HD DVD or Blu-ray? Even the Porn Industry Won't Touch It
by Bryan Gardiner - ExtremeTech
It's a dirty little secret that's not all that dirty (or secretive)
for those who follow technology trends. The porn, or "adult industry"
to use today's preferred nomenclature tends to serve as something of
an oracle when it comes to predicting which technologies eventually
make their way into the marketplace and which ones don't. If you want
to know where consumer technology is heading, look to porno and war,
or so the axiom goes.
Twenty-five years ago, it was the adult industry that played a major
role in shaping the future of American home entertainment, at least
for the following 15 years or so. Suffering from stagnant theater and
video-booth revenues, the industry made a bold decision to shift
toward a new method for distributing its content. In the process,
porno cozied up to a budding VHS format in lieu of what many
considered to be its superior Betamax cousin. Granted, Sony (the
progenitor of Betamax) had a lot to do with that ultimate decision,
essentially refusing to let its burgeoning format be sullied by
pornography hawkers. But nevertheless, when the adult industry gave
the thumbs up to VHS, the result of the format war was pretty much a
What followed is now common knowledge. The explosion in the early 80s
of VCRs and home-video rentals did for the adult industry pretty much
what TV did for pro football.
Today, of course, there is a new format war at hand, one between two
high-definition discs whose similarities far outweigh their differences.
Nevertheless -- whether it be out of habit or simply a wish for the whole
thing to be over and done with -- many have started looking toward the
adult entertainment industry to get a better feel of which way the
high-definition winds are truly blowing.
As was expected, the 2007 CES saw even more posturing and politics
between the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps, with each side announcing a new
set of alliances and predicting that the end of the war was imminent.
Indeed, the success of this high-definition duel, as many have noted,
will likely hinge on the partnerships that each coalition creates both
with the consumer electronics and film industries. And while today's
home video market environment is far different from that of the 1980s,
the adult industry is again poised to play another leading role in the
final outcome. That is, if it can choose.
Porn outsells Hollywood
Although the vagaries of entertainment accounting have become
legendary, it is universally acknowledged that the U.S. adult-film
industry, at around $12 billion in annual sales, rentals, and cable
charges in 2006, is an even grander and more efficient moneymaking
machine than legitimate mainstream American cinema (the latter's
annual gross came in at $9 billion for 2006).
During this year's AVN Awards -- AVN (or the Adult Video News) is a glossy
magazine that's basically the Variety of the U.S. porn industry -- the
media network released its annual survey of the U.S. adult entertainment
industry. The figures were impressive. Total revenue for 2006 came in at
an astounding $12.92 billion. Overall, delivery costs were down for the
year, according to AVN, a fact that supposedly accounted for the
industry's continued growth.
On the video side of things, while the adult industry saw a
significant decrease (15 percent) in sales and rentals last year, the
sector managed to remain the largest (28 percent) in the adult
entertainment market, accounting for $3.6 billion in 2006 -- this,
despite increasing competition from alleged Internet-based methods of
And with video sales remaining the industry's main breadwinner, it was
only a matter of time before the first high-definition adult film made
its way to the public. The industry, not so surprisingly, chose HD
DVD. Like with a 108-inch LCD television, it wasn't really about
practicality as much as it was being first to market—and finding a
cheap way of doing so.
In December of last year, Wicked Pictures released the industry's
first HD DVD title, 'Camp Cuddly Pines Power Tool Massacre'. Vice
President of DVD Production, Jackie Ramos, characterized it as a movie
about people having sex and then getting killed. Camp Cuddly also
happened to be one of Wicked's more popular titles (it had already
seen a DVD release earlier in the year) and the company felt there
would be continued demand for the movie in glossier high-definition
Are HD breasts better breasts?
"A lot of people are, like, you sure you want to see porn in HD?" said
Ramos at this year's Adult Entertainment Expo. "We happen to feel that
they do. We didn't negate; we still haven't negated Blu-ray, but it was
much more cost effective to go with HD DVD."
As Ramos puts it, Wicked chose HD DVD primarily because of Blu-ray's
prohibitive expense and lack of market share, as well as the fact that
it is generally cheaper and easier to produce using the format.
"Right now, [HD DVD and Blu-ray] are so new that people are confused.
They don't know which format they want. Our primary goal was to bring
some sort of high-definition product to the consumer. There's
something to be said about planting a flag and being first, and we
wanted to stay ahead of the curve as much as we can in terms of
In addition to being first, the plan for now, according to Ramos, is
for Wicked to continue presenting its most popular titles on HD DVD
and eventually move to a day-and-date DVD and HD DVD release
scheme. Again, he stressed that the company was not ruling out
"At Wicked, we put a lot of work into our bigger titles," Ramos
explained. "We put a lot of work into our special features. With HD
DVD, we can offer a lot of cool features for fans, which we plan on
doing as we move along in the year -- picture-in-picture,
commentaries, games -- it's going to take a little bit of time to do
that, but that's our goal."
Jay Grdina, president of Club Jenna (and husband to the industry's most
recognizable performer), seems to agree with Ramos for the most part.
"It's hard because I keep flipping back and forth between Blu-ray and
HD DVD," explained Grdina. "I just got a PS3, and I'm thinking maybe
Blu-ray is really going to take off."
But for the moment, he remains business-minded and bottom-line
oriented, like any good adult industry executive.
"For the adult industry, no one is really replicating on Blu-ray right
now. The process is really difficult, obviously. The render times are
two weeks or more and the costs associated with it are really high."
Grdina even went one step further, adding that even releasing HD DVDs
at this point isn't necessarily a sound business decision. "It's just
not lucrative to make HD movies at the moment. Right now, you're
basically doing it just to say you have it. The players are still
really expensive and most people don't even have a way to watch the
While HD DVD certainly seems to have its foot in the porn industry
door, Vivid Entertainment, another high profile adult movie studio,
announced plans to release on Blu-ray later this year, or at least to
begin burning to the format.
Steve Hirsch, who is head of Vivid, said he will also be using the HD
DVD format due to its greater market saturation. But he also said the
studio will begin burning to Blu-ray as soon as it's feasible (i.e.
Is Sony blocking HD porn?
But Vivid may very well run into problems with the Sony format.
Indeed, what all the adult industry execs seemed to either be
avoiding, or at least not aware of, was Sony's continued resistance to
pornographic material migrating to the Blu-ray format.
During an interview with AVN earlier this month, Joone (a pseudonym used
by Ali Davoudian, an AVN award winning pornographic film
director/producer and founder of the company Digital Playground), said
that he was basically forced to use HD DVD because no Blu-ray
manufacturer would make his discs. While it's true that Sony has said it
would not "replicate" adult titles on any format -- meaning that it won't
use its factories to produce Blu-ray porn -- the Blu-ray alliance is saying
In fact, the veracity of Joone's claims were called into question
earlier this week when Marty Gordon, vice chair of the Blu-ray Disc
Association (BDA), was quoted as saying that there is no specific
anti-porn mandate when it comes to adult material on the format.
"There is not a prohibition against adult content," Gordon said in a
statement this week. "The BDA is an open organization that welcomes
the participation of all companies interested in using and supporting
the format, including those that represent the full spectrum of genres
in the content industry."
Because of Blu-ray's late arrival into the marketplace, many are
saying that Sony would do well to play nice with the adult industry,
if it wants to have a fighting chance against HD DVD. Gordon's stance
on adult content may be indicative of Sony's increased awareness of
the role that the adult industry can and does play in such battles.
Even though plenty of people will readily admit to Blu-ray's technical
superiority (the format with a larger, um, storage capacity than its
rival) history has already shown that the market does not always
operate in a strictly Darwinian fashion.
"You have to remember that the adult industry is low entry," Grdina
explained. "It's a low hanging fruit. You grab it in a few
seconds. It's not necessarily about what's best but what is cheapest,
what's most accessible."
"I think whatever we [the adult industry] actually pick, the market is
going to follow. But that's still very much up in the air."
Copyright 2007 Ziff Davis Inc.
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