2014: A Game of Technological Leapfrog

Stephen Yagielowicz

With 2014 coming to an end, I found myself considering the major events and factors that influenced the adult entertainment industry during the past year. I ended up focusing on the latest technological impact on adult content consumption, distribution and production, while still considering the significant political events of the year.

These events included the evolving U.K. scene, which caused changes in billing practices and other operational aspects for companies serving this audience — while once again bringing the thorny topic of online age verification into the forefront. Another major event was the changes at Google, which have so dramatically altered the fortunes and business practices of a number of firms, but it is the technical factors that may be the most important, as they impact more operators and media market segments — including mainstream media.

4K is still a mystery to many consumers so it is little wonder that cash strapped producers are also warily eyeing the value of investing in 4K workflows when Apple is already pushing 5K on consumers, and 6K is happening on the higher end as we move towards 8K.

Whether it is a matter of denial about the situation they find themselves in or a matter of falling back on their career comfort zones, many adult website operators will tend to seek a technological solution to what is actually a marketing or other problem, and I’m no different.

Technology could address the supply side through better prevention and policing of piracy, and on the demand side through greater anonymity and less friction in transaction processing — but these steps are not a panacea for all that ails the industry. On the latter front, the growing number of cryptocurrencies and their potential use for porn purchases, were another technological highlight of 2014.

Bitcoin and its adult-centric counterparts, Titcoin and Wankcoin, may have made a lot of headlines and stirred a lot of buzz in the adult webmaster community, but a year into their adoption, many merchants are reporting flat sales at best — with a commonly reported consumer sentiment of customers wishing to support sites that accept Bitcoin — but not necessarily wanting the porn they paid for.

Another example of technological leapfrogging is in the realm of virtual reality, where Oculus Rift made many waves in 2014 — catching the attention of porn producers and consumers alike, with its potential to revamp the digital content industry. Now that the firm is owned by Facebook, however, restrictive terms and conditions of service may keep sexually explicit adult fare at bay — much akin to the way that Apple prohibits porn on its iTunes distribution platform — or indeed, how Facebook prohibits porn on its social network today.

Rift’s technology is tantalizing, but even before it is ready for market, Sony’s Morpheus offers a more polished system as an alternative — with the added benefit of its parent company owning one of the world’s largest content libraries; so expect seamless media integration with Morpheus (although adult may find a similarly cool reception from the corporate giant), and content licensing challenges for Rift.

But even as these fledgling devices take their first awkward steps into the commercial arena, Microsoft’s RoomAlive eliminates the need for having to wear a bulky helmet, bringing “comfortable” immersion a step closer. The user experience of this liberating technology can be seen as the difference between top videogame consoles, such as Sony’s PlayStation — and the family friendly Nintendo Wii, which may not have the quality potential of the PlayStation platform, but typically provides a more active and engaging user experience, due to the nature of its inertial controllers and the “get off your couch” games it offers.

As for RoomAlive, I think early on the killer app for adult will be a VirtualGirl-style experience, where the dancing digital model is freed from a user’s computer desktop to dance away, life-size and in your home. If the files can be kept from pirates, this could be a huge future moneymaker for adult.

I expect both wearable devices such as Rift, as well as “Holodeck” imitators such as RoomAlive, to soon offer an affordable and fairly realistic virtual reality experience — in living rooms for less than $1,000 — and to deliver mind-blowing quality at the upper end of the premium home theatre scale, where gaming fanatics and videophiles won’t settle for second best when it comes to visual technology; and the pricing extends to what the market will bear.

Speaking of upgraded visual technology, it does not seem that long ago that we shifted from SD to HD, which is old-fashioned now — as curved screens and higher resolution take over, bringing Ultra HD to the forefront. Heck, even Walmart now offers a 55” 4K Ultra HD TV for less than $1,400, fueling the mass market adoption of 4K video, if the consumer confusion barrier can be overcome.

4K is still a mystery to many consumers so it is little wonder that cash strapped producers are also warily eyeing the value of investing in 4K workflows when Apple is already pushing 5K on consumers, and 6K is happening on the higher end as we move towards 8K. With this kind of environment, investing in better equipment may be better left until 2016 — but if you absolutely must have 4K on the cheap then choose a new smartphone — you might be amazed at the image quality that these mobile 4K devices deliver.

Technological leapfrogging is leading us to an environment where change is happening so quickly that consumers and producers don’t have a chance to adopt technology when it is mature, and then live with it for a while before having to upgrade to the “bigger, better, faster, more,” version. Desperation for new sales will likely mean an escalation of the rapidity of technological innovation — rather than a decline — so stay tuned for what is likely to be an even more eye-opening 2015.