LONDON — XBIZ London wrapped its second full day of seminars, events and business networking on Thursday at the Hilton DoubleTree Tower of London.
The annual digital media conference started off Thursday morning with the “JuicyAds Pub Quiz,” which was introduced to XBIZ London for the first time.
Quiz Master Stephen McBride, JuicyAds’ U.K. and European account manager, led the hour-long event, which was based on the standard “pub quiz” concept — a popular pastime in the U.K. — and allowed participants to win prizes.
Another inaugural XBIZ London entry, the “Open Mic Marketing Hour,” offered participants to take turns to introduce themselves and their companies’ offerings.
After XBIZ London’s mid-day power lunch, seminars and panel discussions reigned the rest of the afternoon.
NETbilling-sponsored seminars brought discussion on trends in the live cam space, the issues surrounding “age verification” for adult content and the annual XBIZ London “State of the Industry” session.
There also was a panel discussion among the U.K. Adult Producers group, known as UKAP, and a late afternoon Women In Adult (WIA) “High Tea” mixer.
Thursday’s age verification panel, titled “Problems vs. Solutions,” included panelists ASACP’s Vince Charlton, Sex & Censorship’s Jerry Barnett, Portland TV’s Chris Ratcliff. ICM Registry’s Steven Winyard served as moderator.
The U.K. is moving towards an age verification system for the Internet that would form part of Conservative plans to filter and control content and access.
The call for age verification is equivalent to a call for censorship for many in the industry. However, for the past five years age verification has been required for video-on-demand adult content streamed in the U.K.
Now, a plan is in motion to make age verification a must for all adult sites, including foreign ones, if they are to be accessed in the U.K. through ISPs.
Winyard noted that there are age verification policies looming in numerous jurisdictions worldwide, but there’s an “enormous breadth of opinion” on the matter and that many policymakers have “issues” with such regulations.
“It is one of these very challenging things,” Winyard said. “The Internet has been a bit of a Wild Wild West, and it can’t be re-engineered. Adult content is now mainstream.”
But nonetheless, Winyard forecast that at least in the next couple of years, maybe five at the most, the adult entertainment industry will see age verification regulation set in place in the U.K. for all sites determined to be sexually explicit.
Ratcliff noted that technical aspects of age verification, as we currently know it, is in its infancy, and that there are numerous details to be worked out.
“Age verification is not asking to identify people, unlike the gambling industry where users must be identified,” Ratcliff said. “I think we need to re-think how we go about it. I don’t think we’ve seen the kind of innovation that we need in this field yet.
“I’m hopeful over the course of the next couple years we’ll see some technological advances, which will bring us an ability to make a statistical analysis of data – your online browsing habits, your social footprint through your social networks — so that we know how old are you,” Ratcliff said.
But Barnett warned that if the U.K. creates a sturdy age verification system in the country, it will be a firewall “like the Chinese system of censorship.”
“What is being proposed by certain members of government and by ATVOD and Ofcom is the strongest system of Internet censorship ever seen in a democratic country,” Barnett said. “Regulators would be able to block not by the thousands but by the millions.
“There is no sign this is going to roll out and be accepted internationally,” he said. “I think it shouldn’t happen.”
Charlton, however, commented “there is a greater level of responsibility when it comes to children” and that age verification systems are worth it.
“I think the adult industry seems to view itself as too precious to be regulated. You have to age verify to buy alcohol, gambling,” Charlton said. “Why shouldn’t the industry verify users of adult content?”
Ratcliff, who for years has discussed with U.K. politicians the issue of age verification, told the audience that dialogue with the government is important for the adult entertainment biz.
“What we have to do as an industry is come forward and declare our position,” he said. “I don’t think we can think of this as just a U.K. thing.”
Ratcliff also said that he sees Parliament passing some type of age verification for sites streaming into U.K. consumers' homes and offices by next year.
“I think the government will come out heavy handed,” he said.
Winyard emphasized to the XBIZ London audience that “self-regulation is better than clumsy regulation.
“Through the year, I get to meet adult company executives from around the world,” Winyard said. “On their behalf I can promise you that there is not one I have found yet that is not interested, not prepared or unwilling to change. But the reality is, they shouldn’t have to because it is not financially viable.”
The “State of the Industry” conference, moderated by XBIZ’s Alec Helmy, featured some long-time players in the biz, including PussyCash/ImLive’s Shay Efron, NETbilling’s Mitch Farber, adult filmmaker Max Candy and ICM Registry’s Steven Winyard.
Helmy peppered the panel with key questions on the state of commerce in the adult entertainment space, including panelists’ take on the earlier topic of age verification in the U.K., as well as the age-old question, “Is content or traffic king?”
But, first, Helmy offered his take on the subject of the problems with age verification for the adult biz by saying, “Every single barrier you put in front of access to content diminishes your conversion. You are putting a barrier that they are not accustomed to, and they could be paranoid about sharing their identity.”
As for the question of whether content or traffic is king, Farber said it’s both.
“It’s a combination, it always has been,” he said, noting “generating your own traffic is where it’s at these days.”
Virtual reality and adult entertainment might pair up in a serious way one day soon, and the question was raised whether it will replace the adult content that we know today.
“It’s not going to disrupt but it will be another product,” Efron said. “Technology changed things, but people haven’t really changed. They need the interaction; they don’t need a helmet.
“Control drives consumers; control to tell live cam models what to do, as well as the relationships clients establish with their favorite models.”
Gabra agreed. “It might be too much to ask for people to put that helmet on and say this is going to replace what I used to get,” he said.
But Candy said it’s going to be a “game changer.”
“Once you start understanding the 360-degree filming you can do, the connections during interactive experience, and all of the components, people will gravitate toward it,” he said. “When it is simple and easy to use, then you’ll see mass use.”
The industry has come a long ways in terms of cleaning up its act, and the panel offered explanations.
“The technology has led the way [in terms of perception],” Gabra said. “A lot of people are suiting up. The professionalism and creativity really shows.”
Farber noted that the online business has grown mature, and it shows.
“As the years go by, chargebacks have gotten lower,” he said. “Now the industry has leveled out, and the porn industry has done very well. We have it dialed in.
“There’s been really no new news for the past few years [in high-risk processing for the adult space],” he said. “And that is good news.”
Candy called the evolving industry “more corporate, more professional.”
“But sometimes I miss the old days [when things were looser],” he said.
Virtual currency, like BitCoin, apparently hasn’t made its mark in the biz, panel members conceded.
“It’s like a dream; it’s not reality,” Winyard said.
“I think we’ve only had two merchants ask about it,” Farber quipped.
The live cams panel, in a session titled “Promoting and Profiting From Interactivity,” took a look at one of the brightest spaces, economically speaking, in the business.
Moderated by Affil4you’s Joey Gabra, panelists included Ben from WebStream, Bram from DatingCash.eu and Efron.
Panelists discussed a range of topics affecting the live cams market, including cams in the mobile space and preferences among users when they view models.
They also discussed privacy concerns among consumers over native apps and live cams; all were in agreement that consumers prefer to watch live cams in their browsers, which can be easily closed and history erased, versus downloading and installing apps on their devices.
Efron also mentioned that ImLive is planning to roll out a new version of its cam platform that will allow cam models to stream directly from their mobile devices.
Later this evening, XBIZ London will continue on with the "Spearmint Rhino Farewell Party."