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1/13/2006
02:20 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Sex Sells, But Not Like It Used To

Sex sells. It's an axiom of marketing and business. The fact that sex helps sell technology has been a truism since at least the early days of videotape technology. Consumers of pornography drove the market for videotape machines, the reasoning goes. Ditto for the Internet: Porno fans drove the explosion of Internet content and the acceptance of Web browsers and streaming media.

I was reminded of this conventional wisdom at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Simultaneous with, and adjacent to, CES was the Adult Entertainment Expo, a conference for people involved and/or interested in what's new and exciting (so to speak) in the "adult" industry, including new media technology. I didn't attend the Adult Entertainment Expo (bosses, please note)--I was too busy doing my job, interviewing sources, perusing the CES booths, and putting together video segments for The News Show--so I can't report on what was featured there.

But I thought about it, and what I thought was this: If the axiom that "adult entertainment" drives the acceptance of technology was ever true, it's not any more. Sex didn't drive the phenomenal acceptance of the cell phone, interpersonal communication and convenience did. And while there continues to be noise about a market for adult entertainment over cell phones, it'll be a very minor revenue stream at best. The same goes for the iPod. Sex didn't sell the handheld digital music player, music did, preceded by the conversion to digital media and the new modes of entertainment and the new business models created by it.

Still, sex does play a role in the market for new digital media. I was reminded of that when I stopped by Sony's huge booth at CES. Poor Sony. The inventor of the Walkman and a pioneer in VCR technology, the "One And Only" company has been taking a beating in the market, and in consumer perception, at the hands of Apple (iPod) and Microsoft (Xbox 360). But Sony's booth was very well attended, especially the areas showing presentations about Sony's cell-phone products and its next-generation video-game player, PlayStation 3.

The audience for the cell-phone demonstration I witnessed was predominantly female, and the continuously running PlayStation 3 preview was packed with men. Was either audience exclusively one sex or the other? No. But the makeup of each was unmistakable. Now, I know I have to be careful what conclusions I draw. Is it that men are visually oriented and women oriented to sound? Or that women like to communicate while men like to blow stuff up? There may be some truth in both, but I'm not a behavioral scientist or sociologist, so I am loath even to speculate.

What I can say is that the 150,000-plus attendees at CES bore witness to the digital revolution reaching into every level of society. And it isn't being driven by the small subset that attended the Adult Entertain Expo, or the technology on display there. Not that I would know what that was.

Speaking of sexy technology, a colleague (thanks, Nick Hoover!) pointed out that last week, on the day Apple unveiled the Intel iMac, its stock price closed at $80.86. Spooky! And that's what constitutes a good industry tip. So send one like it to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326.

The News Show features adult entertainment, but not like that. Watch The News Show at noon ET every weekday, at TheNewsShow.tv or on InformationWeek.com.


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