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The truth about in-room adult entertainment
It's tough to report on the adult entertainment business. Data's hard to find, and ranges are substituted for exact numbers. Because of this, the smallest anecdote can be stretched and prodded for years, ultimately taking on a life of its own. Adult-oriented in-room entertainment – porn, dirty movies, the stuff that's pretty hard to order by mistake – falls into this category. Only when you appreciate how large this piece of the hospitality business is can you see why many properties may not rush to void those "accidental" charges.
There is no doubt that in-room adult entertainment is good business ... some would say crucial. A coalition of 13 conservative groups (including the Family Research Council) that opposes the production and sale of porn (as if you couldn't tell guess), estimates that adult fare accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of all in-room entertainment revenue. Of course, it pays to be careful with this estimate, as these groups have a lot at stake in reporting high. More money from porn, from their perspective, translates to a proof of a larger societal problem, which helps advance their agenda. Given my research in this space, I'm inclined to accept the lower end of the spectrum, largely because of the management problems that have plagued the entire porn industry over the past few years.
Even the low end of the range is far from trivial. That's a lot of cash every year in a very tough business. In fact, it's enough that the hotel industry relies on it to remain profitable. According to JW Marriott, Jr. – yeah, that Marriott -- "If we were to eliminate R and non-rated offerings, the systems would not be economic [sic]."
So, how much money is this?
Gallery: Adult Entertainment Expo
Adult industry trade publication Adult Video News (NSFW) put the revenue from hotel porn at $550 million in 2006, the last year for which data is available. At around $15 a movie, that's almost 37 million purchases, to which nobody will admit. But, you can see Marriott's point. Hotels need every last dime from porn to keep their shareholders happy.
So, let's take this a step further. Assume that you claim to have been charged wrongly. How can the hotel know? A source, who used to be the night auditor at a major Manhattan luxury hotel, told me that the majority of purchases were viewed for less than a minute.
Several other sources have chimed in – including a former Ritz-Carlton general manager – that the average run time ranges from seven to 10 minutes. Steven Silbar, who served as Director of Sales and Business Development of NXTV (which sells in-room entertainment), recalls that the average time an adult film was viewed through his employer's system was 7.5 minutes (in 2001 and 2002). Even if a handful go from start to finish, this suggests many viewings of less than a minute.
Buying behavior could imply a case of buyer's remorse, an unfortunate slip of the thumb or the remote, the absence of continued need (you know what I mean) or a technical glitch. Only two of these situations would call for a refund (the technical glitch and maybe the accident).
The choice to refund is made harder by the hotel's obligations to the porn provider. Every time a movie is purchased, the cash you pay is split between the property and the supplier. The supplier then has to pay some of its share to the production company. And, none of these businesses is doing well in this economy. Porn has been in something of a recession since 2005.
Put simply, you're more likely to get a comp'ed drink than a free movie, even if the drink is more expensive.
Hotels need porn. There's no way around it. So, when you browse the adult listings – just to see what's out there, of course – know where your finger is. If you slip, you could wind up paying the price.