If the sky was the limit at January's Internext, the June edition of the adult Internet trade show was firmly down to earth. Heads were out of the clouds and feet were planted on the ground as frivolity took a backseat to the fine art of deal-making. "The gold rush is over," said Pornholio's Greg Henninger.
In a word, reality finally took hold. And while adult remains the most recession-proof business on the Web, Webmasters seemed to have looked around at the piles of dead businesses left by mainstream dot-coms, scratched their heads, took good notes, and vowed that it wouldn't happen to them. Darwinism's a bitch, and adult Webmasters are apparently not immune.
"People are more business oriented, they're not partying as much," said Norman Bentley, Senior Content Director at Matrix Content. "There used to be a video store on every corner, now you have Blockbuster. The little guys are being pushed out."
And even the big guys are scaling down. SexTracker didn't bother to show, while Vivid and Cybererotica scaled back noticeably, though Cybererotica's tiki-jungle themed booth - with its giveaway Hummer sitting amid rocks and foliage - was still impressive. Yet there were no wrestling rings, no free cocktail bars on the convention floor. The booths were smaller, attendance was down, parties were fewer and smaller, and convention-floor eye candy was less evident.
Newbies and rubbernecking get-rich-quickers were less conspicuous while the core of the industry made productive use of their time. "It's a more palatable environment to do business," said Big B from Cybererotica.
Most are saying that's all for the best, as exhibitors collectively claim that the less-frills Internext is more conducive to taking care of business. This way, Webmasters can keep one eye on the future, and the other on the bottom line. Besides, those that are succeeding are thriving. For example, Silver Cash Website Director Jessica Black said her company is busting out all over. "We've gone from 13 to 32 sites in the last couple months; we have several new sites coming out - a couple weeks after we get back, we'll be up to 36."
Thus the vibe at the Venetian Hotel's Sands Expo was more focused than frivolous. From June 27-29, 125 exhibitors and 3,500 attendees hustled, ninja-like, trading business cards, making strategic alliances, and doing the super schmooze.
Still, the convention floor was hardly bereft of bells and whistles. Like Whoa gave away a BMW and Cybererotica raffled off its Hummer to a lucky affiliate partner. The VoyeurDorm bus still was a formidable presence at the center of the hall, while Jenna Jameson drew a crowd at the Vivid booth and Little Holio paced the Pornholio booth in a yellow rain slicker, spreading the gospel of his company. There were DJs, skateboard demonstrations, private lap dances, videogames, and foosball tables. There was lots of talent, lots of skin (though slightly less than in the past). And swag galore: t-shirts, caps, shopping bags, and of course, the always popular rubber breasts. If it wasn't the freak show of past Internexts, there was still enough spectacle to bring a smile to Fellini.
Certainly, it didn't deter Israel-based IPSBilling.com from schlepping across the world to drum up business. "We're very happy, we got some great leads," said Esther Abramowicz, IPS' director of marketing. "It's been a great show for us. There are a lot of new potential customers who aren't happy with the processing they're doing at the moment and are looking for new possibilities. This is still the place to be to check out what's new on the market."
Some of the old-school adult brands were making inroads into the newer media: Hustler promoted its new BarelyLegal.com site and hosted an intimate party at the V Bar. Meanwhile, company scion Larry Flynt was spotted cleaning up at the blackjack table to the tune of half a mil.
Rival Penthouse attended its first Internext, hosting a booth blanketed with Pets, and demoing its multifunctional Website. The site, Penthouse.com, capitalizes on the Penthouse brand, while attempting to appeal to a broad range of consumers. "The keyword is strategic alliance. One of the things we bring to the convention is certainly the brand name and the credibility it has," said Bruce Garfunkle, Penthouse.com VP and associate publisher. "We have not had a presence here. We're looking for interesting content, affiliated programs."
Garfunkle said the site has some interesting tricks up its sleeve. In addition to cartoons, vintage erotic movies, sports, an online forum, and video coverage of events like Phish concerts and political events, "We'll have a lot more video streaming, more material, a fetish site - we want to get more down-and-dirty while retaining the quality. We're here to support the industry and to be a leader in the industry."
Also new to Internext were several mainstream companies - especially technology companies - that had been bitten by the dot-com crash and were sniffing around the adult market for new clients. Among them were Shared Global Systems Inc., a company founded by TeleCheck to fight credit card fraud; BroadStream.com, which has two patent-pending technologies - the Fusion Center and the Media Sensor. The Fusion Center gathers date gathers data from the sensor and organizes the information into on-demand client reports. And E-Book Systems, which was offering its Digital Flip technology that delivers multimedia content (photographs, text, music) via a 3-D page-flipping interface.
The fact that there were fewer parties meant more alert conventioneers earlier in the day, resulting in good crowds for most of the 12 seminars. They learned about legal issues, attracting female traffic to their sites, the future of affiliate programs and billing options, the legality of celebrity nudes, and of course, how their business can make more money.
Many believe the streamlined convention is a harbinger of the future. "This is as big as [the Internet's] going to get," said Pornholio's Henninger. "Interactive television is the pulse of the future."
In the meantime, a passel of new products was unveiled at the show. Newcomer Flixxxnow, in partnership with iBill, announced a new, proprietary means of delivering full-screen, DVD-quality downloadable full-length videos and video clips. Flixxxnow spokesman David Valentiner said the response from content producers was overwhelming.
"This is a completely new-to-the-industry system that will give content producers another revenue stream from materials they've already developed," Valentiner said. "iBill developed the billing part of the back end exclusively for this product, and they'll be paying the producers and the Webmaster affiliates.
"Basically, content producers will collect royalties on a pay-per-view, or pay-per-download, basis. Our digital rights management solution protects the content, and iBill ensures payment." Webmasters can view the product and sign up for the affiliate program at www.flixxxnow.com.
Shared Global Systems, the database provider behind third-party processing companies like iBill and CCBill, also had news for the masses. The wholly owned subsidiary of First Data Corporation (by way of Telecheck) is beta testing a new software product designed by a noted mathematician. Called CCScan, the new product is designed to decrease Webmaster and other fraud perpetrated through theft or purchase of credit card lists. Because crooks in possession of such lists don't have to use the same card number and information more than once, the fraudulent transactions they submit are difficult to detect before they cause the loss of considerable funds. Steve Rouse, a Shared Global Systems director, said CCScan has performed well at detecting and deterring such fraud in the tests, and should be live in the system soon.
Speaking of live in the system, all work and no play make for very dull adult Webmasters. There were still a fair number of after-hours soirees, and by the time the Player's Ball rolled around on the eve of Internext's close, thousands of people were bursting at the seams, ready to cut loose. Judging by the fancy threads of the wanna-be pimps and hos milling about the Venetian's C2K, stylin' about and groovin' to hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg, it was quite clear that too many people had spent far too much time writing code on their computer.