Always keen to get ahead, the adult entertainment industry has pioneered new internet, video and mobile phone technologies - and the TV world is quickly wising up to what it can learn.
Always keen to get ahead, the adult entertainment industry has pioneered new internet, video and mobile phone technologies - and the TV world is quickly wising up to what it can learn.

Any time, any place, anywhere used to be the strapline for the old Martini ads. Today it's the mantra for media companies which recognise the old relationship with viewers and listeners is rapidly breaking down. The future is about ensuring your content connects with consumers when and where they want it.

And if you're looking for companies that are leading the field when it comes to this triple-A thinking, look no further than an iconic brand that has already shown its ability to jump from the glossy pages of magazine to the world of digital downloads.

Playboy, the publicly accepted face of the adult market, has been operating very successfully in new formats and mediums for some years now and was always likely to be an early technology adopter. Playboy is not only a market leader in the adult field but, with a brand that has been around since 1953, has achieved worldwide recognition. From the outset, Playboy has embraced new media opportunities to capitalise on the strength of the brand. It launched its ubiquitous magazine two years before ITV's first ever broadcast and its UK television arm is now making serious moves into the converging technology markets.

In fact, if you want to see what the model for digital content distribution will look like in the not too distant future, you should keep a close eye on Playboy.

The British arm of Hugh Heffner's bunny empire, Playboy TV, this week launched a multimedia subscription package where specifically produced content will be available for a flat fee on the following platforms; Sky, IPTV, video-on-demand, mobile handsets, the much talked about Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) and the Apple iPod.

Consumers are offered delivery via all the devices, with a range of content across every medium for£30 a month - with a copy of the magazine also rolled into the offer.

Playboy TV is looking to create a kind of added value experience by offering the touch of Playboy class that sets the brand apart from its competitors - think of Heffner in silk pyjamas and smoking jacket. Twenty-minute podcasts offering crash courses in the Playboy lifestyle will be included in the subscriber package with information from wine, fashion and etiquette experts.

The package is being launched in the UK, with no confirmed plans that a similar model will launch in the States.

UK head of content Richard Jukes, who was poached from mobile, interactive and branded television specialist Enteraction TV earlier this year, says that he doesn't look at Playboy as being an adult broadcaster but simply as "a multimedia multi-platform entertainment company that just so happens to produce adult content". He explains: "In many ways it's not about the content as a standalone product. Something that could fit perfectly on one platform or device for one person won't necessarily work on another. One size does not fit all and the sooner that people realise that, the less trouble they'll get into when they try and throw things at people's mobiles."

Director of marketing and sales Richard Gale reveals Playboy's thinking: "At the beginning of the year we looked at the business and decided that we'd go for a strategy that would not be easy to copy and would also embrace convergence in a very real way."

Gale believes that a seismic shift was necessary as he feels that linear broadcasting will be on its deathbed in five or six years' time forcing broadcasters to radically change the way that they operate. "You've got to stop thinking linear. Andy Duncan [chief executive of C4] is going that way. Channel 4 is almost thinking like an adult channel. You have to make yourself an entertainment brand whatever it is that you are delivering." Gale also says that while there's no direct competition between many channels - such as C4 and Playboy - broadcast chiefs would be foolish to forget that money destined for their coffers is coming from the same wallets, whether it's for Playboy, Sky Sports or Film Four. Establishing yourself as a premium, must-have entertainment brand - backed by quality content - is the way forward, he claims.

While the deeply religious Andy Duncan might balk slightly at finding himself described as Playboy TV's soulmate, there's no question that he shares the soft-porn company's belief in the way the market is developing.

Duncan has trebled C4's new media budget, pushed E4 onto Freeview - which is now in 5 million homes - and is launching two digital channels before the end of the year: factual channel More4 and an as yet unnamed call TV channel.

But perhaps most noticeable of Duncan's intentions is the move into IPTV. Around£2m has been slated for its broadband service now that it sees the delivery route as being mass market. Ron Henwood, former head of broadband at mobile content provider Premium TV, has joined C4 as director of new business, indicating where the broadcaster believes its future revenues lie. Premium TV's clients include the Football League, World Rally Championship (WRC) and Playboy TV.

The BBC, where Duncan joined C4 from, is also forging ahead with its own digital vision. In September it will begin testing its interactive Media Player (iMP) which gives audiences the chance to catch up on TV and radio programmes from the previous week's BBC broadcasting. This is just the beginning. Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of new media, said at a recent Broadcastcontent conference that conservative estimates suggested 4 million people - 15% of the UK population - would be using catch-up TV services by the end of this decade.

He also added that cable company NTL expected something like 50% of its subscribers to be regular users of on-demand services by 2010. Highfield said of the changes taking place: "We are on the very edge of a broadcasting revolution. From a slow start at the beginning of this decade, the increasing consumption of content across multiple platforms is finally becoming less the exception and more the rule; from a single platform programme extension to a multimedia, multi-platform format, giving audiences the power to pick and choose anything they want. And it will not be in the margins - but somewhere around one-third of all consumption could come from outside the current linear broadcast schedules within five years. Broadcasters need to move quickly if they're not to become as irrelevant as the Encyclopedia Britannicain the world of Encarta, Wikipedia and the web at large."

Back to Playboy, which is thinking on very similar lines to the UK's biggest public service broadcaster. The Playboy launch package, which Gale insists is a big step that will affect production departments and is "not just a marketing exercise," will include four adult channels: Playboy TV, Adult Channel, Spice and Climax 3. The channels will be available on Sky and as a video-on-demand IPTV service, along with 800 hours of back catalogue. By changing working practice Playboy is tailoring content specifically to each delivery method by shooting more content to cater for different screens and viewing experiences, such as the weekly Cyber Girl that will be available at Jukes says that thinking differently at the front end is crucial. "At the initial pre-production we sit with the standard linear treatment - it might be TV, viral or VoD - and look at what other platforms it may or may not work on and what we'll have to do, possibly more shots and more expense, to make sure it's relevant for that device and that context."

Jukes adds: "All of these screens are just windows through which to see pictures. Regardless of the numbers of windows that are available, whichever one you want to peek through then we should have something ready for people when they want to see it." And once it has launched later this year, subscribers will also be able to download content directly onto the PSP games system, which has a larger, better quality screen than any of the mobile phones on the mass market.

Ebay survived the dotcom crash with such success because it wasn't a "build it and they will come" model, speculates Jukes. "It's an experience. It's not just about buying something. You window shop, you bid, you sell, you compete. If you just want to buy something then you can go to Amazon, but it's just not the same."

Quite how all of this will affect the major broadcasters and the models that have dominated television and radio since their inception remains to be seen. But the BBC, C4 and Playboy are all - in similar ways - mapping out how their content and relationships will develop in a digital age. Do you need to catch up?

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Broadband Britain

· 2004 was the year in which broadband finally became a mass market consumer product. By the end of December the number of residential broadband connections in the UK stood at 6.2 million representing an annual growth rate of over 90%.

· This figure had grown to 7.5 million by May 2005.

· Around one in four UK households now have a broadband service and the number of broadband connections has now outstripped narrowband dial-up accounts.

· By the end of 2005, 99.6% of UK homes will be connected to a broadband-enabled exchange.

· There were 4.6 million music downloads in the UK in the first quarter of 2004 compared with 300,000 in the same period in 2003.

· A 5Mbits broadband connection can allow acceptably fast downloads of TV and film, while a 20Mbits connection effectively allows full streaming of high-definition TV.

Digital Britain

· More than 62% of UK households now have digital TV.

· More than 770,000 households now have Sky+.

· Five has become the first UK broadcaster to launch a paid-for PC-based download service, offering car reviews from Fifth Gear as downloads for£1.50 per review.

· Digital-only TV channels now account for a greater share of viewing than either BBC1 or ITV1.

· 3G mobile telephony has yet to take off - with 2.5 million subscribers by the end of 2004 from 60 million - however 3G services only launched late in 2004 so the market is just beginning.

Source: Ofcom Communications Market Report 2005

Why adult entertainment has always been an early adopter

Hand in hand with sport, the adult entertainment industry has been at the forefront of technology adoption in both production and distribution for some years. Technology analyst Carl Franklin, who is also the author of Why Innovation Fails, says: "Every technological medium has been adopted by the adult industry first. Camcorders, pop-up advertising, streaming media, webcams - the adult business has taken the lead on many internet developments and actually made money from them." Franklin points out that in adult film production camcorders were being used way before it became de rigueur for every researcher, production assistant and work experience teen to be kitted out with a mini DVCam. He explains: "Technologies have partly democratised many production processes putting the means to enter the market in the hands of low-budget producers." And of course low budget works perfectly for much of the adult entertainment industry.

Again, it was adult producers who were among the first to take up desktop editing. Editing system manufacturer Media 100 set up a sales office in the San Fernando Valley in California - the homeland of the adult business in the US.

Phil Barry, managing director of Bristol-based Pumpkin Studios and an adult content producer for channels such as the Adult Channel, Playboy TV, Red Hot, and Men and Motors, agrees that the industry is ahead of most other areas of broadcasting. Barry says new technology is taken up so quickly for one reason only: money. If conventional broadcasters and producers want to learn how to make the most of their content then looking at what the adult market is doing would be a wise move, claims Barry: "Obviously the adult industry is very lucrative and the money drives the industry forward and if that means embracing new technologies people will continue to do so because it's fiercely competitive."

His studio, which is also used for broadcast productions, uses high-definition cameras, if not with the same HD infrastructure that the BBC would have, but having access to onsite HD cameras at a relatively small studio is still not the norm.

Barry is in the process of launching an interactive DVD game called Hardcore Control that uses exclusively licensed software from the Japanese developers that created the hit PlayStation game Tomb Raider.

This venture shows that you can create one piece of merchandise that will work across all DVD platforms, including Sony's PlayStation2 and Microsoft's X-box, which could allow producers to take a bite at the extremely lucrative gaming pie.

And outside of the UK the adult industry has caught up with Hollywood. The sex business pulls in an estimated $10bn annually where DVDs, cable television and the internet all contribute to match the colossal amount of cash made on US box office receipts.

Further opportunities for adult content companies and distributors are around the corner in the form of Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), which is also one of the lynchpins of Playboy TV's subscription offensive.