For three years, I covered the adult industry for LA Weekly as a writer and photographer.
Over the course of these experiences, I learned about a major new force reshaping the industry: data. That day on set, the director’s instructions came directly from the production company, which decided on the topic and vetted the script. And the company based its creative direction on specific fantasies proposed by paying customers on an online forum that it owned. (“The stepsister should catch her stepbrother masturbating and she should humiliate him for being a dork,” one commenter suggested. And that was cut, pasted, and embellished into the script emailed to the director.)
In the pre-internet days, a producer might notice that a particular kind of porn movie sold well, and then try to make more like it. Today, a corporate porn conglomerate can analyze a continuous stream of information from online viewers, who supply feedback in the form of comments, and leave behind a data trail as they travel around porn sites.
The internet isn’t just revolutionizing how porn is distributed and consumed. It’s also revolutionizing how porn is made, by enabling companies to cater more closely to the perceived tastes of their audience.
While a lot of people (most likely you and everyone you know) are consumers of internet porn (i.e., they watch it but don’t pay for it), a tiny fraction of those people are customers. Customers pay for porn, typically by clicking an ad on a tube site, going to a specific content site (often owned by MindGeek), and entering their credit card information.
This “consumer” vs. “customer” division is key to understanding the use of data to perpetuate categories that seem peculiar to many people both inside and outside the industry. “We started partitioning this idea of consumers and customers a few years ago,” Adam Grayson, CFO of the legacy studio Evil Angel, told AVN. “It used to be a perfect one-to-one in our business, right? If somebody consumed your stuff, they paid for it. But now it’s probably 10,000 to one, or something.”
The data collected by porn companies doesn’t just shape what happens on set, however. It is also starting to shape how the media understands the state of sexuality today.