In Adult Video Online, Does Diversity Sell?

by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual

I’m assisting a lecture tomorrow on the adult entertainment industry for a course at Penn, so I thought I’d write a quick blog. Note: most links NSFW.

Sean Cody, the king (or among the kings) of amateur gay, and gay-for-pay, video online, has recently included a couple of black men on his site. Sean Cody is infamous for his almost religious devotion to featuring only white performers, though he’s not the only one. Bloggers from Unzipped, Fleshbot, to Men of Color Blog were understandably flabbergasted — and delighted — at the recent shift.

I wonder: Does the change have anything to do with Sean Cody’s possibly declining numbers?

First, disclaimers: 1) I’m speculating. I have no access to Sean Cody’s traffic or subscription numbers; 2) Sean Cody makes it money from subscriptions, not advertising, so while traffic might suggest lower subscriptions, it doesn’t necessarily; 3) the sites I’m using are as unreliable, though perhaps more so, than the other ratings agencies.

Looking at the general trend, it seems possible Sean Cody’s popularity has declined in recent months. See the tables above. The site has been facing increased competition from a steady stream of new entrants to the market, sites like Dominic Ford, It’s Gonna Hurt, Tim Tales, Cocky Boys and a host of others, most of which I don’t know. This is not to forget all the free amateur/professional aggregators, like XTube, YouPorn, and the like.

All this competition promises one thing: anything a user wants, a user can get. If Sean Cody doesn’t offer black guys, you can get it elsewhere for free. And if you want higher quality, most of the other upscale amateur sites offer more diversity. Randy Blue, which uses more professionals and a few more people of color, is either up in traffic or slightly more than flat. Equally diverse Dominic Ford, a newbie, is on the rise, though not yet a threat (a lot of its buzz has to do with its much-promoted 3-D offerings). Meanwhile, lily white Corbin Fisher is probably flat. A number of other new subscription amateur outlets, like the controversial Machofucker, put diversity at a premium. Sites like Manhunt and Adam4Adam offer pay-per-view options with huge and diverse libraries, and they too are growing or already popular. The free sites, for their part, have basically beat everybody out, and Quantcast’s numbers suggest black, Latino and Asian visitors disproportionately frequent free sites like XTube, GayForIt and JerkYourTube. Perhaps they are getting something there they can’t elsewhere: diversity!

It’s not just about race, of course. Other higher quality amateur and subscription professional sites offer lots of deviations from the white, smooth, clean frat type (SC’s bread and butter): hairy, older, beefy, tattooed, etc. are all available elsewhere. Sexual tastes are varied. It goes without saying more variation is better, though holding your niche is important as well.

Sean Cody may have needed a way to differentiate himself from the likes of Corbin Fisher and Bel Ami, knowing he would get press for his championing of diversity and maybe a few new subscribers. Months ago, starting with Geoff and Middle Eastern Sydney, Sean Cody has been slowly diversifying his slate of pseudo-straight models. It must be working, as in, paying off. Since then, he’s published: a pair of ambiguously ethnic models (John, Joseph), the black Derek, hairier guys (Ian), the older (looking) Dennis, all culminating in the recent interracial scene, the first in, well, a long time. (UPDATE: He has posted a second interracial scene with Landon and another Latino guy has shown up in his subsequent audition video).

Sean Cody was really one of the first sites to capitalize on the use of amateur performers in adult online video, turning it into a solid business and proving you didn’t need to produce a six-figure scripted film to get people to pay for pleasure. It is true that his site, along with Randy Blue, really did start out quite diverse, when both sites needed to fill the content vacuum and get models who would work for cheap, as MOC Blog pointed out (not without controversy). Now the market might be running away from, or past, Sean Cody, and he’s needed to adapt, however slowly, to the changing and increasingly cutthroat environment.

It’s still possible — likely, really — that Sean Cody’s subscriber base does not want black models. But it’s equally possible the site wants to grow that base and needs black models to do it. It’s also true that for mainstream subscription-based companies like HBO and Showtime, the freedom from relying on advertising has allowed for greater experimentation and diversity. Despite HBO’s primary focus on affluent men, shows like Oz and The Wire, while nowhere near as highly rated as The Sopranos, allowed the network to retain its more urban subscriber base. Showtime made its mark by being the only network to show explicit gay content, and, while it’s largely abandoned that strategy, it still offers a strong slate of shows geared toward women, offering actresses like Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) and Toni Collette (United States of Tara) the complicated lead roles rarely offered to women.

I’m not sure of many things, but I can be sure that the market for online video is dynamic and always changing. Who knows where it will go next?