opinion

Is the Free Porn Era Starting to Fade Away?

Jim “GonZo” McAnally

Onlookers might believe that adult entertainment was only a big business prior to free tube sites, or that tube sites started the free porn era online. It’s true that free porn is much more pervasive now than ever, but tube sites definitely weren’t the first to make free content part of their platform.

The shift from hiding everything behind a pay wall to the modern era happened much more gradually. Free sites like TGPs, MGPs, pic posts, review sites and blogs were already being used as traffic generation tools when PornoTube.com became the first adult tube site in 2006.

PornoTube was never about content theft or giving away full scenes of professionally produced content for free.

PornoTube.com was initially launched by AEBN as an adjunct to xPeeps, which was a social networking site for adults that was modeled after Myspace. PornoTube was originally intended to extend the feature set of xPeeps by giving users the ability to upload and share images or videos under their xPeeps profiles.

PornoTube became wildly popular, quickly eclipsing xPeeps, because it filled a need in an evolving market. PornoTube was never about content theft or giving away full scenes of professionally produced content for free.

The site soon went viral, thanks to the popularity of a Britney Spears lookalike video that was uploaded, and within a month another adult tube site came online … and then another … and another. Now tubes seem to be the most pervasive kind of adult website found on the Internet.

The significant difference between PornoTube and the other tube sites throughout the explosion of their popularity were the business model that new sites were adopting. Many of the free tubes had no legitimate content libraries or content partners to represent, and therefore zero interest in ever generating a single sale.

Instead they were focused solely on traffic and monetizing impressions via ad sales from their sites, often while cannibalizing the pay-to-view consumer base along the way with a disregard for the overall unhealthy effect this would eventually have on the industry as a whole.

The tubes grew at a breakneck pace due to many factors, including online piracy, a broken DMCA legal framework, and shortsighted business models — all of which lead to free all-you-can-watch buffets. But what surprised many people the most was how rapidly free clips turned into full scenes into full titles, all for free. This naturally lured many users away from traditional paysites.

Soon many paysites couldn’t compete with free sites for visitors, and many producers began to disappear, as much of their content was now freely available for everyone to view. For studios the struggle to find a sustainable balance between entertaining fans and monetizing content, was largely replaced by a mindset where entertaining fans was disconnected almost completely from the idea of actually monetizing content via direct sales.

Increasing competition and decreasing costs of distribution (with bandwidth prices plummeting) created urgency among some site owners to give away even more content. Consumers became accustomed to seeing everything for free, demanding higher resolutions and longer previews. While some porn companies voluntarily went along with the idea by pumping out free content in exchange for brand visibility, piracy sites stole much of whatever wasn’t already being offered.

PornoTube made a choice early on to go against the new tube trends and remained loyal to AEBN’s content partners, rather than risk damaging our relationships. Unregulated user uploads were disabled, and content length restrictions were put in place to help maintain our focus on promoting actual sales.

“Other sites decided to play by a different set of rules with a very different set of objectives,” AEBN co-founder Jay said. “However, AEBN has always valued the relationships we have with our studio partners. For us the monetization strategy of PornoTube makes the most sense and fits a sustainable business model for all of us in the long term.”

“Knowing what you do well, defining it clearly and fitting products into a profitable scenario for the present and the future is a strategic step that too often goes overlooked by newer sites,” AEBN’s Bishop Wages said. “We have found that investing time and effort into planning out a coherent strategy is worth every dollar and every hour allocated.”

The xPeeps social networking site eventually became the live cam site that you’ll find there today, while PornoTube continues to evolve and thrive by using a tube style format to promote upsells to AEBN’s video-on-demand and subscription products. PornoTube has been through several incarnations over the past decade. In its current form as a clean, responsive “tube style” site,  PornoTube is generating strong sales while helping to better educate consumers about the value of paid content.

To hard working webmasters, it should come as no surprise that the biggest need in the market right now is a reliable method for converting millennials into paying customers. The millennial demographic that grew up in the Napster era now expect that most all digital content should be freely available to all. Educating the free content generation to see things differently is difficult, but it is a dialogue worth having with the entire demographic. Millennials are now the largest segment of our population, but they aren’t going to randomly stumble upon a paysite tour and suddenly feel the need to go get their wallet.

That’s part of the reason PornoTube has been capable of initiating the conversation successfully, showing itself to be an effective platform for helping consumers over the hump to convert free into paying consumers. It fits preconceived notions of how a free porn site should look, but provides a better user experience than most free sites. The fact that the site is not inundated with pop-ups and invasive ads has received a large amount of positive feedback from people who actually do pay for porn. Instead the site itself is an embedded advertisement where almost every aspect of PornoTube is geared to promote and sell full-length versions of the videos that fans come to taste test.

Carefully selected teaser content provided at premium quality with soft upsells, and subtle calls to action are helping to educate a new consumer audience as it continues to draw strength from content producers that are reluctant to give their content to ad based free tubes. PornoTube provides entertainment and is backed by a massive amount of content that is all legally obtained and delivered through AEBN’s content partnerships.

The site is aimed at generating actual sales from free visitors who preview teaser videos on their path toward payment with ease. Each clip and image is carefully selected with the intent to create a desire to view the content in its original form and context. That human element of oversight is something user-uploaded sites are specifically forbidden from adopting, because it would put them in violation of the DMCA safe-harbor protections they rely on.

“PornoTube visitors skew toward the younger side of our audience, and we see a similar trend on our subscription site which offers a lower entry price point and a seven-day free trial option,” said Jay. “Our VOD users tend to be a bit older and more discerning demographic with presumably more disposable income. The ideal path is to migrate a user through the different consumption options as they grow to see value in each. By linking to our pay sites through PornoTube content, we provide a site that is free and entertaining on its own, but we also offer a gateway to different options for paid consumption. As we seek to convert the younger free user toward a familiar model of a low price point subscription service that they may find value in, we also cross sell our VOD site where they can see the newest exclusive titles with access to a much larger library of content. Every PornoTube clip created has a corresponding link to one or both options because each clip is a teaser for content that is available in our library.”

Conversely, other free tubes that have tried to add premium members areas as a way to monetize their audience are being forced to provide disclaimers telling prospective buyers that the full length version of the video clip they want to see the most may not actually be in their members area at all — even after the person pays to sign up.

It’s an important distinction, and one that is playing a major role in differentiating free tube traffic from paying customer traffic. Some of the larger ad-based tubes have now bought their own production companies or started filming their own exclusive content to keep their library from becoming stale while AEBN and PornoTube continue to bring new content partners on board, adding fresh content at a rapid pace.

In the long run, the thickest slice of the pie will go to the brands that do the best job convincing free porn enthusiasts to become paying consumers. It will not be a fast or simple transition in the mind of many fans, but accelerating the methodical march toward paying for things that are undeniably better than what is available elsewhere for free is a challenge that is ripe for smart people to solve.

Jim “GonZo” McAnally is a longtime executive with streaming media site AEBN.com.

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