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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Will porn kick-start the video phone revolution?
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

Appearing soon on a phone near you?
Pornography is the handmaiden of new technology, it's often claimed. So, will video phone sales be driven by the lust for bare flesh?

The first use that novel technologies are put to, so the argument goes, is to let people look at, read or talk about rude things. Sex, it seems, is synonymous with new gadgets.

As video phones - known as third-generation or 3G phones - make their appearance, it is no surprise to hear many people say porn will drive its early adoption.

The talk of porn and technology has got more feverish with 3G because, some speculate, operators will beat their customers in turning to erotica.

Mucky mobiles

Some big-name companies might offer porn services to encourage take-up of the new phones, and help pay the huge debts they incurred when buying a licence to run 3G services.

Operators want to do porn but do not want to be associated with it - they want the cash and the moral high ground
David Jarvis
"Erotica lowers your risk because you know it is going to sell," says David Jarvis, wireless manager at the Barcelona-based Private Media Group.

Mr Jarvis is in no doubt that porn and 3G phones will go hand in hand because phones have become such personal devices.

"Receiving a text message from someone you fancy is more of a turn on than getting an e-mail," he says.

Like other media companies, many pornographers have a recognisable brand and well-known stars, says Mr Jarvis.

A new experience

The Private Media Group is keen to exploit phone technology to let people get more acquainted with porn stars such as Silvia Saint, Jodie Moore and Nikki Blonde.

Richard Branson launching Virgin mobile
Sex to sell mobile services... perish the thought?
"It will be a totally different experience to what you see on TV or in movies," says Mr Jarvis.

"We have short clips where you direct the outcome; where the girl is looking at you and talking to you," he says, "and that is something that TV and print cannot achieve."

Mr Jarvis says Private Media has had talks with several mobile phone operators. But so far he has few deals to show for the work.

Operators recognise that porn can familiarise people with new services, says Mr Jarvis, but they are reluctant to sign up.

"They want to do porn but do not want to be associated with it. They want the cash and the moral high ground."

Hard choice

Despite Mr Jarvis' certainty, there are others who think porn and 3G will make unhappy bedfellows.

"Given the huge amount of free porn on the internet, I don't believe that wireless porn will prove that compelling," says Philip Taylor, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, who has studied the economics of the adult industry.

Old mobile
Mobile services have come a long way since the early days
He says established pornographic brands such as Penthouse and Playboy have not signed anything more than basic licensing deals for images with mobile phone firms.

Many are likely to use mobile phones and 3G as a marketing channel to drive consumers to magazines, videos and the net but not one, so far, is going further than that.

Mr Taylor says there is little evidence that the success of 3G will ride in on the back of a wave of erotica, if for no other reason than mobile firms currently make more money from selling ringtones than the entire net porn industry.

Operators will perhaps be happy to take the cash from letting users share their own smutty material, without getting involved in the supply of it.

Some new companies have emerged that specialise in wireless porn, such as PocketJoy, Porn Bible, Wap Sex and Erotigo. But they may struggle because operators ring fence access to the net from phones and will be uncomfortable about dirtying their hands with supplying porn.

Not porn, but 3's advert raises the prospect of receiving saucy material
The link between porn and new technologies breaks down because 3G phones are not as novel as they once were.

One of the problems dogging their take-up is the fact that phones are now hugely familiar and 3G has little to set it apart from existing 2.5G handsets, which can reproduce colour pictures and show video.

Not surprisingly, the operators are vocal in their scepticism about the value that porn brings to their brand.

A spokesman for Three - the first 3G operator to launch in the UK - says there are far more compelling reasons for buying one of its handsets than the chance to look at adult services.

"First and foremost this is a telephone," he said, "the video calling element is unique and is driving interest and customers love it."

When it comes to content, Three believes football clips, video news bulletins and comedy shorts will be far more compelling than saucy video clips.

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