Wireless firms count on sex to sell cellphone services

How many of you guys have this already?

Sex Cells
Wireless Operators in Europe, Asia
Find that Racy Cellphone Video
Drives a Surge in Broadband Use

May 12, 2005; Page B1

Pornography helped drive the early adoption of new technologies such as the VCR and the Internet. Now, wireless providers in many countries are counting on sex to spur the use of their broadband cellphone services.

Customers of French operator Orange, for instance, can view video clips on their cellphones from the company’s wireless portal that feature women in the shower or cavorting half-naked on the beach at sunset. Orange, a unit of France Télécom SA, says as much as a quarter of all videos accessed from its portal are erotic – the equivalent of about 3,330 hours of viewing each month.

Los Angeles-based Vivid Entertainment Group Inc., a major producer of porn films, provides erotic videogames to many large European operators, and plans a service that lets subscribers have live sex chats with women they can view on video. When Vodafone Group PLC launched Vivid’s series of EroTrix games in Germany, Greece and Portugal, there were 30,000 downloads in the first two months, says Steven Hirsch, Vivid’s co-founder.

Starting in June, cellphone users in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia will be able to chat with Vivienne, a “virtual girlfriend” created by Artificial Life Inc., a Hong Kong-based maker of interactive games. She says on her Web site, www.v-girl.com, that she won’t have real or cyber sex with her admirers. But “we can have exciting conversations about all sorts of things,” she says.
[A sampling of images and videos for cellphones]
A sampling of images and videos for cellphones available in Europe, provided by Vivid Entertainment of Los Angeles.

World-wide, analysts expect spending on such content for cellphones to top $1 billion this year, up from virtually nothing a few years ago. Spending could triple or more within a few years, some say, particularly as the number of cellphones with video downloading capabilities grows. Last year, some 21 million cellphones in Western Europe, 19 million in Asia and 14 million in North America had such capabilities, according to Strategy Analytics, a consulting firm based in Newton, Mass. Those numbers are likely to quadruple by the end of 2006, Strategy Analytics says.

Some U.S. operators want a piece of the adult action. Amp’d Mobile Inc., a new U.S. cellphone operator that plans to launch later this year using Verizon Wireless’s network, intends to make adult content from Hustler magazine and other sources available to Amp’d’s subscribers.

Amp’d Chief Executive Peter Adderton says it’s unclear how big the market for erotic content will be in the U.S. But since adult content played a major role in pushing other technologies, “I don’t see how wireless will be any different,” he says.

What operators offer varies widely around the world, depending in part on national attitudes toward porn. In countries like France and Italy, where there is a broad cultural acceptance of nudity on television and in other media, nudity on cellphones is becoming commonplace, but it’s not necessarily hard-core porn.

Gareth Jones, chief operating officer at the U.K. division of operator Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., says cellphone users on a bus might be too embarrassed to watch a lengthy video of people having sex, but there is plenty of demand among young men for snippets of saucy material. “It’s popular with guys in the pub after a few beers,” he says.

China, the world’s largest cellphone market by the number of users, has cracked down on cellphone porn entirely but has struggled to prevent users from accessing it. Such services are limited or nonexistent in certain Middle Eastern countries where the possession of even soft-core pornography is a criminal offense.

In the U.S., there are currently no specific regulations governing adult content on cellphones, but regulators would likely require cellphone operators to insure that it isn’t available to anyone under 18. The U.S. cellphone industry now is formulating guidelines that tackle two issues: how to technologically prevent minors from accessing adult content, and what material is considered restricted. One option under consideration is an “opt in” provision that would require cellphone subscribers to certify they are adults before their phones are enabled to receive adult content.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the content wireless operators provide, says it is monitoring the adult-content issue and examining what options it might have to enforce decency standards. Meanwhile, it is already receiving complaints. The Mississippi-based American Family Association sent an “action alert” last month about Playboy Enterprises Inc.'s plan to offer content for cellphones and urged members to ask the FCC to “set heavy fines for pornographers who send their porn to our children.”

“Twelve- and 13-year old boys are very curious and they’re going to buddy with their friends to see what they can find,” says Randy Sharp, AFA’s director of special projects, who met with FCC staff this week about requiring wireless companies to install safeguards. “Most parents are not aware the technology exists that allows our kids to receive files on cellphones.”

Playboy, which licenses pictures and videos of naked women to European cellphone users, says it plans only PG-rated material for U.S. cellphone users – images of bikini-clad women and Playboy-branded casino games that don’t involve actual gambling. Playboy is working with Dwango Wireless Inc., a provider of wireless technology, to strike deals with U.S. cellphone operators to offer its product to subscribers. Pictures are likely to cost between 99 cents and $1.99, games between $2.99 and $5.99, according to Dwango.

For now, the big U.S. carriers have shied away from offering explicit content either on their own portals or through joint-billing arrangements. But subscribers can – with some difficulty – access pornographic material at other wireless Web sites. Some analysts say porn already accounts for as much as half of the multimedia traffic U.S. wireless operators handle from outside of their own portals.

Some U.S. carriers say adult content doesn’t fit with their family-oriented image. But, Bryan Zidar, a spokesman for T-Mobile, says the carrier is “evaluating the area.” In Europe, the German operator offers adult fare on its own portal.

Of Amp’d’s plans to use Verizon Wireless’s network to provide pornographic content, Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson says “what they do with their customers is really their issue.” As for whether Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Vodafone and Verizon Communications Inc., plans to offer adult content, Mr. Nelson says it’s “too early to tell.”

While it can be difficult to enforce standards on services offered on the wider wireless Web, some operators say it is possible to install filters to prevent access to such material. And most pictures and video clips on operators’ portals are encoded in software designed to prevent the customer from sending the content onto another handset via the cellphone network. But this software typically won’t prevent the transfer of content via a cable or short-range wireless technology, such as Bluetooth.

In an effort to pre-empt regulatory scrutiny, some operators in Europe have devised ways to restrict access. In the U.K., the six largest operators last year agreed to put in place age-verification systems and filters to prevent customers under 18 from accessing pornographic material. Vodafone, for example, installed software on its network that bars customers from accessing a link to adult material unless his or her age is verified either by inputting a credit card number or visiting a Vodafone store. Then, £1 ($1.90) is charged to the credit card to alert parents whose cards may have been borrowed by their kids.

Vodafone in February outlined its approach to representatives from all the major U.S. operators at a meeting organized by U.S. industry group the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. The CTIA’s guidelines will draw heavily on the U.K. model.

Amp’d Chief Executive Mr. Adderton says customers who want to view restricted material from his upcoming service must prove they are 18 to obtain a PIN that grants access. Mr. Adderton, who previously helped launch Nextel Communications Inc.'s youth-oriented wireless service Boost, says his attitude on adult content is, “If you are over the age of 18 and you want to pay for it, go for it.”

How shocking that people are interested in T & A.

Selling nude images and other sex things on mobile phones has been quite common in South Korea for years and the market is growing rapidly. To a degree more and more movie and TV drama stars and singers are making their first debut on a nude album on a phone or on the net.