opinion

Sex on the Go

Stephen Yagielowicz
I've been giving a lot of thought lately to mobile devices from the perspective of a small primary producer of adult multimedia content seeking additional distribution and revenue channels. This is a very different viewpoint than that of the adult mega-brands seeking "on deck" dominance or of content aggregators seeking distribution deals, but a view dedicated to profiting from mobile in the domestic market.

While we typically understand "multimedia content" to mean photos, videos, animations and audio content, many people consider a "mobile device" simply to be a cellphone. But this definition doesn't begin to cover the range of devices and applications that are available today. For our purposes, then, mobile equals easily portable — a definition offering many options for publishers beyond the cellphone networks and the control of their corporate masters.

Practically speaking, in the context of delivering mobile multimedia content to U.S.-based consumers and beyond, the platforms via which we can best deliver this content are devices such as Windows-based smart phones, the Video iPod and Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP). There are other devices, and more to come, but their market share is marginal by comparison; although the future will undoubtedly hold even more advanced devices from both established mega-brands as well as offerings from companies that we've not yet heard from or about.

Based on my own fat-fingered usage experiments, the current mobile device offerings are not practical "web surfing" devices in the traditional sense but are much more suited to being employed as portable media storage and display solutions, particularly in markets (such as the U.S.) where the mobile device is not likely to be the user's primary Internet access device.

Don't get me wrong; Internet access should be an available feature on nearly all mobile multimedia devices, but its lack (as in the case of the iPod) shouldn't preclude it from being a worthwhile target device. Also, the PSP's integrated browser software offers a variety of display options, including a "Smart Fit" feature that rewrites the web page's code to better display on the browser's 480 pixel-wide screen — and does a great job of it — pointing out the promise of a quality surfing experience on a mobile platform.

Still, it's an arguably better option to surf on a larger platform with a full-size keyboard and then side-load any downloaded content from the PC to the mobile device; a process that users I've questioned prefer over direct-to-mobile downloads. This realization allows smaller publishers to compete by targeting "off deck" applications, side-stepping the carriers by serving the customer directly over the Internet — a tremendous advantage for Internet companies with existing infrastructure.

How the content is "injected" into a user's system is transparent to its use. For example, Internet or carrier access is not usually required in order to put content onto a mobile device; in most cases, a PC and a standard USB cable are all that's required, making carrier bypass a simple matter and allowing traditional web-centric channels to leverage their customer and visitor bases while satisfying mobile user's needs.

Not Just About 'How'
Whether it's an adult content owner looking for expanded distribution opportunities or a corporate marketing type, the topic of publishing adult content for mobile devices is often prefaced by a statement such as "sex sells — so why not?" On its surface, this may make sense, but a much better question than "why not?" would be to ask "why?"

The answer is easy: Because folks want to whack off. Face it, we're in the masturbation marketplace, and the bottom line is the bottom line: Hardcore doesn't work if it doesn't make the viewer cum. You can pretty it up all you want, but there it is.

I'm quite certain that "try whacking off to our mobile content using your phones, PDAs and Internet-enabled gaming devices, and we'll meet Thursday to discuss the results" is not something that's heard around the meeting room tables as corporate executives try to figure out how to successfully profit from the adult market. But it should be. The realistic discussion of the user experience for consumers of mobile hardcore pornography needs to occur before realistic market projections can be made.

What do I mean? Well, I believe in due diligence, including testing all adult content I offer for sale to measure its "whackability," which involves spanking my monkey to each and every video clip and photo gallery I produce. Too much information, I know, but it's the only way for you to truly understand and optimize your product and to know if it works. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

In the case of my mobile offerings, the usability issue (and it's a big one) isn't the screen size or color depth, little buttons or playback frame rate, it's the fact that the damn thing jiggles crazily while you're "going to town" — rendering the mobile content a blur at the critical moment. This isn't necessarily a mobile deal-killer, though.

This brief course in masturbatory ergonomics isn't intended to make you blush, however, but to illustrate one of the fundamental flaws in the user experience while enjoying hardcore pornography on mobile devices.

"Set it down" some observers will advise, but unlike the option this presented for fans of print magazine centerfolds, the narrow viewing angle on the screens of many mobile devices could impose unwieldy acrobatics on the viewer. Sure, there are "stands" for iPods and PSPs that provide a nice viewing angle when the device is placed on a desktop, for example. Some even offer a quality amplifier and stereo speakers. But this larger setup can easily approach the size of a laptop computer, making the question of whether or not travelers would bring both systems with them — or simply the more capable laptop.

It's at this point that I'll opine that the "killer app" for adult mobile is headset glasses that serve as external big-screen monitors, allowing for hands-free video playback, despite the bulk it adds to the system during transport.

Beyond the trade in "dirty movies" lies another opportunity in Maxim-esque eye candy: If you're not comfortable with the idea of offering hardcore content but still want to profit from a mix of mobile and adult, then softcore offerings may be the right route.

Consider the user again: He flips up the cover on his shiny new cellphone and there in all of her 32-bit glory is a stunningly beautiful topless model set as his background image. Even if other people accidentally caught a glimpse of this picture, it's not something that most would find offensive. Such is not the case with a hardcore porn image background.

Still, the demand — but not necessarily the repeat demand — for hardcore adult content will make its pursuit in the mobile arena inevitable, and given the disdain for porn on the part of domestic carriers, opportunity for the smart little guy will persist in this market.

To revisit my "not necessarily repeat demand" comment; it's the bottom line of the user experience. Lots of folks will try "getting it on" to content on their mobile devices, and many will conclude there are better ways to enjoy the process. Curiosity will make a sale, but once that curiosity is satisfied, many customers won't be back for more.

Not Just About 'Why'
Wanting to test the waters of deploying mobilized versions of some of my content, I targeted devices that I owned and was familiar with, including the PSP. My brief testing and deployment evaluation illustrated the difficulties in reaching the mobile marketplace, and in ways that were not anticipated. While I expected some level of video encoding problems or playback issues, none of that materialized. What I found instead is that the hardest part of the adult content for mobile distribution process isn't what I as a producer, publisher or distributor do but what the customer does.

If you as a publisher wish to offer your content to mobile multimedia users, then you need to provide an adequate and updated step-by-step help guide, showing novice users how to maximize their use of target devices and including recommendations that users update their system to its latest version.

Take the time to help your customer enjoy his purchase. You might be in the content publishing business, but if you also consider that you're in the "satisfying a consumer in search of entertainment" business, you'll be one step ahead of the game. For example, updating my PSP's operating system allowed me to view Flash files on websites. Many users won't even realize that enhancements such as these are freely available, let alone how to implement them. Showing them step-by-step is the way to increase usability and satisfaction and ultimately profits.

Some of the issues I've discussed here may seem more common sense than mobile marketing, but the fact is that these issues transcend genre and industry, and as such are easily overlooked when developing deployment strategies. Consider this all carefully as you move forward with plans to go mobile.

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