Adult Content Evolves

Ayrora Temple
For webmasters, adult content has historically been more of a product, but today it seems as if the production and distribution end of the business has moved into the service sector, with traditional photo galleries and individual video clips purchased on CDs and DVDs having been largely replaced by plugins, leased content, third-party feeds and other, more innovative approaches.

Beyond these changes in wholesale distribution mediums, content also has evolved in its scope, quality and character. Let's take a loser look at the factors influencing these changes and where the wholesale adult content market is heading.

When asked how adult content has evolved over the past decade or so, Joe Fredricks of the Fredricks Media Group summed up three major changes. "First, content has morphed from the realm of large studios to a multitude of entities with digital cameras," he said. Secondly, I would note an unfortunate slide from artistic erotic expression to a more shock-based culture, very likely due to increased competition. Finally, the widespread availability of broadband has slowly eroded the traditional role of gallery-based photographic stills in favor of video."

On the first point, it's doubtless that advancing technology has enabled legions of new producers and new productions. Going back to the home video revolution of the 1980s — which saw the widespread introduction of amateur adult productions until the present day where "broadcast-quality" production is available on nearly any budget — it's no surprise that a lower barrier to entry has inspired many people who would otherwise not have been able to enter the market.

Perhaps more than improvements in production tools, the equal-opportunity distribution method known as the Internet has contributed more to the rise in producers churning out adult content for profit. The problem is that when just about anyone can do it, everyone seems to want to try — a situation that leads, as Fredricks pointed out, to a competition-induced decline in the character of the content. The industry first saw symptoms of this several years ago when the word "niche" first entered many operator's vocabulary. The premise is simple: If content with general interest appeal is everywhere, then specializing in areas of interest to ever-smaller demographics is a sure way to increase sales. This slicing of the pie into smaller and smaller sections leads to some pretty unappetizing pieces — including that which is tasteless, abusive and degrading to women. Sadly, "art" is no longer at the forefront for the majority of adult content producers.

A final factor that Fredricks considers is the rise in broadband Internet access and the resulting increase in demand for high-quality video feeds. While there is still a market for erotic photography, the compelling motion and emotion that video delivers is hard to beat, and as such the outlook is that video as we know it will continue to dominate the content scene until something more immersive comes along, like holographic 3-D virtual reality.

Until then, advances in delivery technology — including the new DVD formats, broadband-speed mobile access devices and ever-faster Internet access (with residential plans in my area now hitting 10Mbps) — coupled with high-definition production tools, will usher in a new era of price vs. performance in both the production and distribution chains.

Also, a brief look at these media shows that much of the growth in the content market could be lateral and focused on bringing new and existing productions to new distribution platforms and, with an expansion in global billing options, to new markets as well.

This foundation of factors illustrates some of the reasons why and ways in which adult content has evolved over the past few years, with some of the most visible changes being direct results of this evolution. For example, the concept of "plugin" content largely arose from the needs of webmasters to provide increasingly large photo gallery archives to their paysite's members.

Purchasing a huge number of photos from a variety of providers, thumbnailing them, building, posting and updating galleries can be a cumbersome task — or, in the case of plugin galleries, as simple as adding a single link to your site and letting the aggregator handle all of the work for you. Sure, your site ends up with the same content as other sites, but being able to say that you offer "a million pics" is a powerful sales tool.

Pay for What You Use
These same economics of scale apply to leased feeds and other third-party offerings, which are typically priced based on the amount of bandwidth consumed. This "pay for only what you use" approach allows larger sites to leverage their content base inexpensively while still making it affordable for smaller operations to satisfy their members with in-demand offerings.

For many webmasters, the content they use is determined by what their sponsors offer for free. While this certainly limits expenses in this area, it also limits opportunity, and with ever-restrictive federal record-keeping requirements and the burden they impose on the webmaster, affiliates and other so-called "secondary producers," obtaining the legally required documents for this material is often challenging at best.

The solution to the record-keeping requirements is simple, however: Rather than use any sponsor-provided content, using text links to free-hosted galleries bypasses current record-keeping requirements, making this form of content usage increasingly popular.

Given the widespread use of, and demand for, sponsor-provided content, it's no wonder that sponsors are developing new and innovative ways of providing this material to their affiliates. These new distribution channels range from RSS feeds to complete, free-hosted TGPs/MGPs where all of the sponsor's galleries are listed, complete with the affiliate's link codes, so that now, one link is all it takes to add a whole new revenue stream.

Popular affiliate program Braincash has taken this concept to a whole new level, however, with its offering of a "white label" paysite to use as a premium archive for free sites such as TGPs and MGPs. Available in seven languages and including a geo-based micro-payment system supporting 13 currencies, the archive is updated daily and features both free and paid sections, custom FHGs to promote the site, and more.

This approach to leveraging existing content investments is in response to the fading market for paysite memberships, due to increased competition and other factors such as an escalating demand for individual video-on-demand offerings in lieu of monthly subscriptions.

Multiple Markets
"Before there was only one market," Braincash owner Fred Valiquette said. "Now the focus is on multiple markets, like paysites, DVDs, mobile and streaming — we're trying to get revenue from everywhere."

This then is where adult content is most visibly evolving today — not necessarily as a matter of photos vs. videos or softcore vs. hardcore but in the ways it's packaged and delivered, both on a wholesale and retail level. It's no longer as simple as taking photos to publish in a magazine or shooting a video for home video distribution but a matter of shooting the highest-quality product, then slicing, dicing and re-purposing it in as many ways as possible, both for today's needs, as well as the needs of the future.