Porn Factor: Why Erotic Movies Won't Decide Next Gen DVD War

Whether you know it or not, there's a war going on. But it's not being fought on the streets of Baghdad or in the halls of the U.S. Senate. This battle is being waged in your living room -- or more specifically for your living room.

Two new DVD formats, both of which offer high definition video for those pricey HDTVs, are competing to see which one will replace standard DVDs as the new norm.

The key to winning the battle? Many experts believe it's the adult entertainment industry that will play a key role in determining whether Blu-ray DVD or HD DVD becomes the format of choice, as it was when VHS and Betamax fought it out in the '80s.

"I've heard that we were instrumental in the VHS/Beta format war," said Jackie Ramos, vice president of DVD production for adult movie studio Wicked Pictures. "I don't know if that's totally 100 percent true, but I know we did have some influence."

But this isn't like the VHS/Betamax melee of years ago, because Blu-ray and HD DVD aren't simply squaring off against each other; this war is being fought on multiple fronts, from video on demand and pay-per-view to the Internet.

A Tale of Two Formats

"I don't think the consumer has chosen yet whether they're going to be purchasing Blu-ray or HD [DVD]. Certainly, the porn consumer hasn't made that choice," explained Drew Rosenfeld, creative director for Hustler Video. "I think their choice is at home, on their computer, on their iPod, on their cell phone, where they don't have a home full of all of this smut. They can keep it private on their computer, where they can dispose of it that fast."

Back in the 1980s, the public had a choice, VHS or Betamax, and they overwhelmingly chose VHS. The introduction of the videotape gave the public the chance to capture their favorite television shows, watch movies mere months after they had left theaters and, for the first time, watch porn in the privacy of their own homes and not in a seedy (and very public) adult movie house.

Though you certainly weren't one of the people who indulged in watching adult entertainment on VHS tapes, millions of others were, and as a result it's widely believed that the adult entertainment industry's backing of VHS instead of Betamax, led to the VHS victory.

"Before the videocassette, adult content for the home was mostly print -- books, magazines -- unless you were willing to endure the occasional eight millimeter movie," explained Russ Crupnick, vice president and senior industry analyst for the NPD Group. "Adult was one of the 'killer apps' for home video in the early days so it had a much greater influence on the first format war."

There are all kinds of reasons why the adult industry chose VHS -- price, availability -- but at the end of the day the release of a format that could be watched at home allowed anyone who wanted to enjoy an adult film the privacy to do so.

This time things are different. If you're looking for porn -- and don't have access to the Internet -- your cable provider probably gives you access to hundreds of hours of TV and movies available on demand -- hence the name, "video on demand," or VOD. That's expected to increase over time and the breadth of the content will only widen.

"I would imagine that by the end of the year we're going to be more on the VOD streaming side, or pay-per-view -- broadcast stuff more than an actual physical DVD," said Rosenfeld. "Everything we're shooting right now is gearing us up for that market."

Increasingly, media-centric devices and software like Apple's upcoming video- and audio-streaming device, Apple TV, and the many media elements incorporated into Microsoft's new Window's operating system, Vista, are making it easier for people to get video from their computers to their TV sets.

There's also the question of whether or not the exotic entertainment watching public really wants to see porn in high definition.

"For the way that most people probably use porn, DVD is probably good enough," said Crupnick. "We're not talking about 'Star Wars' here, I don't think you need 1080p [the highest HDTV video resolution]."

Adult Industry Eyes HD DVD -- Anyone Care?

Though they sang a different tune early last year, right now it looks like the erotic entertainment industry is leaning towards HD DVD.

At this year's Adult Entertainment Expo, a massive industry trade and fan show held annually in Las Vegas, many industry leaders commented on difficulties getting their content duplicated on Blu-ray DVD.

"We didn't rule out Blu-ray, it was just an issue of expense and what was readily available to us as," said Ramos. "What happened time-wise was that the HD thing happened for us a lot easier and cheaper than Blu-ray."

One well known adult film director, Joone, even blamed Sony for trying to block erotic movies from reaching the Blu-ray format. Sony denied the claim and Vivid Video, one of the industry's biggest players, is releasing a film on Blu-ray DVD in March entitled "Debbie Does Dallas Again."

But for many adult video content creators, the decision is one of dollars and cents and the high cost of duplicating films on an expensive next-generation format that no one's sure will catch on is not a risk worth taking.

"Financially it's a nightmare because we're not putting out millions of copies per title like the big Hollywood studios are," said Rosenfeld. "We're dealing in the thousands -- and then the low thousands -- per movie, and so for us to make that kind of an investment right now, doesn't make sense."

The ultimate winner in the battle for living room supremacy is anyone's guess, but whether or not the adult industry will play as big a role as it played in earlier format wars seems unlikely.