This article originally ran in the July 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
In the eyes of some, the 2D porn era is on its way out, much the same way VHS, DVDs and downloads have been eclipsed by online streaming via mobile devices. Is the hype around VR porn, teledildonics, haptic devices, holograms and the other forms of futuristic adult entertainment justified, or will it fade out as quickly as it has sparked interest?
There is no doubt that these areas are currently creating a lot of heat, but what savvy business owners want to know is whether there is real money to be made from all these cool new toys.
“I think some of it is hype and some of isn’t,” said Paul Samuels, director of marketing for UFeel.tv, a site that calls itself “the first ever interactive adult channel” and offers content that syncs with the Vstroker, Kiiroo and Fleshlight Launch. “Also, when you are talking about VR porn, teledildonics, haptic devices and holograms, you are talking about really completely different things. Customers who like VR porn, for example, may very well have no interest in interactive sex toys. The margins on the interactive devices are generally pretty slim, so the majority of the money is going to be made on the content.”
For some the rise of these new markets is already happening and the profits from them are considerable. “The Fleshlight Launch has already proven to be a game-changer for us in the world of interactive devices,” explained Kristen Kaye of Fleshlight. “Based on the nature of our business—manufacturing and selling products—we see it as a highly viable new market with the ability to sync content offerings including live entertainment to create new revenue streams above and beyond the sale value of the devices themselves. Giving people the ability to fulfill their fantasies with something like the Interactive Fleshlight Launch is proving to generate real revenue in our market right now while some of the other VR and AI segments continue to struggle with gaining wider adoption of headsets that seem to require the cost of production to drop before consumers will be able to acquire them at a desirable price point. People will eventually understand how amazing and easily accessible this type of entertainment can be, but it does seem that device sales will still need to outpace content adoption for a while to come.”
Those who were among the first to act on the live VR trend are already seeing real rewards. “At this point, I think VR is a successful, proven sector of the adult market,” said Ela Darling of CAM4VR. “Even though the VR market is still new, there are several companies already making a lot of money and amassing a dedicated fan base. VR headset sales doubled between 2016 and 2017 and are expected to double again between 2017 and 2018. Headsets are getting cheaper, better, and more accessible while CAM4VR is seeing more VR users and more engagement in virtual reality every month. There is already real money in teledildonics—just ask a camgirl. Kiiroo, Lovense, and other similar devices are also giving cam performers an edge by allowing users a greater degree of connection and sexual reciprocity.”
Terpon is a company that is tightly focused on leading the way toward faster acquisition of VR headsets and webcam devices by consumers. The company sees hardware and content as a “chicken and egg” equation. Too little content makes selling hardware a challenge and not enough hardware distribution makes selling content more difficult. To solve the paradox, Terpon believes companies will have to address both elements at the same time.
“Adult entertainment is about content and hardware,” explained Jean-Claude Artonne, CEO of Terpon. “New technologies require specific hardware (smart toys, haptics, glasses, new cameras), which creates new opportunities for hardware and distribution companies. However those devices will all require enriched content with metadata to take advantage of the new possibilities the hardware provides. Terpon is joining together with companies like Kiiroo to build technical standards for device communication in the industry. As always, standards do take time but companies with vision understand that cooperating to develop these foundational elements of the nascent market is critical. Controlling the metadata and using APIs for the toys and other devices will require licenses (free or not), and will give better protection to content producers who want to benefit from XXX 2.0 without the same kinds of piracy obstacles that soured many in an earlier era.”
Still, many worry that even if VR and AI do reach a point of critical mass in the future the way mobile has in the recent past, it will quickly be dominated by “mainstream” interests as well. Mobile has been a big growth area for porn, but nothing remotely close to the kind of growth seen by app stores like iTunes and Google Play. So, if the pie does get considerably larger thanks to these new technologies, can business owners safely invest in them without worry that their gains will quickly be taken over or restricted by monolithic companies from mainstream?
“Yes, VR is a mainstream technology,” Terpon’s Artonne answered emphatically. “However, porn has a unique advantage much like it did when motivating customers to acquire or adopt other innovations. That is a major part of why we believe it is crucial for the industry to participate in the creation of the technology itself. As an example, some cam sites offer the possibility to develop personal filters and tools. I believe that if we can give some space to tech-savvy customers to develop apps and APIs for the new tech products we launch, it may give content producers a lot more tools to generate exclusive and innovative productions. While we can’t truly predict if the technology will eventually be led by porn or mainstream, what we can predict is that the leverage of consumers will determine the outcome … and I think porn has a huge advantage when it comes to holding the attention of consumers.”
“Porn is always going to be special, no matter how you watch it,” agreed Daniel Abramovich, CEO of VRBangers.com. “There is a viewer for every kind of porn out there. I think a massive mainstream budget won’t really matter; it’s the intimacy and that special moment that everyone is waiting for which will determine how the market is shaped. Porn is a trendsetter, where one day POV is the hottest thing and the next day stepmoms are the focus of millions of fans. It’s only a matter of time until major revenue streams go into full speed. While we are already doing well, we also understand that once people catch up with the technology, revenue streams will reach a whole different level.”
But some standing on the sidelines are wondering, “Haven’t we been hearing about VR for a couple years now? Wouldn’t the monumental explosion of growth have already happened if it ever were really going to come?”
“It’s easy to feel like we’re stagnating if you aren’t engaged in the field,” countered CAM4’s Darling. ”It has only been a year since the consumer versions of the major VR headsets were released. I started creating adult VR content three years ago, but for the first two years the only people who could consume it were people with development kits. At this point, it’s just a matter of growing the VR user base, which will happen (and is already happening) as big companies invest money and intellectual property into the space.”
Anna Lee is the president of HoloFilm Productions and a leading director of cutting-edge content. The company’s work includes the VR of today and some very interesting new formats that go beyond what is already out there on the consumer market. From her point of view, the industry is now poised for the start of something special. “This sector is definitely one of the fastest evolving that I have witnessed thus far in my ten-plus years in the adult tech space. Think of this as the AOL dial-up days of VR. The future is VR/AR/AI and porn is the perfect platform for that. In porn, particularly POV porn, you have the central character (YOU) interacting with the other performers, and there lies the critical piece of the puzzle. YOU are the central character in the narrative. Mainstream film rarely relies on a POV perspective in narrative and because of this the VR that I have seen coming out from non-adult has not had the immersive impact that porn has had already—close, intimate, direct, stereoscopic scenes shot in proper frame rates with close attention to scaling that VR porn considers must-haves when creating content. Mainstream will help to grow the market—but they always come looking for porn in the end.”
So if VR is already on its way, making money as we speak, and devices are gaining a strong paying audience as well … what comes next? “The next era will be all about intuitive connectivity,” opines Lauren MacEwen, CEO and chief social media strategist of 7Veils.com. “The amount of data out there is incredible. For instance, using the link shortener I developed at tis.xxx, we are already able to see the Mac addresses of users clicking links. This tells us when someone was looking at a site but changing devices. Being able to anticipate or react to user behavior will alter how the user engages with content. For instance, connect the user behavior to their Twitter account, and when they are tweeting from a mobile device, tweet them something they can do or look at that is appropriate to that experience. With intuitive connectivity, content creation will become a real-time dynamic dialogue in ways even traditionally 2D cam shows can’t match.”
“I think the next big thing is going to be interactive toys,” said Paul of UFeel.tv. “It is still in its infancy, and as the devices get better and cheaper, more people will get on board. The content for these interactive devices has to be good for the experience to be immersive. At UFeel.tv we shoot all our content knowing it is going to work with interactive devices. This is a much different experience than if you have an interactive device and try to retrofit content that wasn’t shot with the interactive element in mind.”
“The next big thing will be mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR),” replied Abramovich of VRBangers.com. “Once we get to a point where those two get combined with porn and become affordable to everyone, then the porn industry will change forever. You would have the option to have virtual girlfriends on a whole different level. We’ve also created a new kind of tube site called Laidhub.com, which offers VR porn at the press of a button on your mobile device. The user doesn’t have to download anything and can simply stream VR porn anywhere in the world using our custom VR player. That kind of tech is already changing how content gets consumed.”
Still, even among veteran content creators, affiliates and distributors, educating people on a B2B level and on a consumer level remains a major hindrance to these new trends gaining traction. Especially with things like cheap cardboard goggles on the market blurring the lines between actual VR and a significantly diminished experience calling itself the same thing while providing a much lower-quality experience than other higher-end devices already on the market.
“I strongly encourage you to try VR on at least a mid-quality headset (you can find a decent phone-mounted device as cheap as $25),” suggested Darling. “Try content from different producers before you make any sweeping judgments on how impactful adult VR is going to be. I’ve spent time producing every sort of content imaginable in adult VR and I truly believe that VR cams are the wave of the future.”
That always leads back to the question of how someone can get started in these new business verticals. Up until even a few months ago, getting anything going in VR or with haptics was a very expensive proposition. Now that too is starting to change. “For those interested in dipping their toes into the VR porn market, we have our award-winning library available for licensing,” offered Anna of HoloFilm Productions. “Furthermore, we are now also selling the rigs used to create our content for producers interested in avoiding some of the expensive mistakes that we made in the beginning.”
The market is maturing, and best of all, mature audiences everywhere may soon be paying significant revenue to trend-setting companies for the future of interactive sex.