Weekly Update

Why Porn and the iPad Are Key for HTML5

The future of Adobe Flash is very much in doubt thanks to Apple’s lack of support for the technology in its iOS. And, of all people, porn purveyors are starting to tilt the balance of new mobile technologies in favor of HTML5.

Apple’s decision to block Flash is well documented, and the impact of it is difficult to overstate. The company has sold more than 50 million iPhones, and it moved two million iPads within 60 days of the gadget’s launch. That’s a massive number of mobile users who can’t access the entire web, thanks to a lack of Flash support. Adobe has yet to come up with a viable alternative to Flash, which could be living on borrowed time. And with no resolution in sight, the window is wide open for any technology that can deliver a top-notch multimedia experience on Apple gadgets.

Increasingly, it looks like that technology will be HTML5. The emergence of it is largely being spurred by the iPad, with its big, high-resolution screen that offers a far more immersive (read: porn-friendly) experience than any handset can deliver. Adult sites, in particular, are moving quickly to re-encode their video content for the new, video-friendly device. YouPorn.com, for instance, announced a few weeks ago that it’s targeting iPad users by re-encoding its entire video archive in HTML5. Pink Visual has launched a pair of sites (barely safe for work) that offer HTML5 video content for both straight and gay consumers, and the gay site RocketTube was iPad-ready before the device even came to market.

Those efforts certainly don’t sit well with Steve Jobs, who famously said the iPad offers “freedom from porn.” Apple can decide which technologies it chooses to embrace, of course, and it has vigorously scrubbed its App Store clean of any steamy stuff. But it can’t control what kind of content its users access on the web, and there’s no question that demand for online porn is immense: The worldwide adult web industry has an estimated value of $37.2 billion, and the rise of the iPad will only fuel that fire.

Mobile porn has never found much of a market here in the U.S., thanks to carrier prohibitions and handsets that make for poor platforms to, um, consume it. The rise of the iPad will change that, though, providing an easy way to access high-quality adult content online wherever they are. Yes, it may cause major headaches for porn providers as the public is increasingly exposed to their wares, but it will also usher in HTML5 as a standard for digital media.

HTML isn’t quite ready for prime time yet when it comes to premium licensed content. Hulu VP Eugene Wei said last month it lacks maturity in reporting, advertising and content security. In other words, it’s too easy to download content directly (as opposed to streaming for one-time use), which makes the technology a dangerous proposition for owners of premium licensed content. That could lead to vast numbers of users downloading and sharing porn, which would be a PR problem for Apple in light of Jobs’ claim that the iPad is “free of porn.” But it could also spur sales of the iPad, which is a pretty good silver lining. And because ad revenues are high and barriers to entry low in porn, providers are surely less concerned about HTML5’s content security holes than, say, ESPN is.

Developers eventually will find ways to address the security issues that currently plague HTML5, which will pave the way for the technology to become the premier platform for online multimedia. It may not be ready for prime time, but the adult content industry is clearly laying the foundation for a very bright future.

Indeed, other media outlets are already following suit and embracing HTML5 in efforts to deliver video to iPad owners. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have capitulated and embraced HTML5; even Facebook has fallen in line. They may not have the influence of the worldwide adult web industry, but their adoption of it indicates that providers of all sorts of content — from porn to network television — should start encoding their wares in HTML5 now.

Question of the week

How much will porn impact the future of HTML5?