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Adult entertainment industry looks to file-sharing

Industry Standard

(IDG) -- While the music industry sweats bullets over the threat from file-sharing programs like Napster, Freenet and Gnutella, the folks over in adult entertainment are greeting the juggernaut with a good deal less concern. In fact, with something approaching ... elation?

"It could be a major benefit for us," says David Schlesinger, VP for Internet marketing at Vivid Video, a leading maker of pornographic videos. "If surfers find a snippet from a movie, it might entice them into buying the whole tape. We can actually turn these shared files into mini-infomercials."

Nor is Vivid alone in its optimism. "I have been contacted by several porn companies who expressed their support for Freenet," reports Ian Clarke, Freenet's founder.

On the demand side, porn content certainly generates enthusiasm. As has been the case with almost every new Internet application, from Webcams to chat rooms, porn was among the first purposes to which the file-swapping technology was adapted. And it continues to be a major draw. Gene Kan, lead programmer of Gnutella, estimates that "searches for porn are a good chunk of searches -- around 30 percent at last check."

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And within the pornography world, there are, in microcosm, the two prevailing views toward these new technologies that divide the content-providing world. Vivid is looking to use file-swapping to build up interest in the product, while Wicked Pictures, another industry leader, is hoping that tough enforcement can protect its intellectual property.

"It's unfortunate that people haven't been forward-thinking enough to come up with a commerce model for file sharing that makes sense," Schlesinger says. Speaking of media companies in general, he says, "There must be at least a dozen ways that they could make a ton of money, and pay the artists money, as well."

As to what Vivid's model will be, Schlesinger can't say as yet. "Right now, we're getting our guns loaded," he says. "We've definitely been exploring the technologies out there, and when the market dictates that it's time to get aggressive on this, we will. We'll have a loaded gun in our pocket."

Unlike songs, which can be downloaded in all their digital glory in a matter of minutes on a fast connection, video consumes such vast quantities of memory that a fuzzy, postage stamp-sized version of a feature can take hours. Heralded improvements in technology will make only incremental improvements in the situation, at least in the short term.

That means that downloadable video clips are by their very nature more suited to arousing the consumer's urges than satisfying them. The more they bounce around the Internet, the more they spread the message about a film company's product, creating a de facto viral marketing campaign.

Vivid already provides full-length, RealPlayer versions of its films at its Web site, Vividvideo.com. As in any streaming video, movement is jerky, sound is poor to nonexistent, and images are fuzzy -- but they provide site members with a way to preview each film the company has released. Later this month, Wicked Pictures will hop on the bandwagon, offering streaming versions of its films at a new side, Wickedod.com.

But what about the future? What about the day when monster bandwidth means that downloading a full-length, full-quality porn feature will be as quick and easy as bootlegging a Metallica CD is today?

"It's definitely something to worry about," says Joy King, VP of Wicked. "If we can't protect our copyright interests, it's just a big free-for-all. Our content is our asset, so for people to take it and share it defeats our purpose as a company."

Wicked already takes elaborate steps to thwart unauthorized distribution of its still images and film clips. Pictures on its site are copy protected, its streaming video cannot be copied, and its DVDs employ two different protocols to prevent their content from being uploaded and disseminated on the Internet.

The company also employs both an in-house attorney and an outside consultant to pursue Webmasters who pirate Wicked content. But when it comes to pursuing the small fry -- individual anonymous posters who make pirated material available on the Internet, whether through the Usenet or file sharing -- King confesses to being helpless. "It's virtually impossible for us to find everyone who does that."

And that's why, in the long term, advancements in Internet technology are so potentially frightening to King. "If people develop a way to distribute our content to a mass market," she says, "that will put us out of business."

But at Vivid, Schlesinger remains determinedly optimistic.

"If I give you a snippet of one of my cutest girls in a hot scene, it's only going to create an incentive for you to rent or buy the video," he says. "I think it will behoove the adult industry to release scenes online to get some exposure for our stuff and create a buzz."




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