I‘m in the “Android garden” at Mobile World Congress. A Google sponsored location situated between the convention halls, away from the aimless walkers and journalists trying to locate those shiny new phones to get their greasy mitts on.
It’s somewhere to grab a smoothie (with prunes in for some reason), recharge my dying laptop and bask in the Barcelona sunshine if only for a brief amount of time before I need head back inside to the madness.
Surrounded by businessman checking in on their phones, I’m sitting on a bench casually watching some porn on a Samsung Gear VR headset. In the middle of the day. It’s not exactly the place I’d expect to be as two women promise to give me the birthday gift I would never forget. But it happened and it felt very real.
Essential reading: Are we heading for mass addiction to VR fantasies?
The three scenes are taken from Naughty America, one of the biggest adult entertainment production companies in the US. It’s been providing men and women with premium quality videos since the early 2000s and lives by the slogan that “nobody does it better”.
Naughty America produced its first VR scene in July last year and now has a library of 30 scenes with one to two scenes now being added a week.”We normally have two types of reaction,” says Ian Paul, chief information officer at NA. “There’s the person that just goes ‘wow, that is amazing’ and the other person that gets up and forgets they’ve left their phone or laptop on the table.”
Ian hasn’t just turned up with a headset filled with naughtiness. He’s also armed with pieces of paper filled with stats about VR and porn. By the end of 2016, Naughty America expects 10-20 million people will view adult VR content at least once a month. According to report by financial institution Piper Jaffray, VR porn will be the third biggest VR sector after video games and NFL content and could be valued at $1b by 2025. That’s some big numbers.
I’m sure everyone remembers their first time, using a VR headset and it’s no different for Ian. He went out and bought a Gear VR headset to see what all the fuss was about, but for Naughty America, the love affair between VR and porn started way before that. “We had been dabbling in it prior to the release of the Gear VR with the Oculus developer kit”, he tells me. “It’s always something we wanted to do. Then we saw the Oculus was gaining traction and we were thinking, God, this could actually happen.”
Arriving early on the VR scene
The VR porn market is small at the moment, around 1-2% of the overall market, but that could all change in the near future. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets are going to enter homes in 2016. The prospect of a VR explosion and the early success of the Gear VR and Google Cardboard validates the company’s decision to embrace the immersive tech before others decide to jump in.
“We generally adopt new technologies when we feel the risk reward ratio is worth it,” says Paul. “We didn’t get into 3D TV because it felt like a gimmick to us. This felt legitimate so we decided to embrace it. It’s worked out in our favour. It’s already been profitable.”
Paul talks about the technology changing the landscape for viewers and while he doesn’t believe it’s going to entirely replace the way we watch porn completely, it’s certainly going to be a different way to view it.
Currently, Naughty America is the most high profile adult entertainment production company to start producing VR flicks, and I’m curious to find out why that’s the case. “In terms of the other companies in the industry, there’s a bit of putting their heads in the sand,” Paul tells me.
“XBiz magazine ran a poll and about half the people didn’t think it was going to be a serious thing. I think there’s a few companies who don’t know how to do it and are a little bit frightened by it. We feel the opposite. Anyone that has tried it is so blown away by it.”
There has been a more positive response from the actors and actresses shooting the scenes however. “These are seasoned professionals and they adapted to it pretty quickly,” Paul tells me. “We are shooting POV-style, so we ask them to treat it like a POV scene. To take advantage of the depth, because that’s something entirely new to the medium. Moving close and away from the camera a lot more than they would do normally.
It’s not that much more work than a typical scene. The challenge is the investment in figuring out what hardware you need to use to perfect the scene. The workflow for producing the footage that’s been shot, that is entirely separate. There’s different workstations, sets of editors, file sizes are bigger, storage costs are high. That’s where it gets complicated.”
Teaming up with Apple, Samsung and Sony
The biggest challenge Naughty America faces right is getting a little more support from the companies making the VR hardware and that’s it’s clearly not going to be easy. Currently Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR headsets are supported devices, but Samsung for instance doesn’t authorise adult content in its ecosystem.
But it’s not Samsung Paul has the biggest issue with though. “I’m more concerned about Sony. That’s a concern from me,” he says. “The gaming demographic is pretty much the same as our demographic. If Sony could support it all, it would be a slam dunk win. They’d have the gamers and the adult entertainment viewers and it would be perfect.
I think finally, culturally, we’ve gotten over it and we’re saying hey, we look at porn
Paul believes what has happened in the past fuels Sony’s reluctance to give porn its full backing. “They’ve gotten burnt twice by us. First by VHS and Betamax. Then Blu-ray versus HD-DVD. They lost with Betamax because it didn’t support adult entertainment. They almost lost with Blu-ray at the last hour and then they decided to support it. They’ve been burnt twice so you hope that the organisation would learn. Don’t do that again, but they probably will.”
Speculation that Apple will join the VR party in the future continues to bubble along and Naughty America believes the Cupertino company getting involved is a good thing, but we once again go back to that issue of support for adult content. “I imagine that Apple will be very closed in their device. That’s typically how Apple is. I don’t know how they are going to balance that.
The companies are faced with an interesting cultural situation. I think finally, culturally, we’ve gotten over it and we’re saying hey, we look at porn. It’s less of a taboo. The folks creating policy for these companies are still behind that curve. There’s a disconnect.”
The porn pirates
One thing that doesn’t seem to concern Paul is VR porn piracy. Nicking paid for videos and making them free for everyone to enjoy has been happening on the internet for years. It’s been so bad that it has closed some adult video production companies.
“People will pirate your content,” Paul says. “If you pull down your content, people are just going to forget about you. Those people aren’t our customers, so we’re not too worried about that. We’re more interested in seeing happen is the tube sites taking hit. The tube sites monetise on advertising, none of that money goes back to the performer. They are going to have a difficult time monetising and advertising on VR. Where are you going to put a banner ad? Even if they do, how do you click on it.
The content is already drying up. You see Pornhub trying to push Pornhub premium. The guy who likes porn, he doesn’t want to mess around finding porn. He doesn’t want the viruses or to waste the time.”
It comes as no surprise to hear what Paul hopes to see from the big year in VR. “We would really like a paid channel in the Samsung world or in another device’s world,” he says. “It would make sense for companies like Samsung to trust some brands that don’t go over the line.”
Paul talks about smart toys but that’s not for now. This year he expects more VR scenes and experimenting with different ways to shoot the content. Soon you’ll be joining the mile high club without having to pay for the plane ticket.