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Steve Hirsch: “The average attention span is three to five minutes. We have to cater to that”

Chelsea Blacker wriyes on As Howard Stern’s intern I spent months at the center of the adult entertainment industry meeting the people who have conquered an incredibly competitive niche. Everyone already knows porn pushes the boundaries on technology to deliver content to eager consumers, but how is this technological push fairing online and where is the evidence of its next movement?

According to Google trends, more people are searching for the keyword “porn” than in previous years:

And yet if you look at the Alexa rankings (formulated on pageviews & time spent on site) for pornographic websites, they continue to be pushed further down by social networking sites. Of the top 100 sites today, only four are pornography websites:
Alex Rank January 2008* Alexa Rank July 2009 20 >100
You 30 47 62 65 – 67 – 72

Clearly, the proportion of people searching for porn related material is growing at a smaller rate than the overall online population. In comparison to the number of people getting online, there is less activity in the sex industry and more for social networking and communication. In short, the Internet is no longer the seedy back alley it was in 1995.

So if it’s not growing in number of pageviews, in what way is the adult industry expanding? What’s the next horizon? Long tail keyword satisfaction is one way. With so many subcultures and genres, porn sites have been doing an amazing job catching those specific interests ranging between everything from furries to adult babies, Gorians to Amazons.

In word tracker, the term “dirty” produces a list of 100 most searched for keyword terms. Among these 100 keyword terms, 46 of them are made up of 3 or more words; averaging between 2,535 and 159 clicks per day according to Google’s daily estimate. That’s a lot of high volume, incredibly specific for long tail keyword terms.


And how is adult content monetizing on these finely tuned audiences? According to major movie studios like Vivid and Digital Playground, the answer is in subscriptions for films with less of a plot line and more sex scenes. Especially in their free online content that they hope to convert into paying subscribers Vivid has found that audiences want to see the action without the foreplay, cutting to the chase as quickly as possible.

This certainly resonates with me as an internet marketer, supplying visitors with a taste of what they want before asking them to sign up/purchase/download (however you measure conversions). Steven Hirsch, co-chairman of Vivid also spoke about catering to short attention spans and the need to constantly promote fresh content, “The average attention span is three to five minutes. We have to cater to that.” Like with any good site, producing new content keeps visitors returning frequently, which Vivid is trying to convert into paid subscribers.

However, a quick browse over the free video site makes me think Hirsch’s convictions about short spurts of content have less to do with visitor interest, and more to do with the fact his company is trying to sell subscriptions to content which users like me can get for free on YouPorn. The second most popular video on YouPorn with over 1.3 million hits is over 30 minutes long! Clearly attention spans can be captured lo, credit card details on paid sites like Vivid are struggling.
Finally, what is next?

Porn conquered the internet, was on the cutting edge of streaming video, where is the industry to go? The answer is social networking sites for outreach, mobile phones for personal contact, and virtual worlds for experimentation.

Regarding social media – Twitter, Tumblr, and Jaiku are crawling with pretty lonely girls with 1 avatar photo and hundreds of followers. Stumble Upon has an entire many tags based on erotica, erotica stories, and nudity. And online communities like “adultfriendfinder” are entirely dedicated to satisfying certain tastes and connecting with likeminded users.

As more users sign up for mobile internet, the mobile market continues to grow. Sites like and affiliate portals including Brazzers have mobile sites geared specifically to customers on the move. There are even vibrating iPhone apps!

What I’ve found most interesting is the virtual worlds where anonymity means users may cloak their long tail sexual interests. Most notably, Second Life has become a bastion of sorts for Furries, people who identify and live by an animal alias. In Second Life, furries can live out their fantasies and connect with others interested in the same erm… activities.

Lets take a step back on from the furries to look at virtual role playing in general – How can marketers move forward interacting with people so engaged with a bunch of pixels? In the same way Facebook developers are now making widgets, virtual reality users are willing to pay to customize their virtual lives. So creating those customized accents, which in turn promote client products, are definitely a winning game plan.

In the case of Second Life, there is an application to create custom genitalia called SexGen. The creator Kevin Alderman, proclaimed to be “Second Life’s Porn Mogul”, explains “the group members and the supporters are really the driving force. They tell us what they would like to see and we do our damnedest to make it happen.”

And isn’t that what we all need to be focusing on? Customizable answers for the increasingly choosey consumer. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling genitalia for a giant purple fox avatar or something a little more mainstream, pin pointing customers increasingly specific needs is the goal. Social media is clearly the method of outreach, the adult industry is utilizing those social networking sites. However, the film studios clearly have an up hill battle – with so much free content online often submitted by anyone with a video camera, they’ll have to convince consumers their product is worth the money.

Ultimately, the adult industry is changing tracks from subscription based online havens to user-generated content. Content from sites like youporn and what can be found in virtual worlds and online networks reflects how users can connect directly and be in control of how content evolves.


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