XBIZ EU Day 1 Draws Record Attendance

LONDON — XBIZ EU’s first full day of seminar sessions, speed networking and business networking drew a record attendance at the annual London show.

To kick off a full day of sessions, XBIZ brought in Pete Johnson, the CEO of U.K. regulatory agency ATVOD, to discuss new rules and enforcement targeting adult entertainment companies.

A standing-room-only audience listened to XBIZ’s Don Parret query Johnson on all aspects of the three-year-old authority that to date has made about 30 determinations against U.K. online adult distributors, which ATVOD claims have breached rules over age verification with their websites known as Rule 11.

Rule 11 makes it mandatory that age-verification checks, using credit and debit cards, are employed by sites that operate in the U.K. The regulatory imposes massive fines for noncompliance, as well as fines for not registering video-on-demand websites, as well as TV, and not paying required fees.

ATVOD also is exploring using its jurisdiction to enforce age verification on foreign websites, as well, by lobbying members of the U.K. Credit Association to come up with a voluntary plan. ATVOD will next meet with the association on Oct. 10.

Johnson said that his group is in “early discussions” over going after foreign sites that break the U.K.’s rules over forcing age verification, specifically focusing on adult tube sites that proliferate on the web.

“I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding about ATVOD’s role among some providers,” Johnson said. “We haven’t been charged with cleaning up the Internet; we haven’t been charged with making American websites behave appropriately; we have been charged with regulating U.K.-based services. The fact that the Internet is a global distribution mechanism was well-known to those who drafted and passed the ATVOD directive.

“A decision was taken that regardless what is happening in other territories, those who are operating in the U.K. should behave responsibly,” he said. “If you are providing content that can be potentially harmful for children, you have a responsibility and obligation to keep it away from children. The argument that the Americans don’t do it is not a good argument.”

Johnson noted that not only foreign websites that provide sexually explicit content could be subject to age-verification rules but also obscenity probes by the Crown Prosecution Office.

“Our primary duty is to achieve protection for children who could be potentially harmed by the content,” he said. “But we are simply throwing out this idea regarding foreign porn sites for discussion; there has been no decision yet made.”

Johnson was challenged over how ATVOD decides its moral compass when investigating sites that potentially are breaching U.K. law.

“In order to subject Rule 11, legislation requires that content ‘might seriously impair,’ he said. “We have looked at all of the verifiable research out there and what is clear when you look at the evidence is that there is an absence of conclusive evidence about harm done to children from exposure to pornography. And the reason is simple: You would have to purposefully expose children to the hardcore pornography, and no ethics committee would approve that.”

Johnson said that his group looks for guidance with clinical psychologists for those answers.

XBIZ EU’s mobile panel toned down the intensity of the earlier Johnson session with a quiz show titled "Who Wants to Be a Mobile Millionaire?"

Cherry Media’s Julia Dimambro was the quiz mistress in an informative panel game show that explored how to maximize revenues from adult mobile with industry-related questions interspersed with humorous tests and bonus points for two teams.

Joining GameLink’s Jeff Dillon and Cherry Media’s Monica Robles was Sebastian Garel-Jones from Adultmoda, Damien Jennings from Adult Marketing, Katy Phillips from Mobile Entertainment, Alex Lecomte from Star Edition and Scott Patterdon from East Team Mobile.

Following the mobile panel, a group discussing current billing issues – comprising CCBill’s Gary Jackson, OrbitalPay’s Karen Campbell, Epoch’s Frank Gannon, NETbilling’s Wendy Nelson and WTS Vinny Lipari – focused much of its discussion on how to conduct business more productively in the U.K., with Epoch’s Gannon elaborating further how his company has provided services that include PayPal. Cybersocket's Morgan Sommer moderated the session.

The afternoon panels were preceded by XBIZ Speed Networking, providing industry professionals with the opportunity to launch their business connections into overdrive with a 90-minute session.

Toward evening, XBIZ's popular Mix & Meet offered a casual networking exhibition, with those in attendance enjoying free drinks and finding out about the latest products and services from some of the business’ top blue-chip brands.

Later tonight, an open meeting called "The Sex & Censorship Rally: Keeping Britain's Internet Uncensored" will be held during XBIZ EU, which is being held at the Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Hotel.

And for those looking to keep the night young, attendees can get into a festive mood with the XBIZ EU kick-off party sponsored by Cybersocket, Reporo, Mansion Productions, CCBill and WTS-ACH.

The kick-off party is located at the industrial and futuristic Foundation Bar in the heart of London's busy West End.