It was perhaps fortunate that at this stage, his overly attentive minder from the PR department had popped outside. Had she stayed, it seemed unlikely that there would have been a sudden transition from talking about how this particular organisation was tackling the problem of pornography and spam in the workplace, to the intriguing notion that there was much to be learned from porn.
Talking out of school
As it was, the CIO in question quickly realised that he might end up in hot water and insisted that I guarantee anonymity before he carried on with his theory. Normally I would have declined, but this seemed like an interesting line of thought, certainly more so than the half hour of talk about spam filters that had preceded it.
"What I mean is that the porn industry is a great example of how to spend money well and tactically on technology, bleeding-edge technology," he argued. "Why can I go on to an adult website and get a better quality of live videostreaming than I can expect to get in corporate video-conferencing from the likes of BT and IBM? We're doing a lot of work on content provision for mobile devices and WAP access to our online services, but we're nowhere near as far down the track as some of the porn companies."
"And they're not looking at niche applications either. The whole point about the adult entertainment business model is it has to be able to be used by a mass commodity audience. If you needed specialist technology, then the customer base wouldn't be there. The point is that all you need is a browser and a PC and you can download videostreaming live to your desktop. Obviously, if you have broadband it's going to help but that's pretty much a commodity product itself these days."
So is this a topic that makes it on to the board discussions at his firm? He snorted derisively. "That I would suspect be more than my job's worth," he laughed. "Porn is bad. Porn is something that we spend money to keep out of organisations. And that's a good thing - we don't want employees spending all day accessing Playboy. The problems of spam offering penis implants and lesbian donkey sex are genuine. But if we were honest, we could learn something from the porn industry ... but I bet we won't."
It is not a new concept. A case can be made that there are two constant drivers for technology innovation: War and sex.
The politically correct version of history argues the printing press came into widespread usage in order to mass produce the Bible, but publishing the works of the Marquis de Sade and other pornographic literature quickly became a major sideline. The camera was ideal for Victorian families to have their portraits taken, but just as handy for taking smutty pictures of women falling out of their crinolines.
The days of early cinematography were not all Mary Pickford and young virgins strapped to trainlines by villains with moustaches; there was more than its fair share of early pornography. Most recently it could be argued the home video player was helped into mass commoditisation by the desire to snap up Confessions of a Sex Starved Housewife.
As we move into the 21st century, there are new developments. The tabloid desire to find the first couple to have sex on camera in Big Brother is becoming an annual media obsession. But there are adult versions of Big Brother out there like Voyeur Dorm that you can access via a browser where individuals live their lives out on camera and stream everything to your desktop.
The majority of these video streaming and chat operations are based in the US, particularly on the west coast where Los Angeles remains the global heart of the adult entertainment industry. Here they have a head start in technology terms as they became the haven for thousands and thousands of redundant Java and web developers who found themselves on the street following the dotcom collapse at the start of the decade. Used to being paid ludicrously high salaries, one of the few sectors to be able to offer comparable payment was the porn industry, keen to exploit bleeding-edge technologies for commercial gain. So the brightest and the best went from working for online retailers to online pornographers.
At the less hard core end of the market, UK firms are also using adult entertainment as a way of getting users to sign up for new technologies. News International, publisher of The Sun newspaper, Sun Online website and Page3.com, has launched Sun Mobile, a new channel for Sun branded content designed specifically for mobile phone users.
Publishing giant News International is trying to get The Sun's nine million readers to sign up for this new WAP operation. Sun Mobile is accessible to users anywhere in the world who can pay for content on their phone bill, using their credit or debit card, or by other methods using bleeding-edge mobile technology from Bango.
The WAP site features a number of potentially lucrative commercial services, such as the latest ringtones, music and Java games. It is also exploiting its most famous asset - Page 3 - with wallpapers and screensavers of topless women.
The site will develop quickly to include a full range of mobile content services presented under The Sun branding in an easy to use 'browse and buy' experience powered by Bango. "It is vitally important The Sun has a strong presence in all media whether it be print, web or mobile," says Simon Ashley, commercial manager, news group digital at News International. "Sun Mobile gives us a direct, interactive relationship with our customers on the mobile. It's an important step as it allows us to develop a totally new revenue stream."
But suggest that The Sun is using adult entertainment to encourage sign-up for other services and the response is distinctly cooler.
It seems the busty charms of the Page 3 stunners do not count as adult entertainment. "We do not classify Page 3 within an adult context," says Ashley. "We have always worked hard to disassociate Page 3 from any other adult content."
This squeamishness is not confined to The Sun. For the purposes of this interview, we asked to talk to several adult entertainment technology providers, including a leading ISP and a 3G mobile operator. These firms are building a revenue stream on adult entertainment, but ask them to talk about it and there is an expedient outbreak of corporate deafness.
But the reality is porn sells and drives revenue. According to mobile content enabler Bango, the average cost of all content is 61 pence (NZ$1.60) per session but for adult content this increases to £1.29 (NZ$3.36). Some 30 per cent of all look-ups for content through Bango are for adult material and 65 per cent of total revenue value through Bango is currently derived from adult content.
So it is an entirely legitimate business model but companies shy away from talking about it. "It boils down to the fact that people are funny about sex," says Georgina Voss of the University of Sussex. "It might well be that companies are looking to adult entertainment as a way of driving revenue, but there might be shareholders and stakeholders that wouldn't care for it, so companies don't want to talk about it openly."
Voss is currently undertaking academic research project into the business structure of the adult entertainment industry. The project focuses on the industry's lead in innovating, developing and using new technologies, with a specific focus on the digital technologies implemented by online adult companies.
"It has long been acknowledged that the adult entertainment industry is far ahead of other industries with regard to innovating new technologies, but the factors for its success in doing so have, to date, never been examined academically" says Voss.
"This is very important and ground-breaking work into a huge industry which has so far been overlooked by business and management. By examining the accomplishments of the adult entertainment industry in an unbiased and analytical manner, it should be possible to provide lessons about successfully developing new technologies, both for the adult industry and other sectors. There are lessons to be learned, but companies have not always been open to this idea."
Some companies are more open about their technology plans, most notably the Playboy empire. Its most recent move is to offer galleries of photographs that can be viewed on digital media players such as the Apple iPod. Inevitably the nude galleries will be pitched as 'iBod'.
The feature is meant in part to show Playboy.com visitors how to download Playboy content onto a portable device. "The overwhelming response we have received for this feature supports our theory that iPod Photo users are a technologically advanced group with a significant interest in enjoying beautiful Playboy images," says John Thomas, editor of Playboy.com. "There's a major push to do stuff for the iPod photo, as well as any other kind of device like this."
The company will offer a free gallery of non-nude pictures for download from Playboy.com, but to get nude images, users will have to belong to the websites' 'cyber club', which charges a monthly fee. "Now you can view individual images or entire slide shows in the palm of your hand, at the tap of a button, to beautify your dull commute or just to pass the time in the lecture hall," the company says in its marketing.
While the original iBod feature uses shots from the archives that could be cropped and edited to look good on the small screen, Playboy plans to shoot original content especially for the iPod and other music devices as well as provide music associated with the galleries.
An icon linking to the photo gallery has placement on the Playboy.com front page, along with other photo features. The graphic plays off Apple's iconic ad campaign, with the black silhouette of a woman, apparently wearing nothing but an iPod, against a blue background.
Playboy has been active in signing deals to make its content available on portable devices, such as cell phones. It previously signed a deal with Dwango Wireless to develop and deliver Playboy-themed games, images, video clips, voice clips and ringtones for cell phones. The company already sells wireless entertainment in Germany, the UK, Australia and Brazil. With its expansion into North America, the company estimates that it will tap a market of more than 170 million wireless subscribers.
Playboy has also worked with stream-ing media technology firms, most notably Real Networks which looked to adult content as a way to draw subscribers to its RealOne service, in the same way US cable firms use soft porn films as a premium service on top of their standard fare.
Playboy TV Club will be available only as a stand-alone subscription instead of an integrated part of RealNetworks' RealOne SuperPass, its video service that counts CNN, ABC News and Major League Baseball audio as partners. RealNetworks manages all technology, billing, customer service and content delivery for Playboy TV Club.
Technology innovation is also one of the main drivers behind Naked News Daily Male (NNDM), the all-male gay-oriented news and entertainment program under the Naked News umbrella.
NNDM will now be available globally through www.RainbowNetwork.tv, the internet television platform of Gaydar, one of the world's biggest web services applications and via cellular telephone using GoConnect's free, downloadable m-Vision technology. NNDM covers international and entertainment news, gay lifestyle stories and issues, fashion, health, travel and major events, presented daily by male anchors in the nude. Both services, RainbowNetwork and m-Vision, are powered by GoTrek technology which can be loaded to PC, a Windows mobile smartphone, or a pocket PC.
It enables the viewer to receive broadcast quality audio and video content without regard to internet connection speed.
"We were so pleased with the results from the all-female Naked News that we immediately decided to further extend our content partnership," says Richard Li, GoConnect's executive chairman. "Naked News Daily Male will be going Gaydar and mobile to fill a significant demand that we have identified, for quality news and lifestyle gay media entertainment."
So what are the main lessons that can be learned by CIOs in mainstream commercial organisations from their counterparts in the porn industry?
Back to our original financial services CIO for the answer to that: "The porn business is focused on its needs. It has a clear business driver and a set of objectives and wants to leverage new technologies to exploit new revenue streams. We could learn so much. But it won't be on our IT agenda any time soon."
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