High-Tech Japanese Adult Fare Guiding TV Trend

By Leah Hochbaum

Type a word, any word, into any search engine and you're guaranteed to come up with the thing you were looking for, 50 things you weren't looking for, and at least 50 porn sites.

The fact is that the adult entertainment industry is driving digital innovation forward into the new millennium. Never shy about using the latest technology, the makers of sites with adult content have managed to swell their profiles enough to make porn one of the scant few web niches still able to boast a steadily increasing profit. And, if this holds true for the world's porn industry, it's especially true in Japan, a region long known for its rapid technological advancements, and fast becoming known for its remarkably superior online pornography.

The incomparability of Japanese porn has become so conspicuous that New York City's Japan Society even planned a panel discussion called “Vices and Devices: How the Adult Entertainment Industry is Driving Digital Innovation,” which was supposed to have taken place in early November 2002. Canceled due to speaker scheduling conflicts, the event is being rescheduled for later this year.
“[Japan] is very tech-advanced,” said Laura Civiello, director of program development, acquisitions and commissions at the San Francisco, California-based TechTV, “so [their porn industry] gives us a snapshot into sexual desire as an impetus for technological advancement.” At March's MIP-TV market, TechTV introduced a new series called Wired For Sex, which will provide viewers with a look into technology's newfound role between the sheets. Episodes of the 13-part series include “Sex and the Tech Industry,” “Sex, Tech and the Law,” “Webcams,” “Cybercruising,” “Sex Aids” and, fittingly, “Japan: Wireless for Sex.” “This is essentially the story of how technology has affected every aspect of sexuality,” said Civiello, “from how we meet to how we have sex. Technology can even change or exploit the ways in which we're attracted to each other.”

It seems that programmers have finally recognized that the voyeurism and sense of anonymity that make online adult entertainment so appealing can be easily transferred to the other small screen. Even relatively chaste series like CBS' Big Brother and MTV's reality hits The Real World and Road Rules serve people's desire for the permissible peeping they've grown accustomed to online. “[Porn] is a provocative topic,” said Civiello. “The reason VHS won out over Beta was because Sony wouldn't allow porn on its format.” People will watch new series like Wired For Sex “because they can do so in the privacy of their own homes.”
But while the prevailing opinion seems to be that the public will watch anything spoon-fed to them in a porn package, a recent study conducted at Iowa State University claims that people actually remember fewer ads aired during sexually explicit television shows than previously thought. Tom Hymes, managing editor of AVNOnline, the leading trade magazine for adult webmasters, wasn't surprised. “Sex sells, but sex doesn't sell other things. Sex doesn't sell toothpaste. Sex doesn't sell feminine pads. On sex sites, the ads are for other sex sites. The industry doesn't really take advantage of its captive audience to sell other mainstream products. Mainstream products don't want to be associated with the industry.”

However, it appears that most U.S. programmers have yet to grasp this, and network shows have been getting increasingly explicit and almost unabashed in their portrayals of the sexual act. The adult industry's rapid growth rate probably seemed proof enough that explicit content was becoming increasingly acceptable across a wider segment of the U.S. audience. Though the U.S. nets have yet to push the envelope as far as their European counterparts, they have felt compelled to add a more adult “edge” to their programming, to tap in to the insatiable desires of an audience that is more and more accepting of sexual content on TV.

Steven Bochco's NYPD Blue on ABC was the first series to find it necessary to air bare buttocks on screen. Many other shows have gotten considerably more graphic. Last season, UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer even featured a highly controversial episode in which everyone's favorite slayer got, er, staked from behind by her vampire lover at a nightclub.

Using streaming video, cable, wireless and broadband networks, the worldwide online porn industry made $1 billion in estimated revenue from interactive platforms in 2002 and experts expect 2003 to reach a climax as new technologies sprout up left and right.

Virgin Mobile, the U.K.'s fifth largest mobile phone operator, is in discussions with Playboy (whose stock, like those of other adult entertainment companies, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, proving just how corporate adult content has become) to offer cell phone users easy access to soft-core porn. Virgin, which already offers a text message service called “Flirt Alert,” was one of the earliest phone companies to jump on porn's rockin' bandwagon, but Nokia and Motorola have also come a-knockin' of late, and are working to develop 3G technology that will enable data such as pictures and video clips to be downloaded at much quicker rates than networks now allow.

But while all this may seem like the very latest technology, the Western world is actually playing catch-up with the Far East, since sexually-themed sites and virtual girlfriends - pseudo-Tamagotchis for the lonely set (developed, incidentally, by Bandai, the toy company that manufactured the squawking virtual pets) - have been some of the most popular Japanese cell phone capabilities for years (Bandai's “Love By Mail” program, which is available only to subscribers of i-mode, a mobile Internet service offered by NTT DoCoMo, accessible only in Japan, even boasts 30,000 subscribers).