WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The burgeoning potential of VR to be an industry game-changer and the resurgent power of solid branding and niche appeal dominated a lively, multi-topic XBIZ Show gay industry panel Wednesday at the Andaz Hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
Morgan Sommer, publisher of Cybersocket Magazine, served as moderator for the hourlong discussion. Panelists included Gary Jackson of CCBill and Mitch Farber of NETbilling; Douglas Richter of Supermen.com; Tim Valenti of NakedSword.com and the Falcon Studio Group; Ela Darling of CAM4VR; Loli Cam of Terpon; and Karl Edwards of XXXEdit.
“How do you maintain a competitive edge when the internet is saturated with gay porn, tube sites have changed the landscape, and consumers are less willing than ever to pay for adult content?” Sommer told XBIZ about his plans for the panel discussion. “Some people and companies are doing just that. This is more than a state of the gay industry discussion,” he said. “It will be a discussion of ideas for thriving.”
“We all know that it’s not as it was eight years ago,” Sommer announced as he kicked off the afternoon’s debate. “I really want to focus on what our companies are all doing to grow and be profitable in the environment as it is now.”
“A lot of people in our industry have been making stuff for 20 years and selling it one way and then finding that it’s not selling anymore,” he said. “Some companies we’ve seen fade away because they chose to keep selling the same old way.” He took note of the challenge Falcon faces with a variety of marketing points and legacy brands in the gay market.
“The challenge for Falcon Studio Group is to really get the brands in line and what they distinctly should be,” Valenti said, “as opposed to all mishmashed together. And what we’ve been doing with NakedSword very successfully for the last couple of years is to try and mainstream ourselves a little bit more.” Via new label NSFW: NakedSword Film Works, they are producing content that is “sexually charged and a little more on the edge” and “mixing it in” with their hardcore content. “I can say our members are loving it. It’s redefining what NakedSword is in terms of a marketplace to go see gay content, both adult and non-adult.”
The panelists disagreed with the common canard that millennials don’t buy porn. “You just have to give them a reason to buy it,” Richter said. “Give them something of value and then they’ll pay. You have to rethink your user experience and your approach.”
From his vantage point in post-production, Edwards observed the content he’s seen that connects to an audience and sells is “more than a simple suck-and-fuck” with a differently colored backdrop each week. “It’s story-based,” he said. “It’s content-based. There’s value in the content itself. The product matters. And the people that are successful right now are creating a valuable product. Even just a simple blowjob scene, that’s a story. And people are gravitating towards stories. People are going to see movies; they’re not going to see 3D movies. The people that are paying attention to the core element of our business, which is storytelling, are really successful at this point, from my perspective.”
Jackson returned to the notion of the product having intrinsic value. He referenced companies that have lumped their content under one umbrella and then sell one subscription to it. “I cannot tell you how many failures we saw. They were trying to bundle everything together for one audience. And it wasn’t working.”
He notes significant conversion success with “diversifying content.” Consumers are not “buying an ecosystem where you might be lucky enough to have one piece in there you want.” Sites that provide a more diversified experience are drawing greater and more loyal crowds. “It’s got to come back to where it was before, where the niche has power.”
Jackson described today’s consumer as “omni-channel” and Valenti emphasized the importance of brands in a market where the customer expects to be able to consume their porn on any device they wish. Falcon makes market adjustments as necessary, Valenti said, “but we still concentrate on our brand, making sure that people know that there is a Falcon, a Hot House, a NakedSword.”
“In the gay industry, we focus more on the brand,” Richter said. “And that’s a huge mistake a lot of straight companies make when they try to penetrate our industry. They create this one-for-all brand. They just add a tab for ‘gay’ and they think that’s enough for us. They don’t create an ecosystem or user experience or funnel that actually caters to content (connected) to a story. The story is what (consumers are) actually looking for. They’re buying that experience.”
“Content is king now,” Farber said. “As popular as some of the performers are, as popular as the studios are, without the quality of the content, it means nothing. And the consumers know that. An all-you-can-eat model doesn’t work anymore; we know that. It works for Netflix or Amazon, but for buying porn, it doesn’t work at all. Traffic is good, (but) content is king. We’re in that cycle again.”
“I’d like to speak to the value of innovation,” Darling said, noting that she frequently hears from customers who have never bought adult content but would pay for VR porn. She notes they convert millennials, “who find it audacious to pay for content and they’re willing to pay for this because it’s new and it’s different. This a ripe market.”
A lengthy and spirited discussion followed about VR and its potential impact on the gay market. Darling expressed a fervent desire for more diverse VR content and Valenti announced his company is preparing to experiment with the genre. “We’re looking at this very closely,” he said.
Sommer laid out the challenge of explaining to consumers how virtual reality is different from other such innovations as 3D technology, which did not take off with consumers.
“VR definitely has an amazing future,” Farber said. “VR traffic converts like nothing else, but there’s so little of it right now. There’s also not enough people that own the headsets. And then there’s different kinds of headsets and different platforms. Right now it’s so limited.” Additionally, the production of VR requires a unique approach that does not fit the standard model. “You have to approach it with more of a theatrical mentality,” Darling observed. “This is the time to lay down those roots and learn how to stitch video and learn this new technology. You can beat everybody else in the market who (are) too afraid to jump in right now.”
Loli Cam said VR technology had advanced to a degree that an initial investment would not be onerous. She urged companies to test out Terpon’s technology and create content to allow the market to expand.
Sommer observed Terpon and CAM4VR were also bringing the technology to models at home. “We can foster a democratization of VR porn the way that we’ve seen performers start to produce for themselves over the past decade,” said Darling. “It’s become so important for each individual performer to become a producer in some sense, whether it’s camming or creating custom content or having clips for sale. You can empower yourself to create your own VR content. You can be your own independent VR brand.” Cam added that Terpon offers a “plug-and-play” as well as “a producer camera” for bigger, more involved productions.
“Ultimately, what are we delivering?” Jackson asked. “I’ve lived through VHS and DVDs and then digital and then 3D porn. We’re delivering an experience. I think VR is fascinating but I don’t know that’s a solution. Are they going to buy it just because of the novelty of it?” Cam said VR was “not a solution, but a tool.” Nevertheless, Richter observed he was inclined to wait until the market had expanded. “It’s not always important to be first, it’s important to be the best,” he said.
“In my experience, you can be both,” Darling replied.
“Gay Biz: A 2017 Snapshot” was sponsored by Adam & Eve.