The weird, tangled history of America’s largest tech trade show and the porn industry

By Chris Morris

March 22, 2022

It has been 11 years since the worlds of consumer electronics and porn have shared the spotlight in Las Vegas. But in 2023, the unlikely duo will be reunited.

The 2023 Adult Entertainment Expo will take place at the Resorts World Casino from January 4-7, meaning the show will once again run during the same week as the Consumer Electronics Show (which is slated for Jan. 5-8). It’s the latest chapter in an entangled saga between the two industries, which have had an unusual relationship for decades.

From the early 1980s through 1997, CES had an adult software section, where adult entertainment companies and performers had their products on display.  Tired of being hidden away in the back corner of the show floor, the industry launched its own standalone show in 1998, backed by AVN trade magazine founder Paul Fishbein, and saw great success (and foot traffic from people who were in town ostensibly for CES).

The two shows coexisted for a decade-and-a-half, with CES attendees sneaking over to see their favorite adult stars and reps from the increasingly high-tech porn world getting a look at what laid ahead in terms of possible content delivery vehicles. In 2012, though, the Adult Entertainment Expo shifted its date, and moved from the Sands Convention Center to the Hard Rock Hotel (which, ironically, is now branded Virgin Hotels Las Vegas).

Moving the date made it cheaper for fans to get rooms and eliminated the battle to find affordable floor space. And, by running in conjunction with Shot Show, a shooting and hunting trade show, there was still a large, male-heavy convention audience to lure over, once their business of the day was done.

In 2023, AEE is moving to Resorts World, located less than a mile from CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which will increase its footprint by 100,000 square feet. The extra space will allow the show to not only host bigger and more booths, but also to space things out better to reduce the risk of COVID transmissions.

The AEE show typically welcomes 25,000 to 30,000 attendees, but officials expect that to increase by an estimated 30% increase in 2023, given the much larger CES crowds.

Both shows have evolved in their time apart. AEE is less a show with mega studios these days as it is a showcase for live cam and on-demand services. Big names like Vivid, Digital Playground and Wicked have been replaced by MyFreeCams, Pornhub and Gamma Entertainment.

CES, meanwhile, has opened up its doors to adult novelty companies and sexually-themed technology, with some pleasure product companies, like OhMyBod, having attended for the past 10 years. The show truly began to embrace the category in 2020, however, following its mishandling of an Innovation Award to sex toy company Lora DiCarlo.

That could make it an especially frantic week for some adult novelty companies, as AEE will once again host the Adult Novelty Expo, a B2B showcase where buyers from retailers that specialize in those products peruse the newest offerings. Since AEE and CES have different core attendee bases, novelty companies could be forced to choose one show over another—or host two separate booths.

In addition to the floor shows, the AVN Awards, the so-called “Oscars of porn” will be held on Sat. Jan. 7. (A counterpart awards for gay pornography – the GayVN Awards – will take place on Jan. 5.)

CES and AEE might be an odd couple, but each show’s industry relies on the other in its own way. Porn is often a driver of new technologies. In the late 1970s and early-80s, when VHS and Beta were duking it out for ownership of the living room, the adult industry was a big factor. The introduction of VCRs into homes proved to be a golden age for porn companies, as consumers didn’t have to be seen going into seedy theaters or struggle with 8mm short films. Adult studios chose VHS as their delivery method of choice, since it was cheaper and offered longer recording times. And that, the legend goes, tipped the scales in favor of that format over Betamax. Years later, porn companies led the charge onto the Internet, though they also opened the doors for the rampant piracy that came to threaten their livelihood.

The industry shrugged its shoulders at other touted technologies, though, like 3D and HD-DVDs, which never found a lasting audience.

 

(33)