According to sociologist Jean Baudrilliard, at the heart of pornography is sexuality haunted by its own disappearance. At the heart of the pornography industry, however, is a group of entrepreneurs who are turning to data analytics for penetrating insights into the viewing habits of their customers as quickly as their hairy palms will allow.
The pornography industry is besieged with the same problem that the music industry has faced since Sean Parker released Napster: with so much of their content now freely available online, nobody wants to pay for it anymore. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that they have a clientele who are particularly reticent to leave a digital footprint of their sexual proclivities for fear of others, spouses in particular, finding it.
This has had heavy financial implications. As a result of the explosion in free sites, global revenue in the industry fell by 50% between 2007 and 2011. Kink.com, a San Francisco porn conglomerate that had 205 million page views in 2013, made its first ever loss in 2011.
Despite this, pornography still accounts for 30% of all data transferred over the internet. Porn sites get more visitors per month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Manwin, which owns most online adult sites, including Brazzers and RealityKings, receives in the region of 16 billion visitors per month.
With so much data available about the tastes of their customers, it is a prime example of an industry that could embrace Big Data as a resource for harnessing customer insights that improve their functionality and drive their clientele down revenue making streams. The key to survival now for adult websites is retaining the customers they still have, and attempting to find something they can offer that free sites can’t. Free sites such as YouPorn, on the other hand, are using them to drive visitors towards their fee paying options. This is made possible by the personalized service that analytics can enable, and many companies are now using it to leverage actionable insights.
Adult film production studio Pink Visual, for one, has analyzed user data to discover who is accessing their higher-quality videos, and now streams its sites via Wi-Fi as they are better equipped to deal with the bandwidth loads. It has also learned to look at which countries have a high level of traffic but are producing limited financial returns, and can subsequently block such regions to free up bandwidth.
Websites can also look at what time their users are logging on, and target viewers with offers and special shows, particularly the live-cam sites. Some argue that the industry is too segmented for analytics to be of use, with the whim-like nature of most consumers’ fantasies meaning that any insights gathered fast become irrelevant. These whims, however, can also be seen as trends when analytics are applied, and by following them, websites can keep on top of what’s popular, and even predict it ahead of time. Analytics have even enabled producers to get an idea of what kind of star or starlet their customers are looking for.
There could also be an opportunity for more run of the mill companies to exploit the insights garnered from pornography. Sex sells, and an understanding of the sexual appetites of certain demographics and regions could be of an advantage to advertisers. Peter Acworth, founder of Kink.com, has argued that advertisers would have little interest in the personal data they garner, telling NPR.org: “Who would want to buy data pertaining to whether somebody likes bondage or spanking?" But third party advertising companies are tracking them in their hundreds, and this could be another potential revenue stream.
The porn industry has faced massive upheaval before. Indeed, it is often one of the driving forces behind the early growth of new viewing formats, from the VCR to cable television, and ironically the World Wide Web, and the public’s appetite for their wares means it will be interesting to see how the industry adapts to the new challenges facing them.