How pornography could save the digital media industry

A view through Soho's red light district

 In 2002, DVD sales surpassed VHS as the predominant home video format. On the 10-year anniversary of that milestone, media companies are still having a hard time adjusting to the digital world.

Publishers are still having trouble finding the right business model to get people to pay for access to content – should it be subscription or micro-payments?

The record labels, game developers, and movie makers are failing to tackle piracy adequately – should all content be free? Or should we litigate aggressively?

Most media companies are finding it hard to compete with the new distribution eco-systems and licensing frameworks in the digital age.

Even the consumer-rich pornography industry, as evidenced by Louis Theroux’s latest documentary on the BBC recently “Twilight of the Porn Stars”, is changing beyond recognition.

However, although the way businesses operate in the peculiar pornography industry may have changed unrecognisably in such a short period of time, people are still consuming more pornography online and paying more than ever before (apparently).

I have nothing but circumstantial evidence that points to this as user research is notoriously hard to come by, (I wonder why?) although the fact that some 12 per cent of the world’s bandwidth is used for these nefarious purposes is a key indicator of interest in the sector.

“Porn was a major driving force in establishing the Internet”

The fact of the matter is that the pornography industry has often had the dual role of driving future developments in technology and distribution, as well as being a pointer to the next generation of consumer consumption patterns.

Pornography companies (let’s call them ‘suppliers’) have always been innovating.  Porn was a major driving force in establishing the Internet (‘we want to see naked ladies in our own home’), in improving digital technologies (‘we want to see naked ladies in HD’) and speeding up broadband (‘we want to see naked ladies now’)

And the same suppliers are constantly creating innovative new distribution models, embracing new devices, developing new payment services…

So what’s the secret to their success?

Well, for one, their audience has not declined. There are more teen-aged boys logging on with every passing minute, and a preponderance of hand-held devices is making it easier to access and enjoy those services.

However, exactly the same set of circumstances is true of the gaming, music and film sectors, (more teenagers, more online time, more devices) and those media companies have not been able to leverage that to the same extent.

Where pornography suppliers have innovated is that they have concentrated on monetising their audience, not their content.

They have not decided to create the best, filmic quality content, or the best set of DVD extras and director’s commentary to improve the quality of the product and then push it out.  Nor have they increased their emphasis on copyright and licensing.

Rather they have looked objectively, whether by design or by accident, and thought “Who is my audience? How do I reach them? How do I get them to pay easily”? Other media sectors should take note.

If the media companies follow their lead, in 12 months we will see:

  • People paying to converse directly to movie stars in their own home via webcam
  • Music lovers no longer paying to own a track or album, but rather paying for music by the listen
  • Homemade films competing on an equal footing on home devices with mainstream releases
  • Mainstream Movies being distributed for free on YouTube and social networks in order to grow audience engagement for long term gain
  • Newspapers increasingly reducing their staff of journalists, instead, concentrating on aggregating news from bloggers and twitter feeds
  • Time-centric micro-payments based on how long you watch a movie for
  • More artists making a living from distributing their music directly to their audience

And my personal favourite:

  • In order to make search and discovery easier; a significant increase in the quality and accuracy of metadata across all digital media (the metadata for porn is comprehensive and clear –or so I hear)