Cell phone the newest frontier for porn

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pornography is going mobile.

That means the increased possibility of erotic, adult content anytime, anywhere.

The $10 billion adult entertainment industry has all but conquered the world of magazines, home movies and the Internet. Now, telecommunications experts say it's coming soon to a wireless phone near you.

Already popular in Asia and Europe, wireless adult content could generate $1 billion to $6.5 billion in revenue within the next few years, say experts who predict that it will soon invade the U.S. market, as new technology hitting the States makes it possible for people to swap pictures, browse the Web, instant message and stream video all on one phone.

"It's going to be a big thing," said telecom analyst Alan A. Reiter of Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase. "This is not a surprise. It's been coming for years. Although cellular operators generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, they're still looking for profits. Pornography is seen as a potential profit maker. It's not something any carrier really wants to do, but they may feel it would be justified because of the revenue stream it offers."

Pornography has long been the accelerator behind the adoption of many new technologies, such as cable television, the videocassette recorder, DVDs and the Internet. Experts say adult content also could drive people toward buying new "smart" phones, known as third-generation, or 3G, phones, such as the Nokia 6620 and the Sanyo VM4500 video phones.

Wireless data -- which includes text messaging, ring tones and anything else that's available on cell phones besides voice -- makes up less than 3 percent of the industry's annual $81 billion revenue, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. But industry experts say the importance of wireless content is growing.

That point has not been lost on people like Jack Samad, senior vice president of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families in Cincinnati.

"I call it sex in the palm of your hand," said Samad, who tracks new technologies for the anti-porn group. "We are on top of it. We know the threat. We see wireless porn as an alarming issue, and we see the trend mostly hitting the younger generation."

The alluring profit to be made off wireless pornography is hard to ignore. Strategy Analytics, a Massachusetts research and consulting firm, predicted that wireless porn will generate $1 billion in 2008. Other estimates show that mobile adult content could generate revenue of about $791 million by 2006, according to Britain-based Juniper Research in a study released in December.

"I think mobile phones will be the next medium that adult content will conquer," said Adi McAbian, managing director of WAAT Media in California, a telecom firm that offers adult content to European cellular subscribers.

After brainstorming with college friends about how to make money during the dot-com boom several years ago, Tony O'Neill began offering titillating text to owners of personal digital assistants. At the time, 10,000 PDA owners signed up for a free subscription to read four salacious stories a day, five days a week.

When the stories took off, the San Jose, Calif., twenty-something knew he had found a niche market for PalmStories.com.

"People started e-mailing us, wanting images," O'Neill said. "So in the summer of 2000, we introduced the images. The pictures were grainy, the screens were small, but the images were decent. The cool thing is that pocket PCs are much better at displaying video and full color images now, they process data faster and they're truly mobile. As new technology comes out, we've been riding the wave. The sky's the limit."

O'Neill won't reveal how many paying subscribers he's got, but back in 2001, PalmStories had 700 to 1,000 people who were paying $5.95 a month for a subscription. The fee is up to $7.95 a month.

He also won't talk about how much he makes, but said the cost of delivering content is mere pennies per megabyte.

"It's very profitable," O'Neill said. "We've never operated at a loss. We had a slow down when the dot-com bubble burst, but we've seen a big up-tick."

As picture quality and connection speeds improve on wireless devices, O'Neill said he will start offering streaming videos made specifically for the small screen.

Other adult-content providers have started offering a risque menu of minuscule images, from home-grown types like Danni's Hardrive, one of the world's most visited adult entertainment sites on the Internet, to heavy hitters like Playboy and Penthouse.

WAAT has partnerships with overseas wireless carriers who provide access to Vivid Entertainment's pornographic content directly through their private wireless network portals, which is often used to send other content such as text messages or photographs.

But industry experts and content providers say that kind of cozy relationship won't be easy to attain here in the United States.

Despite the adult entertainment industry's increasing success at pushing pornography toward a more mainstream audience, the social and moral implications of a carrier offering wireless adult content would still be a formidable obstacle for many U.S. companies.

A more likely scenario in the United States would have cellular subscribers connecting to adult content sites on the Internet and paying those providers with a credit card. U.S. wireless carriers would benefit from the time a subscriber spent downloading images, experts said.

U.S. carriers say they have no plans to offer adult content to subscribers, but they also do not prevent subscribers from linking to adult content sites.

"We have an open infrastructure that allows customers to access any type of information they want, but we certainly don't advocate or endorse that type of content," said Dan Wilinsky, a Sprint spokesman. "We don't have any plans to offer that content, but we are studying potential parental controls for our phones."

But will the temptation of profits sway carriers?

"Cellular operators are pondering the issue of adult content, but they certainly don't want to publicize that," Reiter said. "No one really wants to be the first carrier to offer that kind of content on their private network."

Even those who are counting on its success have doubts that pornography will ever conquer the wireless world like it has the Internet.

"Imagine the nightmare of parents buying their kids a Sprint PCS phone with adult content on there," O'Neill said. "I'm not counting on that happening here. It's a niche market."

Samad, of the anti-porn group, takes little comfort in the current uncertainty behind wireless pornography.

As U.S. carriers race toward upgrading their high-speed Internet connections, he believes that it's only a matter of time before the annoying guy next to you in a restaurant isn't just talking loudly on a wireless phone, he's also downloading porn.

"The cat is out of the bag," Samad said.

More factors

Men admitting to accessing pornography at work: 20%

Women admitting to accessing pornography at work: 13%

U.S. adults who regularly visit Internet pornography Web sites: 40 million

Breakdown of male/female visitors to pornography sites: 72% male - 28% female

Porn revenue is larger than combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.

U.S. Porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of television networks ABC, CBS, and NBC ($6.2 billion)

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