AVNONLINE COLUMN 200604 - OUT THERE - Big Happenings at MACC: The Brave New World of adult mobile gets a show of its own.

Limited to one room that housed both exhibits and panels, the Mobile Adult Content Congress (MACC), held Jan. 24-26 at the Radisson Miami Hotel, was not a large event by any means, but its value and significance more than made up for what it lacked in size. And if one were to judge the importance of a conference by the amount of media attention it receives, then MACC was one of the biggest shows of the year. Among several mainstream outlets in attendance, an “ABC News Nightline” crew was prominent, shooting interviews for two full days, with correspondent Chris Bury corralling a bevy of attendees who were eager to show off their mobile devices and the adult content available on them.

But whatever spin the mainstream media puts on this event, from an industry perspective this had to be one of the most eye-opening conferences in a long time. As attorney Greg Piccionelli told the audience, the confluence of adult content and mobile-wireless is a watershed event. Actually, that perspective is purely a domestic one. Adult content has been available on mobile devices in Europe and elsewhere for years, with domestic content producers adapting their content for use via those networks for just as long. The major labels – as well as many of our biggest adult stars – are becoming even larger brands in foreign markets, thanks to the wonders of mobile distribution and marketing. Just ask Ron Jeremy, who was in attendance to promote RJ Mobile (www.rjmobile.com), a “men’s magazine you can access on your mobile.”

But all good things in adult come with caveats. In this case, mobile adult is a brave new world that brings with it some familiar issues. I am obviously referring to access control and age verification. In fact, those subjects dominated the event almost to the exclusion of business opportunities. Each presentation had access controls or age verification as major features of the product, and the two major carries in attendance, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile UK, spent most of their time driving home the point that access controls are what allow them to carry any adult content at all. No domestic carriers were present, but that was hardly a surprise. My guess is that the domestic carriers will not bite from anything closely resembling the sexually explicit apple, but instead will prefer to partner with their European counterparts and allow them the pleasure of providing adult content to the American masses. Vodafone, for instance, partners with Verizon Wireless.

The silver lining in all of this is that the European carriers bring to the table years of work perfecting standards, procedures, and tools that allow their customers an almost unheard of level of control over what they can access through these networks. Nothing this side of the Atlantic comes remotely close. Also in attendance were several European vendors offering third-party access controls for use by carriers. The level of access control is incremental to a degree that we might find off-putting, but one that makes sense in a mobile environment. For instance, European mobile ratings include content rating levels for 12-, 14-, 16-, and then 18-year-olds and up. This is appropriate for carriers who market aggressively to minors but also want to provide adult customers with the content they desire. Their thinking is that 16-year-olds can handle certain content that the younger ages cannot, and so on and so on. This, of course, is a level of content control that is only available in an on-deck environment.

“On-deck” is content that is authorized and controlled by the carriers themselves. “Off-deck” is content that uses the carrier network but bypasses their content controls, and although there were no off-deck content producer speakers at the conference, they were in attendance. I spent half a day with one and, on his mobile device, witnessed firsthand the type and quality of content he can push today to devices in this country. He referred to himself as the most dangerous person at the event—and with good reason: Like an out-of-control affiliate, he bypasses traditional control mechanisms by using available networks to push his own content, and in the process takes a chunk of change from the carriers’ coffers. The quality of his streaming video was amazing, however, and when I queried him about age verification he insisted that his system was infinitely more responsible than even the carriers’ because he could push specific content to specific phones and knew precisely to whom he was delivering it. The fellow had other far more ambitious plans, but we will leave those “off deck” for the moment.

Another interesting facet of the event was the variety of attendees and their perspectives regarding mobile-wireless. Piccionelli said it reminded him of the adult Internet in 1996, when people were approaching the new distribution platform with differing ideas about how to harness it, and no one knew exactly how it was going to play out in mobile. This variety of perspectives is especially true with respect to traffic acquisition and end use.

For instance, some people were promoting mobile content solely as a marketing vehicle, with the intent to drive traffic to websites, while others were going the other direction, harnessing already established affiliate programs to push traffic to mobile offerings, promoting the immediacy and intimate experience that mobile devices provide. It remains to be seen whether each of these business models is viable, but it was clear that the integration of affiliate networking and adult mobile computing is already underway.

The promoters of the event say they plan another MACC event on the West Coast in about six months. Let’s hope they follow through with that, because what was also apparent about the many people who have developed products overseas for use here is that most were all but clueless about how affiliate networks operate or what their current legal liabilities might be, as well as what a secondary producer is. Simply put, we need one another.