I am horrifically behind deadline for this profile of TeN.com (www.TeN.com) because, frankly, I've been spending too much time at the site. After conducting an extremely agreeable interview with Scott Schalin, president of IGallery (www.igallery.com), the Internet arm of publicly traded New Frontier Media, which also owns The Erotic Networks, I took what I thought would be a brief stroll around TeN.com, only to surface a good two months later. (Has anything interesting happened?)
Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. The truth is, the new incarnation of TeN.com really is something special, a high-speed erotic amusement park the likes of which has never been seen in the adult industry.
According to Schalin, "TeN.com is The Erotic Network. Basically, our company's umbrella brand is The Erotic Networks, which provide distribution of adult entertainment across multiple platforms, cable, satellite, and Internet. Our cable channels are in front of about 37 million households, we're exclusive on the Dish Network, we have one channel on DirecTV, and with their pending merger we could possibly end up ruling both Dish and DirecTV. In addition, our most recent coup was landing Time Warner's Manhattan Cable, which serves one of the most densely populated areas in the world."
TeN.com, which has been around for two years, was originally designed to compliment Ten, the flagship Erotic Networks cable channel, whose companion channels include Extasy, True Blue, Pleasure, ETC, and Xcubed. But after running TeN.com for a while, another vision began to take shape. "What we wanted to do was something different from what we were seeing in the traditional marketplace," said Schalin, "which was a lot of adult sites that were really sloppy. So we told our designers that we didn't want them to look at any of our adult competitors' sites, but instead to look at sites like Heavy.com and IFILM.com, and to forget that [we're producing] adult material. We wanted a super multimedia experience that just happens to have adult in it, that was fun and hip and sexy and cool."
The result can now be seen by the masses: a sleek cornucopia of offerings wrapped in a kaleidoscopic blaze of broadband delivery. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but in fact it takes no time at all to learn its navigating ways, and once mastered, it handles like a Lamborghini. "We have multiple viewing formats of the streaming video," says Schalin, "so that you can watch an entire 10-minute feed, an entire 90-minute movie, or just jump to a particular part of a scene. If you can imagine a DVD on the Web, with all of its interactivity, that's what TeN.com is."
There is also more content than can be seen in many visits. "We are going to give the customer the richest experience on the Net, with hundreds and hundreds of sections," says Schalin, "and we're going to have broadband and narrow-band versions. So, for the broadband user, he's going to see content like Hustler's Barely Legal, Hustler's Triple-X, and Tera Patrick movies, stuff that we're not going to resell to anyone else so that he gets unique content that's updated and maintained daily, or even hourly, on customizable multi-media interfaces."
In fact, according to the search engine statistics, there are presently more than 3,700 film and video clips from which to choose, and within those, any manner of exact manifestations in which to search. "You could search by toenail color and get hundreds of clips that match girls who have black toenail polish. It's really, really fun," gushes Schalin. And it's true. I tried it, and it works. Yes, a massive search-engine database that really works.
Expansion is one of the operative words for TeN.com, according to Schalin. "What we're currently building out of this initial model - right now it's a real high-speed multi-media super-site - will be the largest community site in the world, a conglomeration of AVS-style sites, teaser clips, customized interfaces, plus exclusive VIP content that can't be found on any other sites."
Mention of those elitist letters brings me back to reality. How much will this "unique experience" cost, and how many upsold tiers will the end user have to climb? According to Schalin, not a one. "We're going to lower the price down to something that we believe is a manageable monthly subscription price of $14.95." Come again?
"There are going to be two sides to TeN.com," he explains. "On the one side, free password-for-life access to thousands and ultimately hundreds of thousands of AVS-type sites that are mostly photo-driven but highly categorized and highly targeted for specific niches, very similar to what you would find on any AVS. So, on the one hand, an end user will have free access to these sites even if he doesn't want to buy what we're calling the VIP section of TeN.com.
"On the other hand," he continues, "the VIP area is where the end user will get the video-on-demand, the search database, and all the exclusive sections I spoke about, for the $14.95. If he doesn't want that, he can still be a part of the community - the bulletin boards, the AVS sites, and a lot of manageable video clips - for free, but then we'll encourage him to take the one and only 'upsell,' where all the rich media stuff will be. If he cancels his VIP [access], the password will continue working in the free community area, but then we will start promoting other areas. But as long as he's a VIP, we are not going to be the sort of site that promotes other sites. It sounds sort of hokey, but we really want the kind of relationship with the consumer where they say, 'You know what, that site didn't annoy me with pop-ups, it didn't have all the traditional clich�es of this industry, and there were no hidden charges or extra tiers.'"
This catering to the consumer line is so unusual, it has me wondering just how sincere it really is. "You know," Schalin responds, "a lot of people in this industry think that the Webmaster is the customer, but it is our claim now that that is the wrong way to approach this business. The customer is the customer."
Indeed, but in point of fact isn't TeN.com going after a specifically targeted customer?
"Look," Schalin continues, "people talk about retention and why aren't people retaining. Well, people on modems that you expect to pay $30 a month, they're going to get in [to a site] and as soon as they see that the experience is poor, they're not going to stick around. But with high-speed people - and this is what is encouraging for TeN.com - retention is at least double what the average is on our other sites, like Pussy.com or TeenSex.com. And I think that's because we sniff out and send only high-speed traffic to that site, the experience is faster on the outside with the flashy tour, and the join form processes faster. Then, once a guy gets inside, it's everything and more promised on the outside, and further, it's everything that we all expect from the Internet."
In fact, according to Schalin, 50 percent of IGallery's inbound traffic uses a high-speed connection, a statistic that implies a certain seriousness of purpose, if not sophistication, and an assumption that underscores his point and purpose. "We believe that ultimately these surfers are intelligent people who have sought out the best experience on the Net, so let's push the envelope; this is not a two-dimensional magazine. We want the user to come in and feel like he's part of a grander community where he can interact with other users and certainly interact with live models. We're even going to have some peer-to-peer aspects. We will have the definitive Napstery file-sharing mechanism here as well, probably not on launch, but we are already working on building that kind of network, and are organizing talent to have some peer-to-peer live shows. That is the future. I want TeN.com and The Erotic Network to be the de facto place that people think about when they think of adult entertainment on the Net, delivered in a brand new way."
It sounds great, but I realize that one omnipresent element of the industry has barely been mentioned: the Webmaster. Do they enter into this scheme at all? "Absolutely," says Schalin. "We'll also have a Webmaster program that's going to be called Ten Bucks. I'm not sure what the payout is going to be, but it will be based on what we assume is going to be a better than 1-in-100 conversion rate, because of the nature of the free password. And even if the guy doesn't take the VIP access, we're still going to pay on free sign-ups. I'm going to spend whatever it costs to acquire that customer, and take the chance that once he comes into the site, I'll be able to sell him on the VIP. I may do an extra scale like an extra bonus if the guy becomes a VIP, but I don't know yet."
So, speaking of numbers, how well is TeN.com doing? "We currently have 20,000 active members," says Schalin, "with an average retention rate of five months, which we think is double the industry average, and days when its conversion rate is 1-in-80, and again, I think that's because we're only driving high-speed traffic to it. But we're also seeing expressions of loyalty inside the site, where we're getting a lot of emails telling us how refreshing it is to have an experience that's not mind-numbing, condescending, or degrading."
One senses that a lot of time, energy, and money have been poured into this venture, and that a lot is riding on it, not precariously, but hopefully, as evidenced by their plan to affiliate TeN.com with a number of mainstream companies. "We have several affiliations on the table that I think will turn the industry on its ear once we close them. For instance, we are currently in talks with IFILM and The Real Network, and also with several of the search engine networks in order to manage a lot of the mainstream traffic out there that is seeking adult [content], but not in the traditional ways like typing in 'sex.' These are generally more sophisticated, high-speed users who wouldn't mind a little porn but don't want to seek it out.
"So we're looking to strategic alliances for ways of monetizing the viewers of those sites who are looking for erotica. And [these companies have] come to us because of the public profile and really because of TeN.com and because we're the only real Internet property that has a television presence as well. Being publicly traded helps hugely also, because they know that we can't cheat anybody, and our records and revenues are public, which certainly helps in terms of strategic alliances. They look at TeN.com as a really professional site that is designed as well as, say, Heavy.com. I think in fact that we could win awards for its design, even forgetting the content."
That may be, but forget the content? I don't think so.