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Don't Look Now (But You Probably Will): Porn Is Already Big Business In VR

Porn helped VHS vanquish Betamax and Blu-Ray beat HD DVD. Now it'll probably boost virtual reality.

Don't Look Now (But You Probably Will): Porn Is Already Big Business In VR
[Photo: Flickr user Leonard Lin]

If there’s one segment of the VR content industry that is banking on the highly immersive nature of the medium, well, of course it’s porn.

As has been well chronicled over the years, porn has always helped established new technology platforms. Witness how it helped VHS vanquish Betamax, and eventually did the same for Blu-Ray over HD DVD.

But now, despite statements by Facebook-owned Oculus that it will prohibit adult content on its official store for the high-end Rift VR headset, and promises of family-safe curation on the Oculus-powered mobile Samsung Gear VR, some in the porn industry argue that porn is already a mainstay of virtual reality, and in fact is making its producers and distributors big money as we speak.

To put it gently, VR has a whole lot of potential to change how people watch porn. After all, the whole point of virtual reality is that it brings viewers directly into the action. So while I shouldn’t have been surprised at what that meant, I wasn’t exactly prepared for exactly how immersive VR porn can actually be when I got a truly not-safe-for-work demo of some of Naughty America’s VR content at CES this week.

POV And VR A Match Made In Heaven

Let’s just say that since the video I saw was shot in the so-called POV—point-of-view—perspective, the approach of a couple of not-even-scantily-clad actresses in a "birthday surprise" scene was a rather apt demonstration of the medium. Up-close-and-personal would be seriously understating the case. A Naughty America PR person on hand for my demo was more than a little nervous at the prospect of showing a reporter such things.

Photo: Flickr user Maurizio Pesce

But NSFW details aside, the Naughty America demo, given in a very ritzy suite high above the Las Vegas Strip with views to die for, made it altogether clear why VR porn is going to be a leading revenue generator for the medium.

"Getting into VR has been something like a what-if for some time, because we knew it would be fantastic," said Ian Paul, Naughty America’s chief information officer. "Once the Oculus development kit came out, we realized this is possible and fast-tracked development of our VR product. We started releasing VR content in July of last year, and we’ve been monetizing on it for over half a year."

None of the major VR hardware companies—Oculus, Sony, Samsung, and HTC—are happy to admit it, but the naked truth is that there’s almost no way that they can keep porn off their platforms. Even Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said his company doesn’t want to police the un-curated corners of the Oculus universe.

"The official Oculus store is curated, and it’s not going to have adult content on it, but the Rift is open," Luckey told Fast Company in September. "Anyone can make an application for the Rift. There’s no vetting process, and that’s even been true of our development philosophy around our development kits. Our dev kits were not like Xbox or PlayStation…where they vet people under NDAs and send them hardware. We allow anyone to order a dev kit, download our SDK for free, and build whatever they want for it."

That’s music to the ears of Naughty America, one of the world’s largest makers and distributors of porn.

"We project that by the end of 2016, 10 to 20 million people will be viewing adult VR content at least once a month," said Paul. "Not always ours, but consuming" it.

That makes all the sense in the world, he said, particularly because many of the earliest VR adopters are gamers. And to Naughty America, and no doubt other porn producers, there’s a big crossover between gamers and porn consumers.

Looking For Other Content

"Someone’s not going to buy a VR device if it’s branded as an adult accessory," Paul said. "Gaming’s the reason [they buy]. Our demographic is very similar to gaming [read: mostly men] and they purchase their gear for gaming. But they’ll be looking for other content they can use their device for."

A report on the VR industry to be released next week seems to back this up. According to the survey from digital insights firm SimilarWeb, the virtual reality trends to watch in 2016 will mostly be porn.

For one thing, SimilarWeb concluded, porn may even help determine which VR platforms are the most successful.

"As with other new technologies porn has often influenced and been a driving factor in tech and the same can be true of VR," the survey concluded. "In this case, Facebook’s Oculus emerges as the big winner."

The firm’s data showed that between January and November of last year, Oculus got 16.7% of its traffic from referrals, and of that, 2.7% was from VR porn sites. "This accounted for about 126,000 total referral visits from porn sites," SimilarWeb wrote. "The same trend appears with Oculus competitor Homido. Of Homido’s 27.6% referral traffic, 51.4% came from virtualrealporn.com alone, accounting for about 82,000 visits."

All of this meant big growth for the VR porn industry. The report said that the top 10 VR porn sites enjoyed a 202% growth in traffic between January and November of last year.

Overall, VR across all genres is expected to be very, very big business. Analysts predict that by 2020, the entire virtual reality ecosystem will generate $30 billion in annual revenue, while VR content alone is expected to be worth $5.4 billion a year by 2025.

Paul agreed with the sentiment of the SimilarWeb report, noting that Naughty America thinks VR platform makers who embrace porn will end up winning the game.

"We think someone is going to open [their platform] up and take market share, because they’re open," Paul said. With Gear VR, "Samsung’s really trying to [produce] a curated experience for their users. But we think it will drive people to other devices."

That could happen sooner than anyone expected. An announcement at CES this week that Qualcomm is developing a new mobile chip that could enable many different manufacturers to make a VR headset as good as the Gear VR—and that would support any modern Android phone rather than just the high-end Samsung phones that work with the Gear VR—could speed up the development of new VR platforms.

Photo: Flickr user Olabi Makerspace

"If they continue to keep this ecosystem closed, they’re going to drive people to a dumb headset, like Google Cardboard, which doesn’t do anything," Paul argued. "There may be a manufacturer that comes out with an advanced dumb headset. If these manufacturers continue to close the ecosystem, they’re going to drive consumers to these (other) headsets."

Naughty America just wants to be helpful, Paul suggested, saying it would make plenty of sense for Samsung to offer a few adult channels. The Korean tech giant could even make some money by doing so. "Because we’re a subscription service," Paul said, "we can easily share revenue."

How Do People Get It?

So how do people get VR porn on what are in many ways closed systems? The answer lies in the fact that although there are attempts by Samsung, for example, with its Milk VR portal for Gear VR, to present a very controlled environment, there’s actually a side door in.

Anyone playing around with their Gear VR will notice a "Downloaded" section. So the trick, explained Paul, is to copy VR porn files onto their phone. Those clips will then appear in the Downloaded section of Milk VR.

The question is how people get the porn clips in the first place. While the so-called "tube" porn sites on the web offer an endless library of free adult content, Naughty America argues that its subscription model will dominate on VR. It charges $24.95 a month for unlimited access to its library—for the web, mobile, and VR—and doesn’t plan on offering one-offs or any free content. That’s because, Paul explained, free porn is supported by advertising, and he doesn’t think there are good ways to put advertising in VR content.

Others, like virtualrealporn.com (NSFW), may view things differently.

Give And Take

While Paul said that the major VR manufacturers don’t want to be known to be working with porn producers, there is a bit of back channel back and forth going on that benefits both sides.

"We have a dialogue with all the players," he claimed. "None want to be named, but they encourage us and give us feedback. And we’ve been able to share feedback with them."

So what has Naughty America heard from the VR platform companies?

"It’s mainly encouragement and pointing us to other vendors that can help us," Paul said. "For example, workflow for editing VR is time-consuming, and it’s important for us as we ramp up volume to be [efficient]. They know other vendors, and point us in the right direction. That’s very helpful."

At the same time, Paul said he and his team have offered feedback on things like the Gear VR about the device’s user interface that, shall we say, reflect the fact that many people may consume their VR porn lying down rather than sitting or standing upright, as would be the case with most VR content.

"I’ll leave it to you to articulate that," Paul said, a gleam in his eye.

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