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Sex Tech Maker Cries Foul After CES Retracts Innovation Award

By Peter Suciu
Jan 14, 2019 12:46 PM PT

At last week's International CES, the CEO of Lora DiCarlo, a woman-run sex tech startup, called out the Consumer Technology Association for rescinding its CES Innovation Award. The company received the award for its first-ever product, the Osť personal massager, only to have the CTA backpedal and retract it. Furthermore, the company was not even allowed to exhibit at CES 2019.

Sex Tech Maker Cries Foul After CES Retracts Innovation Award

CTA CEO Gary Shapiro and CTA EVP Karen Chupka sent the company a letter stating that the product was ineligible for the Robotics and Drone category, according to Lora DiCarlo. That was in spite of the fact that the Osť was designed in partnership with Oregon State University's robotics engineering laboratory.

"The product referenced does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program," the CTA said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by company rep Samantha Doherty.

"CES does not have a category for sex toys," the CTA's statement continues. "CTA had communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo nearly two months ago and we have apologized to them for our mistake."

Lora DiCarlo Fires Back

Lora DiCarlo responded to the revocation of the CES Innovation Award in an open letter to the CTA last week, claiming that its decision amounted to gender-bias, because the Osť is designed to be a woman's sexual aid.

CES in the past has featured virtual reality pornography and a sex robot with unrealistic proportions, the company pointed out, suggesting that a double standard was in effect.

Like many trade shows, CES has a longstanding tradition of exhibitors employing so-called "booth babes" -- attractive young females who act as brand ambassadors -- to occupy prominent positions on the show floor, a fact noted by Lora DiCarlo.

"Really the bias at CES/CTA is a symptom of a larger issue in tech," said Lora Haddock, CEO of Lora DiCarlo.

"We've seen, and continue to see, massive strides in technology develop inside of -- and because of -- the adult industry, whether it's pleasure products or porn," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"Ignoring and dismissing the contributions of such a huge part of the tech industry development story again just crushed innovation, in much the same way that blocking anyone other than white CIS-males stagnates innovation," Haddock added.

Innovation Facts

Competition for CES Innovation Awards has become ever more complicated as the show has grown beyond traditional consumer electronics.

This year more than 6,000 companies applied for an innovation award, and fewer than 300 even made it to the honoree bracket. This year, as opposed to past years, the CES jury opted to give each product no more than a single innovation award. Some 270 honorees out of the 300 were awarded one of the CES Innovation Awards.

In total there were 29 product categories, and industry leaders had a combined 17 award-winning products -- but there were notable misses, as longtime winners, including HP, failed to earn an award.

CES and Adult Entertainment

Back when it was still known as the "Consumer Electronics Show" -- especially when there was a Winter CES and a Summer CES -- the adult entertainment industry had a regular presence at the event.

"The adult entertainment industry used to run their conference alongside the tech industry," recalled Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"I remember seeing the stars -- lots of silicone, not much fabric -- and their escorts -- lots of tattoos, a fair amount of leather -- in the area between the hotel and conference facilities," he told the E-Commerce Times.

However, the big split came in 1998 when the Adult Entertainment Expo branched off to sponsor its own trade show, run by Adult Video News. That show, which now is known as "AVN" rather than "AEE," at first was held concurrently with CES -- usually at the Sands Expo Center. In 2012, it changed dates, and the shows now are held weeks apart.

The change was due in part to the fact that CES was not held over a weekend, days when AVN would open to the public. The other factor was that CES, which has expanded beyond consumer electronics, has become the world's largest trade show and almost literally takes over Las Vegas.

Simply put, there wasn't enough room for both shows -- yet the links between consumer electronics and adult entertainment remained.

How Adult Content Helped Consumer Electronics

The largely untold story of consumer electronics does include have a seedy side that some in the industry would like to forget. Home video, first with the VCR and later with DVD, was built in no small part due to adult entertainment. The VCR also revolutionized the way people were able to view the content.

Adult movies moved from sleazy theaters to a section at the video store, which helped sell VCRs and then DVD players.

The adult entertainment industry is worth nearly US$100 billion, according to recent studies. While Hollywood releases about 600 movies a year, the adult film industry releases more than 13,000 films -- and by some accounts makes more money than Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA combined!

Adult Content Returns to CES

Even as AVN's Adult Entertainment Expo ran concurrently with CES, some companies saw their products fitting more with tech than at the so-called porn show.

"A couple of years ago, IoT-style sex toys began to show up at actual CES, creating a lot of giggling and innuendo among the prudish horndog techies," remarked Endpoint Technologies Associates' Kay.

One notable example was OhMiBod, a toy company run by a husband and wife team, which sought a platform for its iPod-connected sex device. The company and its products initially were denied a presence at the show, but after appealing the decision did make it to the show floor.

More recently, with the growing virtual reality trend, some companies have started to see CES as the place to be and not the AVN/AEE. One of them, Naughty America, returned to CES last year with its VR offerings.

There have been restrictions, such as a prohibition of the showing of films, photos, games or other software that could be deemed objectionable. This prohibition applied to nudity as well as generally explicit material, but Lora DiCarlo's Osť isn't exactly explicit.

"Clearly, the CTA didn't handle this situation very well," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.

"If the Osť didn't conform to the official rules of the competition, the product should not have been accepted into the competition in the first place. Case closed," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"The CTA has the right to set the official rules of their competition, which they have, but they didn't seem to have a problem with the submission originally," Crandall added.

"This new angle, accusations of gender bias, is unfortunate, but I suppose a sign of our times," suggested Kay.

"The whole hypocritical, puritanical culture in the United States can get really irritating, with things like this at the amusing end, and the ongoing Catholic priest sex scandal at the harmful end," noted Kay. "Just imagine this story playing in, say, Holland."

Victory in Defeat

Despite the fact that Lora DiCarlo had its CES Innovation Award pulled, the company has scored big, not only with the publicity the brouhaha has generated, but also through support garnered from others the adult entertainment world.

Online adult video sharing service YouPorn last week offered Lora DiCarlo $50,000 worth of free advertising on its website for one month.

"We are excited about the launch of Lora DiCarlo's Osť, and we would love to support a wonderful product, as we always take into consideration ALL of our users' wants and needs," said Charles Hughes, vice president at YouPorn.

"It's unfortunate, as our industry already faces so many challenges," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Not being able to represent the advancement of sex tech at shows like CES can have detrimental side-effects to companies like Lora DiCarlo, as they already have little options when it comes to advertising to mainstream consumers," Hughes added.

"It's a shame that businesses and organizations are distancing themselves from adult content, and the intersection of sex and technology cannot be celebrated at major events such as CES," he said.

"While it's a shame that the award has been revoked, it looks like Lora DiCarlo is still the winner," suggested Netpop Research's Crandall.

Lora DiCarlo management has reacted not only by amplifying and embracing the CTA's decision to retract the award, but also by encouraging people to share their thoughts on social media, he noted.

"The adage that any coverage is good coverage is going to go a long way to increasing awareness and interest in the Osť," Crandall said.

"It's fair to venture that the Lora DiCarlo team is having a field day with it," said Kay. "They are getting far more publicity this way than via any booth activity or even actual prize-winning. Of course, they have to deplore the discrimination because that's their role, but behind closed doors, I'm sure they love it."


Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com. Email Peter.


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