Size Matters
By Niall McKay in Silicon Valley, Wed Feb 12 11:56:00 GMT 2003

It's not what you have but how you use it that counts.


You enter a bar. Sitting at the bar are two of the porn industry's hottest properties, Sophie Evans and Jodie Moore. You get to choose who you sit with. Perhaps you would like to chat. Most chaps will know that means buying a drink. Of course, it'll cost you. But if you buy her a drink, then she'll give you her number. If you call her then she will invite you to her room. Then she'll get busy. Eh... on her own.

It's not a fairytale romance - far from it. It's porn and it's coming to a mobile phone near you.

This is an MMS service offered by Europe's Private Media Group, a NASDAQ-listed erotic content provider, video producer and magazine publisher. "In this business reputation means everything," says David Jarvis, the company's director of wireless. "Everybody wants a reputable content partner because they don't want children or animals making an appearance on their networks."

Is That A Billion Dollar Market in Your Pocket Or ...


Certainly, porn is a market to get excited about, according to British research firm Visiongain, which estimates that sales of naughty material on wireless devices could grow as high as $4 billion by 2006, adding that porn would enhance the uptake of third-generation wireless services in Europe and the United States. What's more, if previous models such as video, DVD and the Internet are anything to go by, adult entertainment will account for as much as 80 percent of the early-adopter traffic.

That is not to say that it will be easy to be successful in this business. Those who make a go of it will have to understand the adult entertainment business, meet the technical challenges and offer compelling content. That means not simply taking existing content such as adult videos and putting them on a wireless platform. Certainly such foolishness would fail and would be the equivalent to using a video camera (when it came our some years ago) to simply tape a bunch of still photographs and call it a video. So it's not what you have in terms of adult content, but how you use it that counts in this business.

Still, Visiongain has a point. Porn buyers are the most consistent content consumers and seem only too glad to part with their hard-earned loot for some fun, even if the quality of the images are not all that it should be.

In Europe, for example, the smut business is already taking off. There are now dozens of SMS, MMS and WAP porn sites such as Eurowap.com, XXXwap.net, and Sexyamateur.com. In the US, the uptake has been slower, owing to more primitive wireless network technology, but still, sites such as SinPalm.com, Palmstories.com and Erotigo.com have sprung up in the last two to three years. Originally, these sites were constrained by the lack of advanced wireless networks, so they focused on offering stories and poor-quality black-and-white (or black-and-green) Gif images through PDA-dedicated sites such as Avantgo. Users would download the content to their PC and then sync their Palm device to it, however, with recent network upgrades, these companies are now well-positioned to take off.

It's Not the Size of the Ship...


But success in the smut business will be a great deal more difficult than simply taking naughty photographs and videos and pushing them out onto the wireless platform, according to Kevin Beedy, a partner in MK Multimedia, a Los Angeles-based web-design house that produces erotic content offerings for about 30 adult-entertainment companies.

"I wish it was that simple," says Beedy. "To convert a video clip for use on a website is easy - all you do is encode it for RealPlayer, Quicktime or Windows Media Player using one of the many software tools available."

However, to convert a video clip for a mobile platform is much more difficult, because data is not streamed but transferred in packets. "There are no good tools that will allow you to easily convert video into wireless video," says Beedy. "So first, you have to size down the video and reduce the resolution, then you have to adjust the audio to the lowest possible bit rate and finally you have to convert it into packets."

And that's just one element of the job. You still have to create your WAP site. This is also difficult. "Nokia, Ericsson and others offer software developer's kits for the wireless market, but they are not really usable," says Beedy.

He says that the only tool that comes close is DreamweaverMX which offers XTML editor but the code it produces is so buggy that you have to go back rewrite a great deal of it. "It's easier to hand-code everything in SHTML and WML," says Beedy.

Certainly, US cellular video offerings are limited. Las Vegas-based PocketJoy.com is one of the few companies offering standalone adult wireless video offerings. Most of the adult content providers such as porn star Serenity(an MK Multimedia client) and Penthouse.com use their wireless sites to promote stars, sell related products or to attract the customer to their Internet sites.

"Our clients believe that we are just not there yet," says Beedy. "In the US, we're in about the same place with cellular networks today as we were with the Internet in 1994."

Still, says Beedy, even if the networks were ready, the operators still have a long way to go because they don't offer services such as SMS reverse billing. This allows customers to buy goods with their phone and be billed by their provider. Furthermore, it will be some time before such services are offered in the US, as there are still inter-carrier SMS compatibility issues.

But Beedy's company is pushing forward with m-commerce. "We are working on the system that will enable our customers to go to Getserentity.com and buy Serenity's line of novelty toys," he says. In Europe, content providers have a much easier time of it. Operators there are equipped to handle reverse SMS messages, allowing content companies to sell a range of products and services. "Not only do we sell content via SMS but we can also sell our magazines via SMS," says Jarvis.

However, Jarvis is also unhappy with the carriers' approach to the business, as they take third of his revenue. "We charge our customers about GBP1.50 for an SMS message," says Jarvis. "The operators will take 50 pence of that." Furthermore the carriers only settle their bill once a month.

Overcome these technical issues and you still have a slim chance of succeeding if you don't understand the adult content business and the mobile business, according to Jarvis.

Getting' Down... to Business


"The (mobile) telco operators tell us that video is coming to the cell phone," he says. "I say, 'Good for video, but you guys don't understand the erotic content business. You can't just dump porno film on to a phone and think that it will sell.'"

According to Jarvis, television networks provide a good example. "They should deliver the content and leave the content creation up to the people that understand the entertainment business," he says. "Like the television stations who leave the programming up to the production companies."

Private Media does not just sell erotic content on handsets. Indeed, it understands the erotic content business better than that. It always tries to use the interactive element to titillate the users, and if possible, sell them on another service. For example, another game offered by the company is an animated-Gif MMS where porn star Jodie Moore asks the wireless voyeur a question. Get the question right, and she'll take off an item of clothing. When she is completely naked, the user will be asked to pay a fee and she'll get busy. But she'll also give them a code number which they can then use online to get access to a "private" Web session.

"The consumer isn't just watching a video." says Jarvis. "He interacts with Jodie and he gets the chance to remove her top, but most importantly there is an upsell to Internet content."

Other businesses like Position Calculator employ interactivity. Position Calculator is a sort of handheld Kama Sutra, where the user answers a series of questions and is then given detailed instructions for new and unusual sexual positions, as well as graphic illustrations. Erotigo is helping would-be porn buyers and strip-club aficionados in New York City find discrete services with the push of a button. The company, whose tag line is "Sex in the palm of your hand," is following in the footsteps of a similar service in Britain called Puntersearch, a prostitute finder (which allows users to search by location or personal attribute).

Still, if Japan is anything to go by, this is only the beginning. It is likely that there will be a whole slew of location-based services offering to transform the user from a virtual to a physical consumer. And that is not even taking into consideration the goodies (if you can call them that) offered by wireless video conferencing. The mind boggles.



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Niall McKay is a freelance write based in Silicon Valley California. He can be reached at www.niall.org