Can virtual reality get you to pay for porn again?

Porn is cheap, and it's everywhere. That's a problem the biz hopes it can solve with goggles that put you in the middle of the action.

"It's like you can reach out and touch them," porn actress Brett Rossi says of VR porn.

Max Taves/CNET

Anna Lee has worked in the adult entertainment industry for 18 years, trying on everything from the webcam business to a fantasy role-play site. Her most ambitious project yet: virtual reality.

Last year, Lee's company, HoloFilm Productions of Vancouver, British Columbia, started using specialized cameras that capture 360 degrees of action so viewers who strap on a pair of goggles and a screen to their face feel like they've actually stepped onto the set.

"It's the next progression of everything entertainment," Lee says in a convention hall crowded with porn studios and sex toy companies at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, where the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo is taking place. "And, of course, with porn, now you're with your favorite porn star, sitting in the room with her. She's looking at you, she's talking to you."

HoloGirlsVR.com, the website featuring Lee's initial 60 VR porn scenes, launched Tuesday. It features stars like Cherie DeVille who are doing a lot more than talking.

Welcome to the future of porn.

The tech industry has become VR obsessed, with new products about to arrive like Facebook's high-end $600 Oculus Rift headset and Sony's so-far unpriced PlayStation VR. Google is already there, with its roughly $20 Cardboard VR headsets that offer a cheap alternative by using your smartphone. While these devices are marketed primarily as game machines, the porn industry sees them as a way to get skin to your eyes and money out of your pants.

"It's like you can reach out and touch them, that's how close they are to you," says Brett Rossi, an ex-fiancee of TV star Charlie Sheen and a longtime porn actress who appears in Lee's new VR videos. "It's so detailed that you can see a freckle on your ass."

Whipping it into shape

You'd think with all the porn out there -- it rakes in $3.3 billion a year -- the industry wouldn't need another way to bring it to you, but you'd be surprised.

Porn revenue is basically stagnant. IBIS World, a research firm, projects online porn revenue will increase by less than 1 percent every year between now and 2020. That's despite a recent University of Texas study indicating 46 percent of men and 16 percent of women between 18 and 39 years old watch porn every week.

Eating away at porn's profits is piracy. Porn is among the most freely traded content on peer-to-peer sharing sites, and when it's not there, people are watching YouTube-like video sites that stream free porn all day long.

"The days of getting a customer to get a subscription and rebill forever are pretty much gone," says Tony Rios, chief executive of AVN, the trade association that represents the adult biz and hosts this week's Las Vegas confab.

Porn is hoping to stay ahead of all the piracy through VR and the huge data files it requires. Not everyone is convinced this will work.

Bryant Paul, a communications professor at Indiana University and a researcher at the Kinsey Institute, says VR won't draw people away from the plentiful and free online video that's already getting the job done.

"I think the companies that are investing a lot of tech and money into VR sex tech are going to take a bath," he says flatly.

The skepticism isn't stopping the porn industry from trying. And from what I can see at the expo, the vast majority of the focus is on male customers.

Lee's HoloFilm is among at least six companies creating VR porn that are exhibiting here. There is also the Holodexxx adult-themed VR game (no demo, sadly), as well as CamSoda, which serves as a digital strip club where performers act out fantasies for paying customers in real time. CamSoda began offering VR to its subscribers about two months ago.

Just beyond CamSoda's booth, which is playing a looped video of women performing on a screen overhead, I pass SheMaleStrokers.com and DildoOfTheDay.com. I'm not interested and keep walking until I meet Daniel Abramovich, who introduces me to his not-so-subtly named company, VRBangers, which began selling subscriptions to its 16 virtual reality videos two months ago.

Abramovich has me watch a demo titled "The Busty Black Maid." Imagine a nice house where you're sitting in a chair and she's doing pretty much everything you can think of.

Pay $39.99 for a three-month plan and Abramovich will even send you a cardboard VR headset to watch his vids with. It's got a silhouette of a naked woman on it. He is selling 50 subscriptions a day and says the appeal of VR porn is simple.

"You wear the headset," he says, "and you really feel like you're really there with the girl, having that fun that you want to have."

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