How Real Is the Interest In Mobile Porn?
By Carlo Longino, Thu Mar 31 00:15:00 GMT 2005

Report after report cites the interest in mobile adult content -- the latest saying half of Korean mobile users have accessed such content. But the real potential remains unproven, and perhaps is far different than estimates.

Pornography and gambling can often be counted on as key drivers of new technology, with devoted and often high-spending audiences keen to jump on the latest advances. Mobile data is no different -- gambling is already on board, and porn is reportedly well on its way.

The latest claim giving a boost to mobile porn is that "one in two Koreans Bought Cell Phone Porn". The only problem, of course, is that they didn't. A South Korean politician created the fact by badly butchering some real numbers: operators there earned 113 billion won ($110.4 million dollars) from adult content, and given the average charge was 2,000 won ($1.95), the politician says there were as many as 18.7 million uses of the service. South Korea has 36.5 million mobile users, ergo half have bought porn. It doesn't take that guy from A Beautiful Mind to figure out that his math is more than a little screwy, but this isn't the first time a politician has bent numbers to advance a cause (legislation to restrict juvenile access to porn, it seems, in this case), and won't be the last.

In any case, the claim that half of Koreans have surfed porn is bogus, but the revenues are slightly interesting, working out to an average of about $3 per every subscriber in the market -- a metric porn purveyors in someplace like the US would certainly accept. But in any case, it's still not huge, and not in line with some expectations.

An analyst report did the rounds a few weeks back, saying mobile porn would be worth $10 billion worldwide by 2010, but that "adult services are not a killer application in waiting," thanks to the availability of free porn on the Internet and the "superior user experience" of fixed-Net porn.

Without wanting to get into specifics of the user experience of mobile versus fixed porn, the main reason porn won't blow up is because of operators, for any number of reasons. Many are handling porn pretty gingerly, not wanting to directly associate their brand with it, but still profit from it -- a situation made more difficult by both their age-verification polices (either voluntary or mandated) as well as their walled gardens.

Operators feel like they have to toe a fine line between making it hard for kids to access adult content, but not making it so restrictive that adults can't easily get to it. Of course, making customers go into a shop and say, "Yes, I want to get porn on my phone" probably isn't a great way to encourage use. And for operators that don't want to "officially" offer any porn, but still operate a walled garden, there's no way to monetize the traffic from adult content (nor any other adult content).

So while the public appetite for mobile porn may still be questionable, operators offer a more immediately tangible reason it may not be the next big thing.