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September 09, 2016

Industry Executives Discuss State of Live Cam Market

This article appears in the September issue of AVN magazine. Click here to view the digital edition. LOS ANGELES—The live cam market proved its point en route to becoming a worldwide industry, but insiders say the current momentum makes another growth spurt imminent. No longer a matter of “if” it will disrupt the adult entertainment landscape, it’s now just a matter of how much. And with that maturity comes fierce competition, a demand for innovation and the constant reminder that creativity is key to longevity. The top cam platforms and the models who perform on them realize there’s no place for complacency in this community. “This is an early adopter market that’s maturing,” said Steve Hamilton, model manager for Cams.com. “More players are entering the playing field and turning up the pressure on providing unique services and winning and maintaining new audiences. As a result, our new HTML5 viewer, the Connexions interactive toys, and our new Buzzmode tipping have been extremely popular.” Hamilton told AVN among the notable changes in camming are the new tools available for models to engage a larger audience as well as amp up their marketing efforts. “It’s not just about camming anymore, it’s about monetizing phone calls, videos, photos, panties, social media accounts … anything you can imagine,” Hamilton said. “Every day I see new services popping up that allow models to funnel money into their accounts, even when they’re not on cam. “The long game is going to be about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology. Forbes magazine was recently quoted that this tech will be a $30 billion industry by 2020. Even if camming gets a fraction of that, it’s enough to disrupt the industry. I haven’t seen anything yet that provides a mind-blowing live and immersive VR experience yet. It’s very close though. They’re much further along for pre-recorded content. Everyone in the industry pretty much agrees that this is the golden grail for the next five to 10 years.” Tim Siner, a seasoned live cam consultant who was one of the first in the game starting cam sites in 1998, agrees that developing interactive devices is the current trend in the space. “The problem technologically is latency, especially in regions that have less than desirable internet speed,” noted Siner, whose corporate site is TimSiner.com. “There are also patent issues.” Shirley Lara, the chief operating officer for Chaturbate, told AVN technology that simulates remote sexual interaction such as mutual masturbation is becoming increasingly prevalent and represents a major driver of the next wave of innovation. “Teledildonics is still on a rise and dominating,” Lara said. “In 2016 we have noticed new brands coming into the market.” Lara also pointed to a recent trend that sees millennials visiting Periscope sites. “That trend has fueled traffic to and interest in live cams sites,” she said. It’s all part of a greater societal awareness of camming that is leading more tech-savvy consumers to their computer screens to connect with their favorite models in ways that just aren’t possible when watching pre-recorded porn content. “This year we have certainly seen a trend of broad acceptance and familiarity with the webcam space more so than in years past,” Brad Estes, vice president of Flirt4Free, told AVN. “The public now generally understands the concept of webcams and many people have visited a site and mainstream media has given more attention to our space in articles, television and movies.  “This mainstream awareness of webcams is introducing more customers to our space and should prove to be a continued benefit to performers, studios and affiliates if the perception remains positive.” Carole Wood, spokesperson for ImLive.com, said all indicators point to the need to provide "better streaming, mobile-first" products as the market widens. "Better product in general and attractive local billing solutions and payment options," Wood told AVN. "But more than anything, it will be the year of the remote-controlled models/users' devices, and of course the Virtual Reality shows." Wood added, "We on ImLive also launched this year the ability for all our models to project their shows through their mobile devices and actually gave them the ability to expand their shows on the ‘outdoor’ environment, offering more scenarios to their users, and to us as a platform." Meanwhile a spokesperson for MyFreeCams.com said that while they see a significant area of growth in mobile usage on both iPhone and Android the biggest challenge facing the cam community remains “staying fresh and innovative to provide the kind of experience that users can't get outside of MyFreeCams.” ImLive's Wood noted the importance of controlling compliance issues "in a world that is defined as ‘high-risk’ by banks these days—more than it was before." "And obviously, when an industry is getting ‘matured,' every part of it realizes its value within that industry and comes to ‘demand its own share,'" Wood continued. "The big platforms will have to navigate between all these demands and also improve their services to the models, studios and obviously users in order to grow." Chaturbate’s Shirley Lara pointed out that not unlike traditional porn content, “piracy is a huge problem” in the cam sector. “People illegally record broadcasters and upload the content and charge for access or otherwise monetize the content,” Lara said. “Online piracy doesn’t solely affect adult, it’s a problem that every industry is facing.” Speaking of challenges, Flirt4Free’s Estes suggested the cam industry at large “still struggles with over-generalization of the ‘webcam’ concept.” “Within the webcam space there are a variety of different product offerings and customer experiences and it is important that affiliates and performers both understand the nuance that differentiates a webcam platform so that they can find the best business fit for them,” Estes pointed out. Even with all the technology and infrastructure, the quality of the models on any given cam platform will always be the biggest draw. The most technologically advanced cam site cannot sustain itself without fan-friendly models logging on. With that in mind, Tim Siner said the time is now for platforms to take better care of their talent. “I believe companies that undervalue or under pay their talent are making a huge mistake,” Siner suggested. “Models are getting more savvy. Technology is expanding at a breakneck pace. Look at how Uber has nearly decimated the taxi industry. Model-to-customer platforms are already live, and there are several more in development. My advice to the big boys usually goes something like this: ‘Keep your models happy and well compensated. They are your product. Without them, you have nothing.’” Vanessa, the director of talent recruiting for Streamate, knows first-hand about nurturing the model side of the live cam ecosystem. She works with performers on a daily basis and listens to their wants, needs and concerns. “I think the biggest trend particularly for cam models is the more successful cam models are all on social media,” Vanessa told AVN. “They just released Instagram ‘Stories,’ just like Snapchat has, and already I’m seeing our models all over that. “There’s still an influx of new models every day coming into the industry and it’s getting harder and harder for a brand-new cam model without a following to build one up at this point. It’s not impossible, but it might be a little bit harder to be successful when you have some models who have been established for a year or two and have their regimen down with their day-to-day activities and how they integrate social media. “And some go as far as having their own member sites now. Diversifying is definitely a trend I’m seeing among cam models. Not only that, some of them are crossing over into adult video content and shooting for production studios. It’s given them a lot of opportunity as well.” Livia Choice, an ImLive model who has a Ph.D. in communications and semiotics, says she is passionate about camming not only as an artistic expression but also as an intellectual activity. The reigning winner of Social Media Star at the 2016 AW Summit in Romania told AVN camming has changed a lot in the six years since she started. “The biggest challenges I see is to deal with webcam sites that offer nudity for tips in Free Live Chat,” Livia explained. “This condition—obviously very much appreciated by guests—requires all sites to do the same in some way to continue competing in the live cam market nowadays. Livia added, “All webcam sites are starting to stimulate the models to tease too much and to be attentive in Free Live Chat, or otherwise, their guests don't feel turned on enough to take them Private. This change brings a high level of anxiety for the models (and we can't ignore this fact) because it means we are working in double! So from the model’s side it's a challenge and a trend at the same time, too.” While L.A.’s San Fernando Valley is considered the porn capital of the world, camming without a doubt has become a global phenomenon. And the biggest growth area for both members and models is happening outside North America, according to Steve Hamilton of Cams.com. “Models internationally are becoming more and more sophisticated in how they manage their business and manage their brand through social media,” Hamilton reasoned. “Plus, there’s a definite dynamic that makes particular regions big growth sectors for talent. Romania has always been a haven for amazing models, and not far behind is Colombia. “These are just two areas that have relatively low median monthly incomes, higher levels of education and a high propensity for some of the most beautiful people in the world. When these models can triple their income and work from home, it’s a life changer. Just look where the top cam shows are outside the U.S. The Romanian AW Summit is one of the biggest cam industry events in the world, and we just attended the first South American industry awards show at LALExpo in Cartagena. Asia is likely to be the next big area of growth here. We’re not seeing it slow down any time soon.” Hamilton continued, “From a traffic and membership perspective, it’s all about payment processing and really understanding regional processing and payment methods. Monetizing international traffic is extremely complex, but the tools and partners available now for monetizing mobile traffic around the world, setting up processors and all the other pieces required has improved exponentially over the last few years. Membership internationally is growing, due in large part to having the tools and partners in place to manage the complexity. “I’ve heard camming now is about 10 percent of its market potential. From what we’re seeing, I think it’s an accurate estimate. The concept of a live interaction with someone compelling anywhere in the world is a new type of entertainment. Once the products mature and offer these services in a way that get attention in mainstream markets, this industry will see explosive growth.” Mugur Cosmin Frunzetti, a veteran of the live cam space for 16 years and the current CEO of Studio 20, operates live cam studios in both Europe and the U.S.—he recently franchised two in Romania and one in L.A. “The live cam market is going up,” Frunzetti, who projected his company to do $10 million-plus in revenue this year, told AVN. “Fast. And it will continue grow as a part of the new online world we live in. There is no more let's meet in parks. It’s meet on Facebook. Real sex is replaced by virtual sex and so on.” Frunzetti added, “The market needs to separate adult from mainstream live cam and get new customers on board from the mainstream online network.” Chaturbate’s Lara, who is based in Southern California, said foreign territories are definitely cultivating up-and-coming talent. “Eastern Europe and South America have grown tremendously in bringing new broadcasters and members,” Lara revealed. Siner, who has consulted for FreeWebCams.com, Vivid and Flirt4Free among numerous others, explained that his projects deal heavily with talent/recruiting issues and solutions. “I have seen rapid growth in the Latin American market—mainly Colombia and some regions of Mexico have been extremely fruitful on the model side of the equation,” Siner said. “I attribute this to cost of labor and ‘studios’ that have gradually scaled to full service contenders. “In my 16 years dealing with recruiting specifically for cam models and users, I have identified extremely successful regions (down to the city) in North America. I can't get to too specific about this in this article, as this is my how I increase my clients’ profits. I can say there are a plethora of North American markets being completely overlooked.” Streamate’s Vanessa said the live cam market in Europe is “a glamorized career” in which models often flourish in immaculate rooms with cutting-edge equipment and the best internet connection in the area. “I can see the draw and the appeal for performers,” she said. “And from what I’ve observed there is a vast difference between a European cam model and a U.S. cam model, even in their online presence. U.S. cam models tend to be super vocal, and with the Eastern European models in general it’s more like a job or a career for them. “Many U.S. models have also made this a full-time job as well and their main source of income. Some models support not only her direct family, but their extended family as well.” ImLive's Carole Wood agreed that Romania and Colombia have emerged as camming hotbeds, along with Eastern Europe and Germany. "The hard share of the users are still arriving from the North American market followed by the English-speaking markets in general, like Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United Kingdom, but as the years went by we've seen more and more local webcam companies who offered local webcam performers searched by local users," Wood explained. "The Germany webcam industry is a good example for that, but we can see today also many platforms and growing user clientele also from Spain, Italy and the Nordics." With the rapid expansion of the cam community and the number of platforms vying for consumer dollars, everyone must raise their level or risk being left behind. “There are more cam sites competing for traffic than ever before and we have to all get creative in how we win and retain members and models,” said Steve Hamilton of Cams.com. “It’s all about who’s going to disrupt the industry next while making the right investments. Ultimately, the cam community needs to learn from companies like AirBnb, Uber and a handful of others. Be nimble and keep moving forward. Disrupt or be disrupted. That goes for the talent as well as the companies. We all have to keep innovating and thinking outside the box to distinguish ourselves.” Photo of Kendra Sunderland, Nikki Beez and Alora Jaymes courtesy of Cams.com.

 
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