FEED Issue 15

Exploring the future of media technology



Adult content – alright we’ll say the word, porn – has been a massive driver of media technology-certainly since the 1980s, and probably well before. Japanese woodblock printers were churning out erotic shunga as far back as the 10th century. In 2018, adult video giant Pornhub had 92 million visits per day and delivered over 4403 petabytes of data. Yet, when we talk about industry trends and online video success stories, the adult industry is completely absent from our conversations. The truth is, if you are publishing video online, you are not only competing with Netflix and YouTube, you’re competing with Pornhub and xHamster. So this issue takes a long, hard look at the adult video industry. To pretend that it doesn’t exists is bad business practice, and to think that you can’t learn something useful from it, is arrogance. We learned that there are some visionary filmmakers out there, doing fascinating work and struggling bravely against the dominance of video super-platforms – the same story we hear in every other part of the industry. We hope you come away from this issue with a new understanding of one of the most powerful drivers for tech and content in the online world. Also in the issue, we take a look at the production of a BBC show in which all the stars are completely naked – we’re talking about Blue Planet Live , of course. The show garnered rave reviews and employed some stunning technical expertise to deliver the animal nakedness from around the world to prime-time family audiences. It also featured a camera flying through a cascade of actual snot. Yes, I know. Disgusting. But at FEED we try to keep an open mind.

EDITORIAL EDITOR Neal Romanek +44 (0) 1223 492246 nealromanek@bright-publishing.com CONTRIBUTORS Ann-Marie Corvin, Michael Burns, Adrian Pennington STAFF WRITER Chelsea Fearnley CHIEF SUB EDITOR Beth Fletcher SENIOR SUB EDITOR Siobhan Godwood SUB EDITOR Felicity Evans JUNIOR SUB EDITOR Elisha Young ADVERTISING SALES DIRECTOR Matt Snow +44 (0) 1223 499453 mattsnow@bright-publishing.com KEY ACCOUNTS Chris Jacobs +44 (0) 1223 499463 chrisjacobs@bright-publishing.com DESIGN DESIGN DIRECTOR


Man-Wai Wong Lucy Woolcomb PUBLISHING MANAGING DIRECTORS Andy Brogden & Matt Pluck

NEAL ROMANEK, EDITOR nealromanek@bright-publishing.com

@feedzine @feed.zine

Need to update or cancel your FEED subscription? Email us at feedsubs@bright-publishing.com BRIGHT PUBLISHING LTD, BRIGHT HOUSE, 82 HIGH STREET, SAWSTON, CAMBRIDGESHIRE CB22 3HJ UK


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Content moderation jobs are awful. But is AI the solution to the internet’s trash problem?

Dispatches from the world of online video



How do you make a game channel on Twitch stand out? Slow it down. And make it about board games

This month, we look at the future of online advertising, the ‘wow’ factor of holographic interviews and the tech for streamable gaming


68 HAPPENING – NAB This year’s NAB Show

Start-up BitMovio is using blockchain and gamification

revealed an industry hard at work shunning alluring, shiny tech distractions

to create a new kind of interactive online video experience 40 ROUND TABLE - BLOCKCHAIN


Our experts get us up to speed on the technology we’ve all heard about, but don’t yet understand


It was sink or swim for Blue Planet Live , a BBC natural history spectacular that pushed the technological boundaries of live production



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20 THE BUSINESS OF PORN The world of online adult video is more complicated – and more ordinary – than you might first think 26 PROFILE : FIVESTAR Adult VR is taking off. We talk to one filmmaker who is pushing the boundaries 28 GENIUS INTERVIEW: ERIKA LUST Putting diversity, responsibility and fun at the centre of her work, Erika Lust is a new kind of adult filmmaker 32 GENIUS INTERVIEW: ANDREA BARRICA Tech entrepreneur turned educator, Andrea Barrica has founded O.school, an online sex information resource that’s open to everyone ADULT CONTENT FOCUS


The facts of life: porn has always been popular and if last year’s Pornhub registered 33.5 billion visits prove anything – it’s not going anywhere

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Viewers tuning into the live broadcast of the Paris Notre-Dame fire on YouTube were met with a banner displaying misplaced facts about 9/11. Ironically, the ‘information banner’ was designed by YouTube to fact-check topics that generate misinformation on the platform. It adds a small info box, below videos, that provides third-party factual information from YouTube partners, which

in this case was Encyclopaedia Britannica. According to Vagelis Papalexakis, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, YouTube’s automated tools may have mistaken the visuals of the burning cathedral for 9/11 footage. He said: “As long as we’re using automated methods to throttle content there is always a margin for mistake. This

is a multifaceted problem; not only is it working to detect false news but something being falsely associated with 9/11.” A spokesperson at YouTube said that they were “deeply saddened by the fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral”, and that “these banners are triggered algorithmically, and our systems sometimes make the wrong call”. YouTube has disabled the banners for live streams related to the fire.

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7 NEWSFEED Updates & Upgrades


Disney+, the new streaming service, has announced its launch date - 12 November. Customers will be able to pay a monthly ($6.99) or yearly ($69.99) fee for a vast library of Disney’s and Fox’s legacy content, as well as new and exclusive TV shows, movies and documentaries. There’s concern about the impact Disney+ will have on other streaming services. The Guardian said Disney+ will be a “Netflix killer”, but CNBC stated “Netflix and chill probably isn’t going anywhere”. According to CNN, Netflix has 150 million subscribers worldwide, and with this income, programming despite the new competition. Wall Street analysts expect Netflix to spend close to $15 billion on programming this year, whereas Disney claimed it would spend $1 billion on original content for Disney+ by 2020. There could be an opportunity Disney+ in Netflix’s plans to raise subscription fees. Disney+’s $6.99 a month by far undercuts the $13 monthly fee for Netflix’s most popular US plan. should continue to create high-quality

News that VizRT, Norwegian titan of real-time 3D graphics and Virtual Studio software, had acquired NewTek broke before the NAB Show 2019, but it still became one of the biggest stories of the event. NewTek is widely recognised for NDI, a complete network for real-time production that kicked off the evolution toward IP infrastructure. Together, VizRT and NewTek create the largest company in the broadcast space that is focused on enabling IT- based video production, with 700 employees worldwide. The new company hopes to emerge as the driving force in the transition to IP video for

“The tools from our two companies have fuelled the video revolution – from kids in classrooms, little league games, and web shows, to the highest levels of broadcasting, news and sports,” said Dr Andrew Cross, NewTek CTO. “The combined company represents one of the most disruptive changes for the video industry in decades. However the goal remains the same – to build a new world of IT-based video technology to grow the reach and impact for anyone with a story to share.” Both brands will keep their own identities and names going forward, but the overall company will be called VizRT.

live production with NDI and SMPTE 2110, with each serving different needs. “Combining our organisations allows us to pursue our joint vision of software-based video production,” said Michael Hallén, VizRT CEO. Both companies claim that this acquisition brings two diametrically opposite, albeit complementary, sectors of the industry together.


Microsoft’s Mixer livestreaming gaming service has enlisted Make.TV’s cloud-powered video technology to bring Mixer Matchups to Microsoft Stores across the US. Mixer, similar to Twitch, launched in 2017 and boasts over 20 million active users. It was the first streaming platform with sub-second latency, dubbed Faster Than Light streaming, on Windows 10, Xbox One, iOS and Android.

Mixer hosts weekly Mixer Matchups tournaments at participating Microsoft Stores and broadcasts them live on its streaming platform. Now, with Make.TV’s Live Video Cloud, Mixer will be able to bring competing players and remote talent together into a single stream for the first time. Andreas Jacobi, Make.TV CEO, says, “we’re excited to be working with Mixer to help

bring new gaming experiences to players and fans alike. Microsoft’s production team can capture content from multiple locations, curating and distributing it to fans in a groundbreaking show. Bringing people together from multiple locations to enjoy shared experiences is fundamental to the future of esports broadcasting, and this can now be achieved on an unprecedented scale.”

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8 NEWSFEED Updates & Upgrades

Due to open in 2020, Montreal’s new CBC broadcast centre will be a creative hub for the city’s digital and artistic communities. It will be an advanced facility, epitomising the 21st-century public broadcaster, with an IP-based infrastructure and support for end-to-end SMPTE ST 2110 and 2022-7. Overarching management of CBC’s broadcast infrastructure will be provided by Lawo’s VSM IP broadcast control system, which has over 3000 concurrent device connections and 100,000 managed signal paths. Lawo’s vm_dmv Infinitely Expandable IP Multiviewer will also handle multiviewing for TV production. NEWCBC BROADCAST CENTRE

Lawo’s mc296 and mc256 mixing consoles with support for SMPTE 2110- 30 and AES67/RAVENNA will be used in audio production, and 18 of its ruby radio broadcast consoles, integrated with touchscreen GUI, will operate the radio. Multi-format Power Core audio nodes handling AES3, HD MADI, analogue and AES67 audio channels will be used for audio acquisition, along with Lawo Commentary Units and A_stage

multi-format stage boxes. Massive audio processing will be run by A_UHD Core DSP engines. CBC has also selected Grass Valley’s ITX integrated playout platform to help its production teams manage multiple formats, such as 4K UHD, and mix IP inputs using back-to-back IP sources and file-based clips. Arista Networks will provide CBC with its cloud networking solution – Arista EOS – and IP Switching.


The US Department of Justice has warned the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences that rules for excluding Netflix and other streaming services from the Oscars could raise antitrust concerns and violate competition law. Makan Delrahim, chief of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, wrote to Dawn Hudson, Academy CEO, to express concerns that new rules would be written “in a way that tends to suppress competition”. He also wrote: “In the event that the Academy... establishes certain eligibility requirements for the Oscars that eliminate competition without pro- competitive justification, such conduct may raise antitrust concerns.” The letter came in response to reports that Academy board member Steven Spielberg was planning to push for restricting movies that debut on Netflix and streaming services around the same time they show in the cinema.

The proposed rule change was voiced shortly after the streaming giant got its biggest Oscars achievement to date, with Roma winning three awards. Netflix promptly responded on Twitter, writing: “We love cinema. Here are some things we also love. Access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theatres. Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time. Giving filmmakers ways to share art.” Spielberg’s grumble with Netflix isn’t new. Last year, he told ITV news that the company produces “TV movies” and should compete at the Emmys. An Academy spokesperson responded to Delrahim’s letter, saying: “We’ve received a letter from the Department of Justice and have responded accordingly. The Academy’s Board of Governors will meet for its annual awards rules meeting, where all branches submit possible updates for consideration.”

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) has added high-speed encoding to its AWS Elemental MediaConvert service. The new feature, Accelerated Transcoding, promises to increase the processing speed of file-based video encoding jobs by up to 25 times and works by automatically determining the best level of resources to assign each job. Once enabled, there’s nothing you need to set; it scales automatically. Accelerated Transcoding is available at no additional cost to those using the on-demand professional pricing tier of AWS Elemental MediaConvert. It works with AVC and HEVC codecs, and HLS, DASH CMAF, MSS, MPEG-2 TS, MP4 and MOV containers. Accelerated Transcoding meets the demand for faster encoding and transcoding. Video service Epix has already sampled the new feature, and according to chief digital officer, Jon Dakss, it is flexible and lets his company deliver 4K streamed content to multiple platforms faster than before. AWS ACCELERATED TRANSCODING

TWO ANNOUNCEMENTS FROM AVID Jeff Rosica, Avid CEO and President

Avid unveiled a redesign of its flagship Media Composer video-editing system and the new Avid Nexis Cloudspaces SaaS storage offering. The Media Composer has a next- generation Avid Media Engine with distributed processing, finishing and delivering capabilities, and a customisable role-based UI for large teams. Users will be able to create and deliver higher-quality content with editing, effects, colour, audio and finishing tools without leaving the tool.

said: “After receiving input from hundreds of editors across the media industry... we reimagined... the product that created the nonlinear video editing category.” Avid’s other announcement, the Avid Nexis Cloudspaces SaaS storage offering, marries Avid’s Nexis storage system with the cloud, allowing users to sync or park on-prem Avid Nexis workspaces to Avid Nexis Cloudspaces. Users will be able to offload projects and media not currently in production to save on local storage. Sony announced the development of the world’s biggest 16K screen, at 9.2m (63ft) by 5.4m (17ft), soon to go on show in Japan. It is formed of several modular panels which don’t have bezels, which creates the impression of a single screen. The display uses Crystal LED (Sony’s brand name for Micro LED technology) and does not require a backlight; it is much brighter than OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens, while still delivering similar deep blacks. Given the display’s size, resolution and non-standard aspect ratio, the screen probably won’t be seen outside the corporate world for some time. “We’re moving slowly towards 8K TVs at the


end of the decade and who knows how long it will take to get beyond that,” said David Mercer, VP at Strategy Analytics. The screen is currently being installed at a new research centre that has been built for the Japanese cosmetics group Shiseido in the city of Yokohama, and since little 16K footage exists elsewhere, Sony has produced its own film for the screen depicting life-size wildlife. Mercer said: “These displays are incredibly impressive in person, even 8K on a big display is almost mesmerising. When you get to this resolution, it delivers almost a quasi-virtual reality experience as your eyes perceive there to be depth to the content.”

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11 NEWSFEED Updates & Upgrades

The first undertaking by NewTek under the gaze of new owners VizRT was the announcement of NDI 4, which adds new capabilities to make video production over IP faster and more efficient. NDI 4 includes the ability to record an unlimited number of NDI video channels with full synchronisation, in any video or audio format, including 4K and above. NDI video sources are recorded without recompression, providing the ability to ISO-record any NEWTEK NDI 4

number of channels, limited only by disk and network performance. Recordings are time-stamped and time-base corrected, ensuring that any number of channels on any number of machines are fully synchronised, meaning NDI is now a viable option when it comes to producing any number of multi-camera events, from studio recordings to sports and more. NDI 4 boasts improved video quality without an increase in bitrate, support for

a 16-bit video path and more input and output colour formats. It provides support for a discovery server allowing for the use of a server or the cloud to coordinate and connect all sources. NDI 4 for is also good for gamers: it now supports the Epic Games Unreal Engine, making it possible for apps created in Unreal to appear as NDI sources. At NAB, Will Waters, VP of Worldwide Customer Success, told FEED that over 63 booths were using the tool at the show. DELUXE ONE AI It was announced that Deluxe One, Deluxe’s cloud-based asset management platform that allows content owners to view and manage their content – from creation to delivery – all in one place, now incorporates AI technology. AI will help accelerate content identification, matching, conformance and processing of component audio files, subtitles and textless/texted material. This allows the system to scan large catalogues of unidentified and/or uncorrelated assets to associate them to the proper picture master for faster time to market. Once assets are complete, content owners will be able to power their own OTT application directly from the platform. The platform has a similar UI to Netflix, but the assets are completely customisable and can be tweaked based on performance data.


MediaKind is taking an as-a-service (aaS) approach to 360° live video with the launch of Cygnus, a cloud-based workflow for live video processing and multi- platform publishing service. Cygnus enables TV operators and content owners to deliver 360° live video to consumers, either directly via a head-mounted device or viewed on a multiscreen device as a companion to existing HD/UHD broadcast or streamed services. The content can be captured and processed in up to 8K and delivered in the suitable resolutions and formats for live publishing to an operator’s app or social media platform, while maintaining optimised delivery bitrates between 10- 15mbps and without raising CDN costs. The service also offers technical support and monitoring to operators throughout the staging and broadcasting of an event, therefore reducing delivery risk and the need for additional cost of placing skilled staff on-site.

MediaKind anticipates Cygnus will appeal to broadcasters and operators with content rights, especially in premium sport and esports content, allowing them to access new monetisation opportunities and reduce churn, giving viewers and subscribers better value for money by watching an event on a pay-per-view basis or via advertising. Angel Ruiz, MediaKind CEO, says, “we are providing the tools to put fans of live sports, esports and music in the producer’s seat, with the opportunity to self-curate and become more engaged in their favourite content in a way they never have before.”

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12 STREAMPUNK Shut Up & Sit Down

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13 STREAMPUNK Shut Up & Sit Down

We look at bringing digital video to the world of board games, tabletops and tokens with Shut Up & Sit Down founder, Matt Lees SLOW DOWN AND PLAY

Words by Neal Romanek

att Lees and his friends are online gamers. They stream their

Shut up & Sit Down, in keeping with its subject, has adopted a hand-crafted and highly curated ethos. In a hugely oversaturated market, the channel is about quality over quantity, presenting viewers with honest analysis of carefully selected games. The result is a very loyal audience and respect within the community. “Rather than covering more stuff, we cover less. We work out which games really matter, which games are really great, and try to promote them.” He adds: “We want to encourage people to spend more time doing things face to face and having social interactions with people.” SU&SD’s refined and controlled approach left their audience hungry for more frequent content. Rather than trying to churn out more of the same, the team decided to try a different format and began livestreaming. Every two weeks, SU&SD streams a show on Twitch. The flavour is different from the scripted format of the game reviews and allows for more spontaneity and live audience chat. Lees had previously tried video game streaming, but it didn’t appeal to him. “I found the mix of trying to be entertaining and insightful, while also trying to chat to people directly and moderating the chat, too, could be quite distracting and draining,” he explains. “And when you end up having community issues – which everybody in video games does, whether you like it or not – I found that quite draining as well.”

games live on Twitch, and the competition is fierce. But this isn’t esports: this is the real thing. This is board games. Shut Up & Sit Down started when some friends who worked in the video game industry decided that not enough people were talking about board games. Matt Lees, one of the founders, explains: “We thought they were really interesting and that it was a much more niche hobby than it needed to be.” They established a YouTube channel that focused primarily on in-depth reviews of board games. The channel has been a huge hit, with over 170,000 subscribers and some videos reaching over half a million views. Not bad for a ‘niche hobby’. “Since then, we’ve been growing and growing, getting more of an audience and getting better at what we do”, says Lees. “And it’s getting really big – board games are becoming kind of a cultural thing again.”

POPULAR CULTURE SU&SD’s YouTube channel more than 170,000 subscribers, and the most popular video on their channel has over 635,000 views


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14 STREAMPUNK Shut Up & Sit Down

As a result of Lee’s past experience of feeling uninspired by the bulk of Twitch streaming, SU&SD are reaching for something different. “We’re experimenting with the format, rather than just falling into the habit of doing what people are already doing,” says Lees. The set-up they have opted for currently is one where none of the SU&SD team have to keep an eye on the technical part of the stream, including the chat. “I wanted it to be detached from us, so we wouldn’t become distracted by it,” Lees explains. “We didn’t want to have the studio environment and the coldness that can come with that – even if you are with real friends, everyone kind of freezes up and changes who they are.” He adds: “We wanted it to be like us hanging out in our living room. And it pretty much is, along with the fact that we don’t have to think about the tech, but we know it’s going to look as good, or close to as good, as our actual filmed footage on YouTube.” The streaming set-up is powered largely by Blackmagic Design. Lees has been the technical lead, teaching himself as he goes along. “It’s not really consumer-facing equipment,” he admits. “But I like a good tinker. I spent a couple of months on it and got it under control, and we can now start experimenting with it, with the ability to have a huge number of sources being plugged into it.” The streaming set-up got a serious shakedown with a ten-hour Twitch stream of classic space opera board game, Twilight Imperium, in February. It used Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K, switcher and control panel, three Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4Ks, a Canon EOS C100 and two Sony PXW-Z90s with SDI outputs. LIKE HANGING OUT IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

STREAMING SET-UP SU&SD employ a Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K, switcher and control panel for their live streams

One of the Micro Studio cameras captured individual player confessions in a separate ‘diary room‘ connected by SDI. Using a Reflecmedia green screen, the diary room used the switcher’s keyer to run a loop of a galaxy behind the players to- camera revelations about their gameplay. Two Blackmagic HyperDeck Studio Minis were employed, too. One played out pre-recorded content, including clips from SU&SD’s 2018 documentary about Twilight Imperium, called Space Lions . The second was used to record a clean version of the stream, which was then later uploaded to YouTube. The stream was captured prior to its output to Twitch, so it could be viewed without the Twitch fan commentary, which is a key part of the live experience, but not as valuable for lean-back watching. Searching for something more than the usual Twitch, talking-head commentary, SU&SD employed an illustrator, who

provided a visual caricature commentary throughout the gameplay. The drawings were captured in Photoshop, then sent to the ATEM mixing desk where they could be overlaid onto the feed as required. Other graphics assets were included to help viewers track the gameplay. The entire workflow requires little monitoring or intervention, which is essential for keeping the intimate atmosphere of the gameplay intact – especially since Lees is the only member of the team wholly at home with the technology so far. A BIT SLOWER The gear is easy enough to set up that SU&SD have been able to take it on the road. The business puts on an annual board game convention in Vancouver called SHUX. This has allowed them to livestream from the show in front of an 800-seat live audience. “I think a lot of Twitch is influenced by modern media trends of information overload,” says Lees. “A lot of video game streams are someone playing a game, then in the corner of the screen they have a video of their face, have the chat embedded and have other elements popping up. For me, it’s just a bit much. I’m increasingly fond of some of the media trends of ten or 15 years ago. If you go back and look at TV shows from then, you’re surprised by how slow they are. They’re often more like radio shows.” He concludes: “Rather than having this information overload, with mad pictures and overlays, we wanted something with the option to create something a bit less busy, a bit less intense and a bit slower.”

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Australia’s Nine Network has enhanced user experience and created new business models and opportunities using the cloud

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he cloud is becoming an increasingly viable option for broadcasters livestreaming. The technology is opening up new

Nine Network, which has been steadily broadcasting since 1956, started livestreaming its channels two years ago. As Nine Network gained more and better rights, including popular sports, its streaming viewership really took off. As a result, so did its technology needs. From only a few thousand streams a month at launch, the channel now averages around four million. The fact that extremely popular reality TV show Love Island had substantially higher views through Nine Network’s livestreaming than on its linear offering is an indicator that online has taken the front seat for its consumers.

ways of delivering content and advances in the type and depth of content available. “Traditionally, the broadcast chain was one of rights holders sending content to broadcast channels who sent content to distributors who then talked to the customers,” notes Mike Callahan, head of Media Solutions Marketing at AWS Elemental. “But over the last few years, especially with the evolution of OTT broadcasting, these players are now able to talk directly to the customer. Consumers now have the ability to pick the viewing experience that fits them the best. Anyone who wants to talk to that consumer really has to plan how they do that and work to provide the best experience.” Cloud-enabled video allows content owners to connect – or reconnect – to consumers. Top Australian broadcaster


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STREAMING EVOLUTION Nine Network’s first iteration of streaming technology was hardware intensive, encompassing a workflow that involved a feed from the broadcast room going to encoders. It involved substantial SDI and an HLS stream output to a CDN, which then streamed content to the consumers. “There was lots of hardware, lots of potential points of failure,” says Kunaal Ramchandani, digital development director at Nine Entertainment. “As you can imagine, as the stress on these boxes increased, so did some of our issues.” One of the worst parts of this set-up was having to literally reboot the entire system when there was a major error, which doesn’t go over well with consumers or sponsors. Nine had already been working as much with cloud as possible, during its digital transformation. With the rollout of AWS Media Services, the network saw a potential solution to its teething problems. The first proposed replacement for the hardware-centric workflow began with a Telestream Wirecast HD output from the broadcast control room to AWS Elemental MediaLive, which outputs an HLS stream to AWS Elemental MediaStore, where it gets stored and is sent out to the player via Amazon CloudFront.

COSTS WENT DOWN, WHICH REALLY SHOULDN’T BE A SURPRISE SINCE WE GOT RID OF AWHOLE LOT OF BOXES “I have to say that the entire proof of concept was set up within 40 minutes,” says Ramchandani. “When we walked out of the room, we were ready to stream live.” The set-up that finally went live maintained the basic simplicity of the initial trial, with a few tweaks. “We didn’t want our devops team to be the roadblock, so we set it up so that the devs team could push out configuration changes themselves. Devs push their code through to Stash and we used Team City for our CI (Continuous Integration) and CD (Continuous Delivery/Deployment).” The configuration changes are then pushed through to MediaLive, MediaStore,





Code Commit


Data Centre








Teradek encoder

Teradek decoder

Spinnaker encoder





Team viewer


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AWS Cloud



AWS CloudFormation

CF Template

AWS Elemental MediaLive AWS Elemental MediaStore

Amazon CloudFront


and CloudFront (using a version-controlled AWS CloudFormation template). MAKING SENSE The original hardware-centric workflow and new AWS-based workflow were run in tandem. The new system was tested initially with news and was found to be, as expected, much more stable. The new set-up also gave Nine the ability to concentrate more directly on quality-of-service metrics, and the numbers showed a clear improvement in playback success, start-up time, smoothness and video quality under

Nine is currently looking at how the technology might be used to improve other parts of the chain. It is particularly interested in how it might help with ad hoc and pop-up live events, with tennis being the first big one. The Australian Open will be a huge project for Nine Networks with coverage of all 16 courts. The new set-up will allow for provision for full coverage just for the duration of the tournament. “It doesn’t make sense to outlay all that infrastructure for 16 courts when we’re only going to use it for a few weeks. Something like this is really useful because it allows speed to market

the new livestreaming workflow. “And costs went down,” notes

without laying out huge amounts of

Ramchandani, “which really shouldn’t be a surprise since we got rid of a whole lot of boxes.”

cash,” explains Ramchandani.

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20 ADULT CONTENT The Business of Porn

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21 ADULT CONTENT The Business of Porn

In an industry glutted with free content, adult video companies are fighting back with direct monetisation, elearning, VR and smart sex toys SEX AND STREAMING

Words by Ann-Marie Corvin

THE TUBE SITE: XHAMSTER XHamster’s aim, when it launched in 2007, was to become the ‘Facebook of porn’ according to its VP Alex Hawkins. Today the Cyprus-based adult entertainment company and social network has almost 25 million daily users, generating over 46 million unique sessions per day. Most content that runs on the platform is now consumed via mobile (64%) while desktop accounts for around a quarter of all views (25%) with 10% accessing the site via tablet devices. The site’s 10 million strong social networking community and its amateur (as opposed to studio- produced) content still remain key pillars of its business, setting it apart from direct competitors like XVideos and industry- dominating megasite Pornhub. Any tech investment the company makes therefore, tends to focus around

s it has with most entertainment businesses, the internet has forced the adult content industry to transition from what was an

exclusively paid-for business model to a free one. It has had to come to terms with the fact that tube sites – adult entertainment sites which allow users access to a huge variety of content for free, much of which has been user made, or stolen – have become the means through which most consumers access porn.

To sustain their business, legacy companies have had to lean in, adopt new technologies and adapt new business models. In this report FEED speaks to the boss of one large tube site and two legacy adult content companies to explore how they are negotiating a new audience that now sees free adult content as a given.


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22 ADULT CONTENT The Business Of Porn of r

the site’s community of users. Hawkins tells us that XHamster is currently investing a substantial amount into search engine technology, to attract more users and to serve existing ones. To assist with these search functions two years ago the site began integrating AI and machine learning(ML) into its video platform – claiming to be one of the first adult players to adopt these new technologies. According to Hawkins, the company has now analysed all the video content currently available on its platform, and machine learning has been integrated with anti-spam filters and content tagging, enabling users to search for specific talent within videos. “We’re also using ML to help users find models and suggest others who are similar in appearance,” Hawkins adds. Other features include a recommendation engine, which allows users to create their own ‘Spotify of porn’ by analysing user preferences and suggesting related content. PRIVACY From malware attacks to data breeches,


adult sites have come under fire for not being safe, but XHamster claims to prioritise the security and privacy of its users. It was the first adult market player to make the move to HTTPS protocol, to prevent third parties from accessing user data and security questions and from seeing which pages were visited. Hawkins says that the company constantly tests the website internally and, from time to time, employs hacking- powered security platforms to stay protected. The firm is also proud of its safe surfing feature, which it developed to safeguard user privacy. The platform’s ‘night mode’ allows users to switch to a low-light black background to more comfortably watch content in the dark. “XHamster fans deserve privacy when

they’re watching, uploading or chatting and we know most of our users visit the site late at night,” Hawkins explains. DATA AND COMPLIANCE Hawkins stresses that XHamster neither requests nor stores private data, and users only need an email to register. Data is gathered and analysed however – the site launched a data centre two years ago – but it is usually done via user surveys with full cooperation from its community. Recent surveys have included a Digital Sexuality Report which compiled data on users’ age, gender, sexuality, relationship status, political views and viewing habits with the aim of “understanding who watches what and why”. Hamster’s social community of over 11,000 users completed

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23 ADULT CONTENT The Business Of Porn T sin ss o

the survey, which has generated insightful reports on topics such as bisexuality, religion and, in the UK, age verification. The site has also had to ensure compliance with the EU’s new GDPR data regulations to ensure that its users can easily access any information the site holds on them. Other areas of compliance may prove more challenging. In the past, tube sites like XHamster and Pornhub have had some protection from a ‘safe harbour’ in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which assumes that platforms are not aware of pirated content that a user has generated. The big adult tube sites have boomed over the last ten years because as soon as one takedown notice is issued, another illegal copy is uploaded, making pirated content almost impossible to police effectively. However, the EU’s forthcoming Digital Copyright Directive aims to make user generated platforms liable for any copyright infringed content. “This is fresh and it will affect us so we’re examining the various options on how to comply,” Hawkins acknowledges. TRAFFIC Tube sites like Pornhub and XHamster have to cope with some of the highest internet traffic in the world, greater than some major news organisations. And Pornhub’s massive traffic spiked a further 5% in the beginning of this year, an increase widely attributed to the idle hands produced by the US government shutdown. How all this traffic is managed, however, is a subject XHamster’s Hawkins remains coy about, as if revealing such information would be like giving away a trade secret. The standard approach, Hawkins says, has been to “expand channels and increase the servers” for its high load projects. While the firm has its own storage system, XHamster won’t disclose details except to say that CDNs are “widely used” and that the firm has started to apply “even more technologies” around them. Cloud technology services are also deployed, although Hawkins declines to name which ones, due to “the risk of exposing third parties”. PORN ALL AROUND YOU Whether VR porn will turn out to be another key differentiator for XHamster is too early to call, according to Hawkins. “For us it’s mostly about 180 ° VR, as a user is usually focused on the screen’s centre. As it grows, we may see the need

to introduce 360, but at this point with adult, it’s still a niche within a niche,” he says. He says the site would also like developers to solve issues that have prevented VR’s mass expansion, such as the VR-support limitation of iOS based devices. XHamster’s early forays with tech have been promising however. The site launched its first VR cams on XHamsterLive earlier this year, allowing users to dive into the world of VR with a model of their choice. VR’s immersive qualities led to one viewer session lasting for six hours. “Stories like that show real promise for the product,“ he says. Another category that has started to take off in recent months, he reports, has been 4K video, with content marked in the site’s upper left corner and the search team currently working on a ‘4K’ option. models around advertising so the notion of charging for content (other than tips for cam models) seems antiquated, but more and more sites are now starting to explore other monetisation options. XHamster’s offering is built around the base success that it has had with its amateur user uploads. XHamster Premium is a separate direct monetisation platform for both amateur producers and studios to sell content directly to fans. For XHamster, says Hawkins, it offers added value to the site’s community. “We work directly with content providers and invite them to collaborate and monetise their content. This allows us to bring new stuff to our users daily, and to focus on community enhancing tools, like dating and private messaging,” he says. PREMIUM Most tube sites base their business

It’s also an opportunity for some of the larger studios to try and capture – or recapture - the site’s large audience for their own productions and brands, he adds. “In the past, their only real option was to do that by advertising. Now, they have a way to sell directly to the consumer,” he says. And while the site isn’t planning on implementing blockchain anytime soon (“It’s unclear how the industry will benefit,” says Hawkins) the VP reveals that the site is currently working on an internal currency for its users so that it can reward them for activity on the website and their efforts spent on the community. THE NICHE PLAYER: KINK.COM It’s been two years since BDSM site Kink.com closed the production facilities it housed in San Francisco’s castle-like Armory building. At the time many hailed it the end of an era. As an online producer/distributor, Kink produced 8000 bondage films in over a decade at its in-house facility, but, as the company’s revenue’s plunged by 50% between 2013 and 2016 it was forced to explore new models. Kink’s first move was to sell the building and allow its directors to set up their own companies in less

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expensive locations, as well as solicit partners from across the world to produce. The business has now shifted from video production to content distribution and ecommerce, while its founder and chief executive Peter Acworth, who started the company from his college dorm 22 years ago, handed over the reins to the site’s former technology VP, Alison Boden. “The downturn affected us later than most adult content businesses,” she notes, “Being niche did help us – we were hit hard, but a bit later on.” The two biggest challenges facing the business since Boden became chief exec, she says, have been managing the staff affected by its decision to cease in-house production and also assessing the company’s options “if or when the recorded adult content business is no longer viable.” She recalls: “Moving around 50% of our employees on to contracts so that they were operating as freelancers was painful. We were one of the few places in the industry that employed production people on staff, and people liked that security.” Boden, who joined the company nine years ago as an email marketer until Kink supported her ambition to learn to code, adds that the transition involved “making sure that the ship was above water, listening to people, incorporating their ideas and reassuring them that their jobs/ contracts were safe.” As to preserving the future of the business, there are several steps Kink is taking. The first and most obvious has been to maximise distribution channels. Kink is now available on all the major VOD


platforms – although not cable TV, as the terms of its regulation are too tight for the type of site it is. Surprisingly though, the DVD market, which appears to have died a death in many sectors, is alive and kicking for niche content players like Kink. “There’s still a market for DVD in areas without decent broadband or with users who do not necessarily want to consume porn online,” Boden explains. SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY Kink is also forming partnerships with the very sites that forced their subscriptions to nosedive. “In the last few years the tube sites have started working with content providers rather than pirating our content; we will provide them with clips or shorter movies and it definitely helps bring traffic to our site – people have discovered us that way,” she says. Boden points out that the content on tubes and the UX they offer is often poor – so one of Kink’s aims now is to make search terms easier. As part of its efforts, Kink carried out a survey of its members and has invested resources into its user and front-end experience teams. “Improving the UX is definitely on our roadmap and improving search terms was

long overdue. Our content is varied and people who visit our site tend to have very specific interests – so being able to find the exact thing you want to is important, and people are prepared to pay for that,” she says. NEW FRONTIERS Boden says that while still niche, Kink’s VR content has become one of the fastest growing subsections on its VR partner platform BaDoink. She adds that exploring new VR production techniques has been liberating for some of its former production staff, giving them a new product to sell. “There was one director who was really pushing for the tech when she worked in-house and it’s given her a whole new angle to explore. She’s able to produce it easily from her new studio and is at NAB right now looking for kit,” says Boden. (Boden is referring to VR filmmaker Fivestar – see our profile on her in this issue). It’s ecommerce and sex education however, that Boden expects will generate the bulk of Kink’s future revenues. Kink now has a specialist toy line in partnership with California-based sex toy company Doc Johnson – described by Los Angeles Magazine as “the Procter & Gamble of sex toys”. While most of these products lie in the traditional S&M realm, she says that Acworth is currently carrying out R&D on smart sex toys and haptics – devices that let users feel a virtual environment via the sense of touch. “There’s this whole maker community out there that appear to be developing this tech themselves,” she adds. On top of this, Kink also offers several online educational resources. “We see the future as more about ecommerce and elearning, getting into the world of physical toys, experiences and sex education workshops,” she says. “People don’t all want to be treated as mass market, and if you are kinky it can be overwhelming – what restraints should you use? Why wouldn’t you use those handcuffs? How do you stay safe? As experienced folks we can help people navigate these things.”

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25 ADULT CONTENT The Business Of Porn T sin ss o

THE VR PLATFORM: BADOINK Porn sites have been embracing VR because it offers a new product to sell to consumers at a time when X-rated clips are readily available by the millions on tube sites. While BaDoink initially launched in 2006 as a premier online adult entertainment destination, in 2015 it decided to focus exclusively on virtual reality. Today the platform offers a number of subscription- based services across a network of VR sites including BaDoinkVR, VRCosplayX, 18VR, BabeVR, RealVR, and KinkVR. BaDoink ‘s head of production Xavi Clos confirms that one of the reasons why the firm has decided to hedge its bets with VR is because the content is harder to pirate. “Because of the large file sizes and format requirements, you don’t see the same amount of traffic with pirated content,” he says “Moreover, we offer new exclusive content on a weekly basis, which serves as the motivation for customers who want a consistent stream of new video. A paid subscription is the only way to access them,” he says.

subscriptions. These consumers are also more willing to pay for the additional accessories and smart sex toys too – which BaDoink is looking to market. The platform has already partnered with companies such as Kiiroo, the Dutch sex toy company founded by former F1 driver Robert Doornbos, to provide teledildonic integrations with its content. “Their male masturbator toy can sync in real-time with VR porn videos provided by BaDoinkVR – meaning that every thrust you see on the screen, you really feel,” Clos explains. The production head adds that the company is also exploring other emerging technologies that could make the VR experience even more immersive, by activating senses like smell or touch. “We think that haptic devices will play a big role in adult VR entertainment in the future,” he predicts. Like Kink, BaDoink also thinks that there is a legitimate opportunity to play a role in sex education and sex therapy. The site’s Virtual Sexology videos, for example, focus on male and female pleasure, and Clos says the company will continue to “push the envelope and find new, positive ways to deliver content that will both educate and entertain users.”

While some of the main players, such as Oculus, aren’t allowing adult content in their own stores, they appear to be making it relatively easy for users to consume content via third-party sources. One of BaDoink’s partners, for example, includes a company called Porn In-a-Box, which bundles in the site’s pre-loaded content with Oculus GO. Clos also reports that BaDoink has good relations with several adult-friendly headset manufacturers, including Homido. “We’ve also worked with providers who offer an ‘all-in-one’ headset that come preloaded with our content, such as VRotica and PVR IRIS,” he adds. While Samsung’s Gear VR was responsible for almost 37% of video downloads on BadoinkVR in 2017, there’s been a notable upswing in consumption via higher-end headsets – with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive together coming in at almost 20%, while Playstation VR is used by 11.1% to view VR porn. THE FEELIES The uptake in high-end headsets is a trend that VR subscription sites hope will continue – if headsets remain at the price they are, content is more likely to attract consumers who can afford membership

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