Future Shock: Trends in New Adult Technology

This is supposed to be an article about porn and technology, but it's more than that. It's about opportunity. And it's about the future. Mine. Yours. Everyone's. Things are changing faster and faster and, while it's tempting to ignore that fact or wish it would go away, we do so at our own peril.

May as well make your peace with it because, as the guy who once did a flourishing business in 8-track tapes and 45 rpm records might tell you, when change comes it's as unstoppable as a meteor. This one article won't tell you everything there is to know about the intersection of technology and porn, but hopefully it will give you a few things to think about. That way even if you can't stop the meteor, you'll at least be able to see it coming.

For starters, consider a company that started out a few years ago with a few modest questions: Why can't you see porn on the Internet the way you might watch it on DVD, a scene at a time? Why do you have to pay to watch an entire movie? Why can't you pay for Internet porn the way people pay for telephone cards or the way they buy gift cards at Circuit City?

Now, thanks to AEBN (Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network; www.aebn.com), you can. The Charlotte, NC company, a pioneer in the porn pay-per-view business, devised a way that allows Internet surfers to buy as many minutes of viewing as they want and to use those minutes to watch scenes from up to 12,000 movies.

AEBN refined the package by offering custom theaters to client Websites. "What we can give the Webmaster is a theater that matches their site, that never takes their customers away from their site," said Cynthia Kwasny, senior vice president of marketing. "And it's totally free to them. We give them free video clips that change every day."

Thus far, nearly 10,000 Websites have beaten a path to AEBN's pay-per-view theater program, which includes porn from more than 400 producers. In fact, most of those producers have Websites with AEBN's customized theaters that show only their films. That way, potential customers can sample a movie and order what they like.

Granted, the pay per view service doesn't appeal to all Webmasters. Some are troubled by the idea of additional charges for people who already pay a membership fee. But AEBN has something for them, too. Since June, AEBN also has been selling porn movie content to Webmasters. Other companies have been doing that for years, but AEBN has a new twist: "We're providing the Webmaster with content that changes totally every month," Kwasny said. "Other (movie) content providers update their content with new stuff but we change it completely. If someone buys content from us, they'll be able to see what movies are coming next month when they get all-new content."

Last year, AEBN generated revenue in the $2-3 million ballpark, said Scott Coffman, the company's president. About 90 percent of it came from the buy-by-the-minute pay per view service. This year, the company figures to triple its revenue. And while the biggest part of it will still be pay-per-view, the company is moving into other areas.

In mid-August, AEBN started offering film rentals through downloads with DivX technology. DivX allows you to compress video files to about 10 percent of their original size and still replay them without any loss of quality. By shrinking the size of these gigantic files, it becomes possible to download them with cable and DSL connections.

AEBN won't be the first company to offer DivX downloads (Van Nuys, Calif.-based Bluebare Entertainment [www.bluebare.com] already does this), but with its access to thousands of porn films on high-quality DVD and its plans to expand the download rental business overseas, DivX immediately becomes a key player in this arena.

Even more impressive are AEBN's plans to deliver porn to homes and hotel rooms. The company has a vision that, if achieved, could have an immense impact on the two companies that currently dominate the hotel movie business, LodgeNet and On Command. In addition, the company plans to make adult video on demand available on cable set top boxes could make the current assortment of adult cable channels dominated by Playboy obsolete and bite into porn rentals at video stores.

"What I would really like to do is be the set top adult content provider for hotels and homes," Kwasny said. "Eventually, it's going to come to that. People are going to purchase this box and have access to any adult film any time of day or night. It would be like having a little Blockbuster of porn in your home."

So who's going to order up one of the several dozen movies scheduled each month by Spice or The Erotic Network when they can select from among thousands of titles whenever they feel like it? Although exclusive original content could keep adult cable channels in business, it will be a different business than before.

How soon will AEBN be in the home and hotel set top business? "I have some things in the works," Kwasny said, "and my manufacturers (which is how she refers to porn producers) should see revenues within the next year from the hotel market."

There's a lot more to say about how new technology and media convergence will influence the world of porn, and we'll be saying it in the coming months. Meanwhile, if you've heard of the Next Great Thing, don't hold back. Pass it along to [email protected] and let us share.

Julius Marx has been a professional journalist for 30 years and a contributing writer to AVN since 1998.