It doesn't matter how many times you've flown over it or driven across it; it doesn't matter that mankind has strong-armed it into unnatural courses or that someday it may of its own accord correct the many brazen crimes perpetrated against it. The Mississippi River at first sight is powerful, majestic and humbling - an awe-inspiring force of nature steeped in history and still proudly teeming with commerce - and absolutely one of the great treasures of this country, like the dichotomous city she intersects. From the upper floors of the New Orleans Sheraton, the broad waterway shimmers brightly in the night as she flows toward the Gulf, a rich metaphor for life in a town that is both consummately American and uniquely foreign in character. Indeed, no other American city comes close to boasting the diverse qualities of New Orleans - its look, its feel, its intonations, even the duality of its generous hospitality and ever-present potential for danger.
It was in a way a bold choice, even a risk, to pick New Orleans for the fall ia2000 Convention (which will now be called Internext.) While it is a preeminent tourist attraction, the Big Easy is not what one would call a theme park. But it became clear, once there, that it was for that very reason the perfect place to hold a porn convention, being so amenable to late-night partying, sporadic displays of sexual exhibitionism, and containing an abundant number of restaurants into which conventioneers could slip to fine dine and fine-tune deals. But that is not to imply, lest city managers are reading this, that New Orleans is Las Vegas (pre-Disney) or Amsterdam or anything closely resembling a morally dubious city. Rather, it is a town with, how shall we say, a finely tuned appreciation for life as it is lived. In a sage nod to human nature, its erotically oriented establishments are for the most part segregated within the French Quarter, where they gracefully coexist with many of its finest restaurants, hotels and art galleries.
So, at times during the weekend it was hard to tell whether the convention parties were in the clubs or the streets, and really it didn't make a lot of difference. Saturday night, Sept. 23, was a little much for some people, what with the two football games dumping thousands of revelers into the Quarter, and unconfirmed rumors of someone (not from the convention) being shot a hundred times (okay, I exaggerate!) in front of the Sheraton in the early morning hours. And there were a few other improper incidents that we heard about which led to the obvious conclusion that women should not be traversing those streets at night by themselves, but frankly, that's what this writer appreciated most about New Orleans. Not the incidents of course, but the fact that we were holding a real convention in a real city that, in many ways, could truly appreciate what we were doing. What a concept!
The show itself was, from all ac-counts, a smashing success. There was apparently so much business being done that this writer was constantly being told - on the floor, at parties, or merely passing through the lobby - that this was one of the best shows yet, not only for finally getting to meet people in person, but also for consummating deals.
"Because of the industry that we engage in, we have very little face to face time with people," said Greg Geelan of YNOT Network Inc. (www.ynotmasters.com), "so it's a great opportunity to shake people's hands, look them in the eye and say, hey, it's great to finally see you. It's a networking vehicle for us, and we al-ways anxiously anticipate the shows."
"New Orleans was our most successful show ever," Scott Schalin of iGallery (www.igallery.com) told AVN Online. "Not in terms of newbies, but in terms of solidifying some existing relationships, and putting a couple of very large deals on the table that we're convinced will culminate by the end of the year. So from that aspect, it was fantastic. I also think that the networking that was done outside of the show was some of the best ever. The town is really conducive to strong networking with dinners and cocktails into the wee hours of the morning."
And all that business dealing, hand-clasping and looking into faces was accomplished despite the fact that attendance was less than for the Vegas convention, or maybe even because of it, in the sense that exhibiting webmasters had more time to devote to one another. "Vegas will probably always be busier," said Renee Johnson, ia2000 show manager, "but New Orleans proved how much strength this show has as a business-to-business event. There was just something special about this one. More than ever, exhibitors were actually seeking me out just to let me know what a great show it was for them. Believe me, as a show manager, that's exactly what you want to hear."
There was also a lot of mainstream media coverage, including MSNBC, whose reporter posted a Sept. 24 impression of the event that has since been much re-ferred to on the boards. But if his view of this industry is typically myopic of mainstream journalists, in the sense that Internet porn expresses itself as one cohesive whole (which it does not), he did begrudgingly acknowledge that some vendors were very happy indeed. "They opened the hall at 10:30 on the first day and we'd paid for our booth by 11," he quoted an obviously ecstatic Susan from Erotic Shots (www.eroticshots.com) as saying. She was hardly the only one. The Adult Chamber of Commerce (www.adultchamber.com) contingent said that this was the best, most productive, convention at which they had ever exhibited, bar none.
But the mainstream coverage was also terribly significant in that it reflects a trend that has been slow to develop but which can no longer be denied - the increasing convergence of adult and mainstream. Actually, more than a convergence, it's really a continuous exchange of methods, technologies and talent.
Rick Muenyong moved to the mainstream a while ago, and now Jonathan Liebermen has done the same thing, selling his Naughty goods (minus the postcards) to Python Media (www.pythonvideo.com) in order to focus on a mainstream venture called Focalex (www.focalex.com), which provides mainstream webmasters with double opt-in targeted lists. Lieberman has always been a master of marketing, and it's obvious that he is now adopting what he has learned in adult to the mainstream. And by far he is not the only one doing it. The Netpond folk exhibited at the convention, but if you go to www.netpond.com, it is now geared solely to mainstream webmasters. Even their message board no longer allows adult postings, and even though one of their sponsors is Python Media (another is Focalex), when you click through to that site, it refers only to Python's mainstream products. So Python too splits its focus, targeting specific products to specific markets - and why not? The marketing tools of the Internet are custom-designed to provide a level of individualized marketing not available to offline merchants.
"We've been seeing this trend developing for a long time," said Stacy Boyd, AVN Online managing editor. "We see it as inevitable, evolutionary, Darwinian in fact, be-cause only the fittest will survive the transition. That said, we believe that the mainstream is adult in sheep's clothing, and that really the two worlds are more similar than they are dissimilar."
Besides tech solution companies that for some time have been courting the adult market, like BayTSP (www.baytsp.com), perhaps the most compelling proof of this cross-over is the increased number of mainstream technologies that are making themselves available to the adult Internet industry for the first time, sometimes through surrogate entities. Akamai Technologies, for example, provides highly sophisticated global content delivery with big time clients like Reuters, Micro-soft and McAfee, to name a few. Beginning with this show, they have now made themselves available to the adult marketplace through a company called Directrix (www.directrix.com). The genesis of this partnership is a good example of the fluidity with which marketing entities are taking advantage of all available technologies to expand their markets, and vice-versa.
The people behind Directrix used to be the same ones running the Spice Channel, which was purchased by The Playboy Channel about 18 months ago, according to Ron Midili, Vice President of sales for Directrix. "What survived was the technical side, the playback and uplink facility, that Playboy didn't want. We formed a new public company at the time of the transaction, and we do the broadcast for the Playboy channels out of our facility now. We deliver content through fiber, we deliver it over satellite, and we're looking for the proper broadband solution to complete our company. Right now we're just broadcasting by satellite in the United States. We broadcast thirteen networks out of our facility, not all adult. So we had this meeting with Akamai to talk about the technology that they had available that had not been available to the adult industry before. This is the first time that the adult industry has the ability to take advantage of this Akamai-powered system whereby you can more efficiently use your bandwidth. They have servers in over 4,700 locations around the world and are in almost every first-tier network around the world. The advantage to using the Akamai technology through Directrix is the ability to serve up Web pages faster, streaming faster, and no one has the ubiquitous presence that Akamai has."
Midili's hard sell (his job, after all) does nothing to diminish the significance of what is only now being made available to adult webmasters large and small. Even the smallest sites, according to Midili, will be able to afford to use the Akamai technology, thus cutting their bandwidth costs considerably.
But Directrix was not the only ia2000 exhibitor offering global connectivity solutions. Teleglobe (www.teleglobe.com) is another mainstream giant offering similar products and services, though in their case they decided to exhibit to adult face to face rather than through a proxy, as Akamai did.
Another company that made its technology available to adult companies for the first time by exhibiting at ia2000 was TrueSpectra (www.truespectra.com), whose mainstream clients include Blockbuster, kinkos.com and Target. According to their literature and as demonstrated at their booth, they provide "a dynamic imaging platform that completely transforms the way images are made available on the Web." They took a pragmatic look at online adult and saw a lucrative marriage made in heaven, to say the least.
These were not the only mainstream companies offering or adapting their products and services to the adult Internet by exhibiting at ia2000, and they will undoubtedly not be the last.
Of course it comes as no surprise that, going the opposite direction, many adult companies see great opportunities in mainstream for their products and services, though examples of it are obviously less conspicuous at an adult Internet convention. But the fact is that in one way or another, many of the larger adult companies already have mainstream divisions or are developing them for the future.
IGallery, for example, has for some time been providing Time Warner with soft content. CandidCam (www.candidcam.com) has a division called CandidHosting that does mainstream hosting as well as adult. They also do mainstream Web and traffic development. And PaidCard.net (www.paidcard.net) offers an alternative billing solution that also extends beyond adult. In fact, alternative billing solutions are almost universally unlimited in scope, at least in theory, though they may be especially attractive to adult sites, which value anonymity while being especially vulnerable to chargebacks.
There are also many sites that contain non-adult content along side adult, which the attorneys advise is a very smart and proper move. Cybersocket (www.cybersocket.com), a gay site that publishes an annual directory of all gay websites and an e-zine, also links to many sites that don't contain any sexual content, including Home and Garden sites, sports sites and pets sites, to name a few. And they are not alone either in trying to provide a healthy balance of content for their particular constituency.
Internext (formerly ia2000) takes place January 4-6, 2001, in Las Vegas. What will the adult Internet look like then? Will the current intertwining of adult and mainstream be seen as a Prague Spring in the aftermath of a Republican victory and a new Attorney General on an obscenity warpath? In all likelihood, many of the alliances that are now being forged will survive no matter what happens. Already the sexual landscape is a blur; just look at HBO (and to a lesser extent, Showtime). You can't turn it on without seeing homegrown programs that may not be hardcore, but are close. In my book, HBO is mainstream.
Not only that, but the executives there have always had their fingers firmly on the pulse of what the American people want. It might even be that where HBO goes, so goes the nation. If so, you ain't seen nothin' yet.