This article originally ran in the September 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
Adult has persistently innovated the way all kinds of products are marketed, how data is hosted, the ways payments get processed and just about every other aspect of e-commerce over the years. When free tubes became the rage and the industry began consolidating in 2006, some of that innovative spirit suddenly took a back seat to more immediate needs of companies working to adapt and survive in a rapidly changing ecosystem online. The move toward mobile was led largely by mainstream companies like Apple with iTunes refusing to accept any kind of adult content. Social media was soon dominated by Facebook with strict prohibitions against even showing a nipple in an image on its platform. Now, adult is once again pushing itself to the front of the line and these companies are in the vanguard of what may soon be the way things are bought and sold digitally across all verticals.
Much is being made of the virtual reality technology coming out, and there are a number of great adult companies working diligently to gain a foothold within that emerging market, but so much is already being done to cover VR, so we dug deeper to find out more about some of the innovations you may not have already been hearing so much about.
"Other than VR, in the area of content production specifically, 4K-6K is now the standard," said Colin Rowntree, the founder of Wasteland.com. "What that means is, although no one is really distributing 4K effectively yet due to bandwidth limitations, filming in 4K future proofs studio libraries for when that becomes a reality. For everyone who was around when producers mistakenly claimed 640x480 was the biggest anyone would ever want, the inevitable march toward 4K is obvious.
"The other thing to keep in mind is that most 4K cameras do not have the reliable auto-focus functionality that many shooters relied on. So adult filmmakers are being forced to up their game to adopt 'Hollywood' best practices. This is important because it results in much higher quality porn and accelerates the pace of how quickly the glut of free porn online will begin to look stale and out of date."
Beyond the content realm, a lot of innovation is happening right now in frictionless billing, designed to ease the process of making payments at the point of sale. "Twistbox has been focused on expanding our product offerings and giving users more of an experience on mobile, instead of just content," explained Ler Khodaverdy, vice president of operations for Twistbox. "All while utilizing our one-click direct carrier-billing (DCB) connections to provide the easiest payment method on mobile.
"We've been experimenting with a true premium mobile cams experience using our DCB instead of traditional credit card processing. I think this is an untapped opportunity in Europe and other prominent markets around the world where DCB is the preferred mobile payment method. I love seeing all the innovative new product launches, but the industry needs to ensure we're not only building amazing products, but also implementing the most efficient and successful billing experience for the users. After all, we're in the business of making money!"
As boring as processing can sometimes be as a discussion topic in adult, in many ways it is the most important aspect of running an adult business because it determines precisely how you will be making money and it often directly impacts how much you earn as well. "For 18 years, NETbilling has helped bridge the connection between the consumer and producer by providing innovative transaction processing solutions, bundled with integrated call center solutions, to increase sales and customer satisfaction," said Mitch Farber, president of NETbilling. "Credit card fraud, friendly fraud, and data theft continue to rise, while NETbilling continues to provide the tools, reporting and security measures that merchants need to be profitable and avoid theft. A huge focus on mobile sales, global merchant account relationships, extensive fraud tools, chargeback mitigation, tokenization, and expanded call center facilities are just some of the innovative things that NETbilling and other processors continue to expand and enhance as we move forward."
Of course, even the best billing and content won't amount to much revenue if you aren't able to acquire properly targeted traffic to build an audience. "The big focus for Wister in terms of innovation this year is all about better targeting and optimization with Khepri," said Joey Gabra, managing director of Wister. "We have built tools and stand-alone solutions that make targeting and optimization more effective and more efficient than ever!
"Our latest and greatest stand-alone solution is called Khepri and we are quite proud of it, because companies that want to harness the power of algorithmic traffic tracking are already adopting it inside adult and mainstream. Automating much of the media buying process saves you time and money, earns you more per campaign, speeds up your reaction time to trends and greatly reduces the sample size needed to make the smartest decisions. Khepri does all that and more."
Traffic tracking and media buying is predominantly a matter of monitoring end-user behavior and predicting what your audience will want next. "The latest technological innovations in the adult web marketing space have been greatly influenced by the changes witnessed in terms of end-user behavior," according to Axel Vézina, chief operating officer of CrakRevenue. "End-user behavior has really told us a lot. For instance, we're noticing a huge increase in the number of user interactions in regards to our different custom surveys and questionnaires that we've built and branded. These surveys alone have opened up an extensive window of marketing opportunities. We've also been approached by some promising ad-block-countering initiatives. This is significant because success in this area would mean a win in an industry blinded by ad-blindness and anti-ad sentiment. Being able to reach a greater targeted audience opens up the door to a new realm of possibilities."
Major traffic brokers continue to innovate as well. "Here at ExoClick we are continually giving clients new opportunities for monetization and more ways of maximizing their ROI," said Richard Cottrell, global sales director at ExoClick. "In June we launched our in-stream pre-roll video ad format to become first ad network to offer this to the adult industry. Video pre-roll ads give marketers the capability of getting ads in front of premium video content on publisher sites. According to Business Insider, video ads have an average CTR of 1.84 percent, the highest click-through rate of all digital ad formats. By taking the desktop experience mobile, we have also opened up new product segments. We are providing mobile solutions for our clients including specific mobile ad formats, an Android in-app SDK, mobile carrier, Wi-Fi and specific device targeting."
ExoClick is also expanding its tools to handle other needs of their clientele. "We offer big data tools so that clients have real-time statistics available in order to swiftly evaluate their traffic and conversions to make those time-sensitive business decisions. The introduction of ad blockers also led us to create NeverBlock, our ad blocking solution, which bypasses ad blockers in order for publishers to recapture their ad revenue. This tech solution is free to all ExoClick clients and is a simple process of placing a line of code on their websites. In a digital economy that increasingly relies on the integration of API technology, ExoClick has also opened up its platform to developers so that they can create their own bespoke software and applications in order to automate certain processes such as setting custom bidding limits, monitoring performance in different GEOs and programmatically changing them to improve ROI, automate targeting of different devices and mobile carriers or creating custom dashboards for more in-depth metrics. In this manner we have created a hybrid platform that blends self-service control with programmatic where automation can be combined with human decisions and experience. We believe our continual innovation is what has positioned ExoClick as the fourth largest ad network in the world and the biggest network in the adult industry."
"Innovation for PornDoe and PornDoe Premium has mostly come in the form of marketing tactics," explained Yannick Ferreri, head of business development for PornDoe. "Our main differentiator, that we are very proud of, is the $9.95 price point. You cannot find a better deal on the market, as it offers up 20-plus exclusive brands for such a low price. The way we package the content is part of our innovative sales strategy, placing VIP products out of reach and requiring Premium access. We will be launching another section in our Premium offerings as well, giving the users a customizable package choice when subscribing. Our diversity allows us the liberty to offer to our users the best combinations and we plan to improve on these offerings more and more over time."
On the content itself, Ferreri expressed a belief that gonzo may be in decline and plot-driven contextual content may be another innovation on the horizon. "We have started a story-based BDSM offering at BadTimeStories.com (coming soon), which is comprised of characters and plots, all tied into a very eerie 'Tales From The Crypt Keeper' feel, where nightmares, dreams and fantasies blur. Again focusing on the context and the packaging, we have made content to get the minds of users racing.
"Another gem that stands out is one that has a very high mainstream appeal, called PornDoePedia.com. As an educational porn series, we cover topics like 'First Threesome,' 'Perfect BlowJob,' 'Guide to Anal.' This will be a huge game-changer as we can market it on Youtube and other mainstream sites as the appeal plays into safe sex as much as it does the 'How To' niche. It's also a very couples friendly concept that will truly reach out and allow the two to enjoy something while learning from it. The concepts are produced with a comedy twist, but the information is portrayed in a clear and serious way. Anal guide for instance, has all the best positions, how to dilate, best way to start, etc., and of course the do's and don'ts of each subject."
When times were tough and adult sites were being bought out or closed on an everyday basis, the canary in the coal mine was an easy-to-see lack of innovation. No matter how many people lied and claimed their sales were better than ever, it was apparent from their sites that they weren't investing in anything new or working to discover the next important step toward massive growth. Recently that has changed, and history has proven that when you see companies willing to try new things, expand on what's working or take a chance on what might be a huge success, it speaks well for the health and strength of their current operations as well. The state of innovation in adult right now is very strong, and that fact tells you all you need to know when trying to assess the state of the industry overall.