often most important to the consumer. If you promise beautiful girls who will grant virtually any kinky request that the user can conceive of, but deliver bored, homely and unfriendly models, no amount of technical wizardry or feature-packed interface is going to save you from failure.

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