If you're looking to spice up your morning commute, how about a little hardcore? Imagine: one mocha chai latte, one copy of the Times--and, provided you own a portable media player, one X-rated rendezvous with Jenna Jameson as "The Masseuse."
Not your bag? Well, like it or not, pornographic films are about to elbow their way out of the boudoir and onto the bus. In the next few weeks, Japanese adult-DVD makers H.M.P. and GLAY'z will release eight of their top-selling hardcore titles on Sony's Universal Media Discs--the 2-1/4-inch, plastic-encased "DVDs" designed for exclusive use with their hot new PlayStation Portable device. Teen boys of the world, rejoice: blue movies are going mobile.
Sure, it's long been easy to steam up a small screen with skin flicks--the latest DVD viewers are low-priced and only marginally larger than DVDs themselves. And others have already put porn on the PSP. In April, the Playboy Web site posted pics and video tailored to the device, and tech-savvy pornophiles have relied on other sites or programs like iPSP to transfer video clips from PCs to PSP-ready memory sticks ever since the player first hit U.S. stores in March. But this is a whole new ballgame: with next week's Japanese launch, "portaporn" steps out of the on-deck circle and into the batter's box. Sony is betting big bucks that the PSP will do for on-the-go movies what the iPod did for MP3s--and that consumers will choose to make their Universal Media Discs, well, universal. If tech history is any guide, porn could seal the deal. New formats almost always rely on adult entertainment to propel sales. Companies selling smut were the first to strike gold on the Web. CD-ROMs and satellite TV both received early boosts from erotic content, and, thanks to their scene-skipping abilities, DVDs got hot in sex shops before making the leap to Wal-Mart. "Portable porn is the Next Big Thing in adult entertainment," says Regina Lynn, Wired.com's "Sex Drive" columnist and author of "The Sexual Revolution 2.0," out in August. "I'm convinced that this will succeed."
Lynn may be right. Bringing porn to the PSP may offend some sensibilities, but it makes good business sense. After two months on North American shelves, the PSP had sold 1.3 million units, and Sony had shipped 2.97 million more worldwide; Apple's iPod, by comparison, shipped only 125,000 units in its initial 60 days. Two UMD titles--"House of Flying Daggers" and "Resident Evil 2," both released April 19--have each topped 100,000 copies, a mark it took the first DVD "Air Force One" nine months to hit. According to estimates by Adams Media Research of Carmel, Calif., the PSP could move 6 million units in its opening year and eventually reach 25 to 30 million households. "Content publishers are taking notice," says Patrick Seybold, a rep in Sony's PlayStation division. "They're seeing huge potential for the PSP as a multimedia device." For moviemakers--blue or otherwise--it's all about the green.
As for Sony--who, according to spokesman Daisuke Nakata, "never asked adult content providers to provide us with their contents in order to promote sales of the PSP"--the porn invasion might be more welcome than they're prepared to say. Earlier this month, a rep for Sony Japan called the forthcoming releases "utterly undesirable" and insisted his employer "cannot stop software makers from selling such videos." All true, perhaps, but he's only spilling half the beans. It was Sony who shared UMD specifications with GLAY'z and is providing the actual disks. PlayStation's Seybold could not elaborate on the details of Sony's arrangements with companies who release films on UMD, but he does acknowledge that Sony controls "the production of all UMDs."
GLAY'z and H.M.P. have encoded the first batch of UMDs for exclusive use on Asian PSP players, so major-league portaporn is a Japan-only proposition for now. "But since our announcement," says Kawada, "we've received lots of inquiries from overseas. In the future, we may consider releasing our pieces region-free." They've already translated some of the titles into English--sort of. On offer: "High Grede Class First Soap Lady" and "The Nurse of a Big Breast."
Some mobile porn is almost mainstream already. The most popular category in podcasting--downloadable digital audio--is erotic instruction and entertainment, according to Digitalpodcast.com consultant Alex Nesbitt. And a recent study by Boston-based research firm Strategy Analytics says that pornographic cell-phone content--everything from "moan tones" to video clips--raked in $400 million worldwide last year and could reach $5 billion by 2010. Vivid Entertainment Group, the world's largest adult-film "studio," already peddles cellular-phone erotica in 20 countries--and it's targeting the PSP next. "To me, [the Japanese releases] say that they are opening it up for anybody to produce UMDs," says Vivid co-chairman Steven Hirsch. "When that does happen, we'll be the first ones there ready to go."
Last week, Ecma International, a technology industry association, approved UMD as a standard format, paving the way for third-party players like Vivid to get into the game. "We see [portable pornography] as, eventually, a large percentage of our total income," says Hirsch. "Whether as wireless content delivered through cell phones or as releases for game players like the PSP. That's the exciting part of it--you can go anywhere, anytime and access our movies." He pauses. "People could watch on the subway, on airplanes--we'll all have our own private viewers."
So what's in it for Sony? "I'm confident that Sony is going to use this to differentiate itself from others [in the portable media-player market], while at the same time claiming the moral high ground," says Michael Pachter, a WedBush Morgan research analyst who specializes in interactive entertainment. Measuring revenue from pornography is almost as difficult as defining it, but estimates range as high as $30 billion in sales worldwide. "Sony must feel that there is a significant audience for hardcore," says Pachter, noting that porn and the PSP share a fan base: 18-to-34-year-old men. The hope, he says, is that "the production of hardcore content in the UMD format will drive device sales and adoption rates."
Sony may be willing to cooperate with the porn industry because it's been burned before by failing to anticipate the market. In 1975, the company unveiled Betamax, the world's first home video format; one year later, JVC launched VHS. Betamax had superior specs, but VHS boasted twice the running time and an open licensing strategy that, unlike Sony's, encouraged manufacturers to flood the market with tapes and players. When the earliest fans of home video turned out to be people watching porn in private--not sitcom lovers taping "Sanford and Son," Sony was sunk. Silicone Valley signed on with VHS. The moral of the story: "If Sony wishes to turn the PSP into a widely accepted multimedia device," says Pachter, "it has to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion of content."
Which raises the bigger question: portaporn may make sense on paper, but who really wants smut on the subway? No one, says Wired's Regina Lynn--and that's the point. "A major advantage of the 'Porn Station Portable' is privacy," she says. "We ask whether people will view porn in public, but I think the main reason to take your porn with you is to view it in private. No one around you needs to know what you're looking at. If you're in college and living at home, you don't want your mom catching you, so why not load it up on a PSP and go look at it somewhere else?" GLAY'z agrees. "The PSP is a suitable platform for our titles," says Makoto Kawada, "because one enjoys them alone, individually." For the past 30 years, each of erotica's new formats--theater, VCR, PC, laptop--has proven more private than the last. And what's a pocket multiplex, say its proponents, if not the ultimate in privacy. Which is good news for those who watch--and perhaps for those who don't.