5 things the porn industry can teach marketers about VR

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Forget CES. The Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas is where you'll see the future of entertainment technologies.

It’s not something Silicon Valley boasts about, but the truth is that the porn industry often leads the way in the innovative use of new technologies.

From Super 8mm film projectors to home VHS players to Blu-Ray discs to online streaming, porn companies have always been at the forefront of new entertainment formats. 

These days, virtual reality is the hot new tech, and porn companies are embracing it with unparalleled enthusiasm. For the past two years, several adult entertainment studios have been exploring how best to use VR for X-rated films and experiences—and, in the process, have made a few discoveries that other industries could learn from.

1. Seed the market with hardware
When fans walked into the Adult Entertainment Expo this month, they were handed a VR headset before they saw their first live performer. And unlike many other giveaways at the trade show, few people discarded the somewhat bulky boxes before they left. 

Porn companies know that consumers, no matter how interested they are in VR, don't want to shell out hundreds of dollars for hardware—and they're not likely to seek out less expensive headsets (like Google Cardboard or Hollar) on their own.

But by ensuring that the target audience has the hardware it needs to view the content, porn companies create goodwill with their customers, who, in turn, are more willing to try watching one of their films. And, unintentionally, that distribution of hardware can also help other industries exploring the space.

"What we're essentially doing is building a customer base and we're transitioning that to other industries," said Jeff Dillon, Director of Business Development at Gamelink. "Once you view VR here, you're willing to try it in other fields." 

2. Give away content
Porn companies realize a large percentage of their customer base doesn't pay for content. So the way to convince them to pay for VR is to show them what they're missing.

"If you've purchased video on demand from us in the past, we've put a movie in your library and sent you an email saying, 'Here's a VR movie, compliments of this studio, check it out'," said Dillon.

So far, that model has worked. Companies that create porn VR films say their efforts in the space have been profitable, something that's increasingly rare in the adult film industry these days.

"We have seen extremely rapid growth," said Anna Lee, president of HoloFilm Productions. "People are buying porn again, which is amazing." 

3. Surround the viewer with the experience
The best VR films engage their audience, whether with emotion or a sense of adrenaline. Doing that successfully, though, isn't easy. Dillon notes that it's not just the center of attention that needs the director's focus. Little things, like ambient noises in the background, can go a long way toward making people believe they're actually in the virtual world.

The trick, say VR studios, is to remember the viewer has assumed the role of an active participant within your content. 

"Whether you like it or not, the viewer becomes part of the scene," said Lee. "If you create a feeling of intimacy - and not sexual intimacy, but a connection with the viewer - you're going to sell the product."

4. Resist the temptation to shoot the same content again and again
Too often in VR films, whether adult, advertising or otherwise, filmmakers have the unfortunate habit of repeating what works. If users express an appreciation for one sort of offering, content companies will rush to reproduce it.

Porn companies fell into that trap early on, repeatedly making point-of-view films (where the actress maintains eye contact with the camera, intimating the sex you’re watching is being performed on you). Realizing the technology was at risk of becoming a fad, though, they quickly expanded their film types to include letting visitors be a voyeur at a group experience or interacting one-on-one with a live model, which broadened the audience. 

5. Don't be afraid to charge a premium
There's a thin line between capitalizing on a new technology and charging too much. While many industries, like advertising, have no plans to charge for VR content, hoping to leverage its appeal to drive people to real-world transactions, content companies looking to make a profit shouldn't be afraid to charge more than they would for traditional entertainment.

AliceX, for example, lets people interact in real time with a live cam model. There's a free model, which is fairly sedate. But to enter the "private" or "exclusive" modes with those models, which is when they're more likely to perform sex acts, requires a per-minute fee. "Private" access, which is shared with a limited number of viewers, costs between $7 and $8 per minute, while "exclusive access" runs a jaw-dropping $36 and up per minute.

"We’re targeting this niche [of people] with a high level of disposable income," said Fabian Grey, CEO of AliceX. 

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