opinion

Beginning of Online Porn’s End?

Stephen Yagielowicz

There has been much discussion about the U.K.’s new opt-in program for porn that will require households to choose to receive adult content (with porn blocked by default), rather than let families that wish to block this material choose to do so. The addition of ISP level porn filtering of public Wi-Fi hotspots will also do as much damage to the traffic and revenue flow of adult websites targeting a British audience as will household opt-ins — providing a discriminatory one-two punch against pornographers.

These initiatives are being closely studied, both in the U.K. and abroad, where fellow players in the EU and elsewhere are eyeing similar restrictions; but they are only a small symptom of a larger problem facing the industry.

In short, folks know there’s porn on the Internet and they don’t feel the need to look for themselves anymore, simply out of curiosity.

It is a situation leaving some observers to wonder if the moves to enact new content based Internet restrictions that are now sweeping Europe are simply the counter swing of the pendulum, where market forces and a cultural backlash are struggling to find balance.

There are many available perspectives.

Consider that what we are seeing is merely the passing of an errant wave; where there was once a still sea, a crest of water passed, and crashed on the shore in a spray of foam, leaving a once again still sea in its wake.

Such is the case with the availability of pornography — a pattern that is echoed by the normal ebbs and flow of business — and of emerging markets; and one which is facing a normalization of supply and demand, albeit with the scales tipped by partisan influences from special interest groups and intrusive governments.

Just as with COPA and its descendents in the U.S., continued legislative pushes to restrict Internet access or content may take many years to come to final fruition — but the commitment and tenacity of porn’s opponents keep this rabid onslaught on freedom alive.

Like the many-headed Hydra, the monster of intellectual censorship and authoritarian “Nanny State” control must be slain one stroke at a time — with the faith that it is not an invincible foe. The problem with monsters, however, is that they often receive the blame for destruction they didn’t cause; such as in this case, where the industry’s woes are more a matter of timing than of the tactics of its opponents — or its participants.

As early as 2008, the writing was already on the wall for the future of online porn, with a perfect storm of problems that brought a trifecta of challenges to website operators — including a rise in tube sites and a tipping point for content piracy, economic collapse, and the eruption of social networks.

At the time, Hitwise general manager of global research, Bill Tancer, reported that a major shift in Internet usage occurred during the 1998-2008 time period, as social media overtook consumer interest in adult entertainment websites. As evidence of his assertions, Tancer cited stats revealing that searches for porn-related terms declined from 20 percent of total search volume in 1998 to only 10 percent in 2008 — a figure that shows despite the continued massive growth of the Internet, interest in porn websites declined by half.

“As social networking traffic has increased, visits to porn sites have decreased,” said Tancer, who notes that the 18-24 year old demographic in particular is searching far less for porn and adult entertainment concepts. “My theory is that young users spend so much time on social networks that they don’t have time to look at adult sites.”

Five years later, the global economy is still struggling, tubes are more dominant than ever before and the growth of social media continues unabated — further dwindling the ranks of smut-driven surfers, as well as casual carnal consumers.

While more recent reports have shown a slight uptick in search volume to 12 percent, the big takeaway here is that despite the influence of the economy, tubes and piracy, the fundamental driver of lower volumes of adult website traffic is that consumers have moved on — they have gotten over the novelty of porn being on the Internet and its easy accessibility, delivering all manner of perversion, 24/7, straight into folk’s living rooms.

In short, folks know there’s porn on the Internet and they don’t feel the need to look for themselves anymore, simply out of curiosity. The crest of the porn wave has passed, and it was a wave fueled by the combination of accessibility, anonymity and curiosity.

It is a life cycle that is repeated every day and across every industry.

There are four distinct stages to any product’s life cycle, including the product of Internet porn. These stages encompass the product’s introduction, growth, maturity and eventual decline — and when depicted as a chart, form a wave that crests at maturity.

BusinessDictionary.com defines the maturity stage as the “Longest period in the life cycle of a firm, industry, or product, during which sales peak and start to decline,” and notes that in economics, it is “the final stage of economic growth characterized by a high level of mass consumption.”

Although many observers admit that online adult entertainment is a mature industry, the more honest (or aware) operators will acknowledge that the business is in a decline across many of its historically profitable segments.

As BusinessDictionary.com explains, the fourth and last stage of a product life cycle is “characterized by fast declining sales revenue and fewer customers, generally caused by (1) obsolescence, (2) changes in customer preferences, (3) global competition, or (4) new regulatory requirements, such as environmental protection laws.”

Does that all sound familiar? While opinions may diverge, many observers would flat line this chart in the 1990-1994 era as the old modem based bulletin board systems (BBS) transitioned to the web, and see it peak around the 2002-2005 era — and then note a decade of decline since — with the 2008 crash occurring on the down slope of market maturity. The financial fortunes of any given company will follow a similar wave, with this timeline scrubbed according to the company’s market segment and entry date.

It is simply how business works, and Internet porn is not immune from this process.

This time, however, the wave washed in a tsunami of the taboo.

The anomalous surge in porn consumption also had an interesting side effect that is coming into play, where everyone (or so it seems) has seen some form of pornography, and in the unfettered Internet age, may have seen material that left them “shock and awe” scars from being exposed to the fullness of expression of human sexuality.

We’re not talking about a sneak peak at your daddy’s copy of Playboy, we’re talking about extreme, full-on hardcore action, a click away and available to anyone at anytime — such as the more “aggressive” fare that is available without restriction from the home page of some tube sites.

For many viewers, their own personal pendulum swung from normalcy to outrage.

The curious teens and young adults that swelled the porn wave were well aware of the natural and normal desires that drove their online explorations — but now 20 years later, these kids have children of their own — and some have gotten into governance, and come to realize that perhaps not all porn is “good” porn, and that it is reasonable and prudent to impose commonsense restrictions on the availability of age-restricted material.

We’re not talking the campy misinformation and scare tactics of anti-porn films such as “Crisis in Morality” or “Perversion for Profit” which titillated a blushing audience that had by and large never been exposed to porn, but about the personal experiences of the first generation of consumers to have all forms of erotica and excess at their fingertips.

Folks no longer have to guess what porn is, since they’ve seen it for themselves.

Attitudes change over time, and at this point in time, moves to “do something” about Internet porn are finally gaining traction, swinging the pendulum of progress in the other direction, with the same unnatural consequences as that which fueled the rise of porn.

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