SA porn industry shafted in new era

By Kieran Legg Time of article published Sep 16, 2014

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Cape Town - Cape Town and Joburg’s porn “industries” have been gutted by piracy and the boom of online content. Over the past decade, sales of DVDs have dropped by as much as 90 percent, distributors say.

And while there is a huge demand for local content, nobody wants to take the risk of bankrolling expensive films that will only have a few thousand sales because most of the buyers are picking up pirate copies.

The future does not lie with an industry anymore, it’s with thousands of people shooting their own content at home and uploading it to the net, say experts.

It’s a harsh reality for Cape Town, and the rest of the country, which was on the cusp of breaking through in 2011.

At the time, film-makers were quoted saying the local porn industry was generating as much as R300-million a year.

One of these directors was Tau Morena who told the Cape Argus that while porn was still a lucrative investment, the focus had changed.

“I have 1 000 actors, actresses and models who are willing to participate,” he said. “But the challenge is we haven’t found an innovative way to bring the product to market in a sustainable way so that everyone involved can make a decent income.”

Classifying Cape Town and Joburg’s porn “industry” is a difficult task. At most, there are only 50 titles, spread over at least a decade, which have officially been shot and distributed in the country.

When compared to overseas power-houses such as Los Angeles, which in 2011 was producing an estimated 5 000 adult films, South Africa is barely a contender. And those were only the ones shot legally.

However, it was in that same year that local film-makers were given a chance. The LA adult film industry was virtually shut down when one of its top actors tested positive for HIV.

That resulted inthe city instituting Measure B, a safeguard against the spreading of the disease that slowed the production of movies.

It was in this climate that Morena shot and produced Mapona, the first local production with an all-black cast. It was a hot commodity at the time. DVDs were flying off the shelves of 250 adult stores which couldn’t restock the porn film fast enough. 

“The success was relative,” he told me. “The distribution of the movie was limited to adult stores and the fact that these are only available in developed cities there were a lot of places the movie didn’t reach… legally.”

The movie spawned a huge market for pirates who capitalised on the massive demand, said Morena.

“They made a killing with the DVD because they don’t have to obey laws. They sold it everywhere within hours of its release.”

As required by the Film Publications Board, adult film-makers must obtain a licence to distribute their movies. It’s a R1 000 hurdle that ensures that porn is being sold in the right environment and that the content is above board.

“I have a conservative estimate that there were over a million pirate copies sold. I would meet guys in all corners of the country selling me a pirate copy. Till today, if you travel to most taxi ranks anywhere in the country you can get a disk ranging from R20 to R50 in the streets.”

His first step into physical distribution would ultimately be his last. Burnt by the realities of selling hard copies, he turned back to the internet where he had first cut his teeth.

The force behind the DVD’s success was Morena’s website Sondeza. He lists out the traffic statistics for the website matter-of-factly: “We still average around 800 000 plus visits per month and generate over 7 million page views.”

The site was set up as a portal to access what he calls “black amateur content”. Users are encouraged to upload self-shot videos and pictures, which has created a wealth of content. Morena said they were the “leading online adult entertainment company for their market”.

If the statistics don’t at least support that, they do show that there is a hunger for locally produced porn, even this year when most people, including Adult World spokesman Sean Newman, say there is no actual porn industry in the country.

So-called porn king Joe Theron, head of JT Publishing – the country’s biggest distributor of adult films – said there was definitely still a demand.

“People want to see the local girl, there is a certain novelty to it and there will always be a market.

“I don’t think the consumption has died, it has actually increased. But it has increased in another direction.”

He likens the adult film industry to the music industry, in which all the attention has turned to the internet. In this way, he said porn was in a “transitional” phase, in which producers were still trying to come up with a way to monetise content that is freely available on the web.

“That said, a local porn film would sell. There’s a niche market, and I’d be able to move around 5 000 copies. It’s not much, but it is something.”

He has licensed many movies shot in Cape Town and Joburg, including Mapona and the popular Cape Town Sun F***s. He lists the others casually, confirming each title with his secretary.

“There’s also ’n Pomp in Elke Dorp, Mzanzi Sex Files and uh, what was that? Oh, Forbidden Times which was an interracial one.”

It’s a market in which Afrikaans titles still “sell exceptionally well”. In many ways, these titles were the beginnings of the country’s industry. There was also a new market emerging, said Theron. Women were steadily becoming the biggest consumers of feature-length films.

However, would he fund a movie now?

“Personally I wouldn’t commission someone to produce a movie. You are sitting in a bit of a risky situation with recouping your investment. There is so much licensed product from overseas.”

And this was where the comparisons with the music industry and film industry started again. South Africans just didn’t produce good quality content, he said.

“There are some outliers, but largely we just cannot compete with the actors and film-makers overseas.”

While there was still a market for DVDs, just like CDs, the future of porn was online, the wholesaler admitted.

“I mean, you still get people like Adele who manage to sell 20 million albums, so it is possible in the music industry. But for our porn industry to achieve something like that we would need the Adele of porn.”

The Film Publications Board noted in an e-mail that there were a growing number of home-grown porn movies being submitted for licensing.

In the past financial year, 400 adult films were sent for classification.

“We do not have exact statistics, but submissions of local porn are very low.”

But Morena said the physical medium was dead.

“The future of adult entertainment is already here.”

People were creating their own content on cellphones and selling it on WhatsApp and Twitter. Women were sitting at home with webcams and shooting footage on a shoestring budget that was making waves, he said.

“We have an abundance of people who are keenly interested in being adult entertainers in various forms, this is an opportunity that the authorities turn a blind eye to and act like we are a Vatican city.”

Morena said, in a way, the porn industry in Cape Town and Joburg was alive and well.

But instead of a traditional model of actors and directors, the new film-maker was anyone with a smartphone and a sense of exhibitionism. - Cape Argus

 

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