Digital Production: Is the Revolution Over?

Bob Johnson

As any adult professional can attest, a virtual revolution in how adult films are produced and distributed rose up in what felt like overnight once the Internet took hold.

The lightning fast accessible and anonymous web not only provided a new way for porn content to reach millions — and to the dismay of nearly every adult professional, offered it up for free — but it also fundamentally changed the very way porn was, and is created.

A studio’s aim should be to produce the best content that appeals to the widest audience worldwide, and make sure that its catalog survives through the years, whatever technology is used to distribute that content. -Gregory Dorcel CEO, Marc Dorcel

Add to that the development of camera technology that put the ability to make movies into the hands of nearly anyone with a good camera phone and the very state of how films are made was changed forever.

But with all revolutions, radical change often brings improvements, new development and opportunities for a new generation.

Newer tech-born companies like MindGeek, Gamma Entertainment (FameDollars) and ReallyUsefulCash.com (founded by YouPorn co-founder JT), along with established giants like Kink.com that saw the writing on the wall and adapted, are now becoming the de facto models for how porn is made.

What’s known as “digital production” — the ability to use Internet data to immediately gauge consumer’s tastes, technology and advanced production techniques to quickly and efficiently create films — is the new guard that appears to be firmly entrenched. As MindGeek’s vice president of global communications Catherine Dunn puts it, “The times have changed.”

“The fundamental difference is that a digital production environment allows us to leverage data mining techniques to drive customer-centric content production. The market has evolved; you can’t expect to make everyone happy with one product. We rely on a world-class team of data scientists to discover what our viewers want so we can offer them exactly that. Our digital platform, together with customer input, allows us to stay ahead of these changes,” Dunn says.

The executive adds that traditionally, high budget movies relied on revenue streams generated from the DVD and the pay TV market — both of which have been steadily declining in recent years. And MindGeek doesn’t see the model experiencing a rebirth.

And if huge success is any indicator, MindGeek — a powerhouse that’s portfolio includes some of the most prominent data, traffic and content monsters in adult including PornHub, YouPorn, Brazzers, Digital Playground and Reality Kings, to name a few — is exemplary, its market evaluation and strategy is spot on.

Another major player, Gamma Entertainment, which operates the FameDollars affiliate program, shares the same basic philosophy when it comes to the big-picture state of content production.

FameDollars’ Director of Product and Development, Maggie Rheault, says that traditionally the DVD-focused studios were basing their new productions, concepts or ideas on pure DVD sales and mainly on gut feeling and past experiences. “The biggest difference with digital production companies is that they have access to so much data,” Rheault says.

The ability to adapt and change based on business intelligence even allows the new digital studios to make corrections to their content even when they’re in mid-project.

One recent example of FameDollars’ ability — and agility — to produce content based on consumer intelligence is the expansion of its massage network of sites that’s spawned micro-niches like MilkingTable.com, FantasayMassage.com and TrickySpa.com.

Rheault notes, “If we see that our last two releases were a flop, we can make some light tweaks or even do a total 180 with little repercussion and impact on cost and deliverables,” she said.

Head of production for ReallyUsefulCash, Lewis, agrees with Rheault’s analysis. “Free video is everywhere so we have to find different ways for people to want to support our brands, creating something original and of quality that excites people, and we try to offer it in a way that makes them want to be a part of what we’re doing and feel that they are involved or contributing in some way.”

Fans interested in a particular porn genre — like BDSM — have long looked to Kink.com — a company that began its rise as a digital web production company. Kink has in fact dabbled in big-budget productions, but president Peter Acworth believes that the number of people who consume these types of films is diminishing, and it’s hard to recoup the costs via typical DVD sales.

Rheault agrees and says movies with high budget, high concept and top-level production values are becoming few and far between. “Digital filmmaking has leveled the playing field. The quality game has been figured out. Now, it’s about the content itself, the delivery of that content and its monetization,” Rheault notes.

Although also not a real fan of the DVD, Acworth does think there’s a market not only for short scene content but also serialized, higher production value web content with storyline — but as Rheault points out — produced by web companies.

“I can only speak to the BDSM/fetish world. But we see a bump in sales when we up the production value and add new locations, storyline, and higher production value. We add these as ‘features’ to our websites,” Acworth says.

He adds, “In part due to AB 1576, we are in the process of evaluating Vegas as a secondary shooting location. This will also open the doors to a variety of new locations (cheaply rentable luxury houses, desert scenes, mountain scenes, etc.).”

But it’s not all gloom and doom for traditional studios, especially those that have adapted to the new digital model.

And the ability to become a player is certainly not blocked by geographic borders thanks to the Internet.

French producer Marc Dorcel thinks an adult studio — similar to mainstream’s Disney or Warner Bros. — should have a much larger vision that just plainly digital. “A studio’s aim should be to produce the best content that appeals to the widest audience worldwide, and make sure that its catalog survives through the years, whatever technology is used to distribute that content,” says CEO Gregory Dorcel.

Dorcel admits that only a few producers are able to finance big budgets. He says he’s fortunate in that Dorcel can play at both ends in order to remain competitive. “For example, we are working on a huge project with Michael Ninn and Max Candy,” he reveals.

Rheault agrees that high-end productions with well-scripted scenes and popular performers in original settings — the kind of what most people associate with traditional production studios — will remain popular — but with a twist. She sees serialized content being produced more and more.

Like their predecessors before them that relied on brick and mortar distribution systems, the new digital producers of course use the Internet as their conduit. But simply posting content doesn’t assure success, especially in the over-saturated free porn environment that exists today.

When asked if the PPV model will survive, Rheault says from what FameDollars sees, the model is losing steam not so much because of loss of interest, but mostly because of a shift in technology. “Users are using and learning new tools and their viewing and consumption habits have changed as well. Will there be PPV revenue in the future? Yes. It will probably not look the same as the PPV we are accustomed to.”

Acworth says the PPV profit margins have shrunk but they still exist. He also believes producers will have to serialize content so that viewers stay engaged and always want to see the next episode. “For instance, we are about to ‘tag’ our content with the fetish toys that were used, and we are looking for partners to help sell those toys.”

MindGeek’s Dunn believes both the PPV and free models are viable as long as there is a demand. She says the subscription model is intended to appeal to a demographic that prefers an ad-free, HD quality experience, enjoying the latest scenes available with the ability to comment and interact with their favorite porn star.

Gay web giant Lucas Entertainment president Michael Lucas believes the PPV model “will exist for a while,” because people don’t mind supporting their hobbies and passions. But he stresses that great content needs financial support and he believes fans fundamentally understand this. “Look at the rise of such mainstream mediums such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Many projects of quality take off because there is a fan base that does not really mind supporting their passion. Adult films are not much different,” Lucas says.

So what types of content does this new generation of digital moguls have on the drawing board?

Lewis says ReallyUsefulCash, like Rheault points out, is looking at the episodic TV model with recurring characters and story arcs. He notes that production companies also need to look at how tube sites are changing the industry and get on board. “That’s a major reason we’re creating Cloud.xxx, which is a non-profit project for our company. This is not just relevant to the adult industry but the music industry, the film industry, and we must work with the pioneers that pave new paths.”

Rheault also believes it’s the content deliver systems like smart TV’s, console and mobile optimization that digital producers must embrace.

And MindGeek’s Dunn says her company will be bolstering its diverse portfolio of sites that includes popular teen, MILF, Hentai, POV, amateur, massage, Asian, lesbian, and squirt categories. “Beyond that, we can’t ignore the fact that audiences are no longer content to simply watch; augmented sensory experiences will definitely be part of the next wave.”

With a firm foothold on creating content, established digital producers have created a comfortable spot for themselves. But do the same technological advantages offer opportunities for new producers entering the game?

Passionate, driven and creative people are in a better place than they have ever been, according to Rheault, who says that much like what’s on YouTube and Vimeo, there are plenty of opportunities for the up-and-comer with a dream and a camera to surprise us all.

“Whether it’s an original style of shooting, the ability to inspire passionate performances, strong networking and self-promotion, or even someone willing to push boundaries that larger studios sometimes have to avoid, there is an unlimited room for growth and an ever-expanding audience,” Rheault says.

Acworth believes it’s tough, unless the content is extremely specific. And Lewis agrees that the content must be a unique, and producers must have an understanding of how to sell that product.

Lewis says, “I believe that we have very exciting times ahead, I feel that audiences will soon become fed up with the standard porn we see saturating the marketplace, and talented young filmmakers will have an opportunity to offer something new and different that has more mass appeal.

The production expert doesn’t think ‘everything has been done already,’ and hopes that talented people look at new concepts, and not just think about how to shoot more extreme, more hardcore content that smacks of some kind of ‘sex circus.”

Regardless of the technology available, mode of distribution, or consumer demands, all of the new breed agree on one thing…content is still king.