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Mostly law professors, blogging on whatever we please since 2002 · Hosted by The Washington Post, 2014-2017 · Hosted by Reason 2017 · Sometimes contrarian · Often libertarian · Always independent

Mindgeek, or the Biggest Digital Streaming Platform You’ve Never Heard Of

The undisputed emperor of online adult entertainment, Mindgeek is a master at gathering and using data to structure and produce content.

The adult entertainment industry has always been a technology leader. It was an early adopter of distribution via home video and the VCR—indeed, some claim that the porn industry's adoption of the VHS format was the deciding factor that vanquished its rival, Betamax, in the 1980s. The adult industry was also among the first to move from distribution on videotape to the DVD format, and then to online downloads and finally to streaming.

So it is no surprise that the most creative use of the data that is produced by digital distribution comes from the porn world. The company that does this best is also the largest—and unless you are a pornography expert, you probably haven't heard of it.

Mindgeek is the parent company of Pornhub, YouPorn, Brazzers, Twistys, and many other sites. It claims to have over 115 million daily visitors to its sites, and its Alexa scores (Pornhub is #27 globally, just one step behind Netflix—and Pornhub is just one of Mindgeek's many assets) suggest these figures are accurate.

In The Second Digital Disruption, we examine in detail Mindgeek's use of viewing data. But first we explain how the porn industry changed with the advent of streaming—and how it stays alive despite enormous quantities of easily available free content. Intellectual property rights are predicated on the assumption that only with legal protection against (cheap/free) copies will creators invest in creation. So the first key question about the industry is, how, in a world of almost unlimited free porn, does the porn industry exist at all?

As we write:

As streaming high quality video became technically viable the consumption of pornography has moved almost entirely online. Indeed, Pornhub and Xvideos are today respectively the 27th and 42nd most popular websites in the world by traffic. The impact on the adult industry was rapid. As the New York Times reported in 2007, as the first "porntube" sites were gaining market share:

The Internet was supposed to be a tremendous boon for the pornography industry, creating a global market of images and videos accessible from the privacy of a home computer. For a time it worked, with wider distribution and social acceptance driving a steady increase in sales. But now the established pornography business is in decline — and the Internet is being held responsible. The online availability of free or low-cost photos and videos has begun to take a fierce toll on sales of X-rated DVDs.

In the intervening decade, this process has only accelerated. Today, pornographic DVD sales are a tiny fraction of what they once were. And revenues for the traditional producers of recorded pornography have fallen, by some estimates (likely overblown) by up to 80%. At the same time, streaming viewership has grown to enormous levels:

It's impossible to ignore the top-level stat: that Pornhub averaged 81 million visitors per day (28.5 billion visitors for the year), with 24.7 billion searches performed. That's 50,000 searches per minute, 800 per second. The global community was active as well, with over four million videos totaling 595,492 hours uploaded. If you were to watch that much porn in a continuous fashion, your eyes would be locked onto the screen for 68 years.

The adult industry has adapted to this dramatic change by transforming how it makes money. And that allows it to continue to create new content. In the paper we detail the many adaptations, include camming (which is live, and often literally directed by fans); the move to merchandising; the rise of custom pornography; and the monetization of social media.

In general, the key aspect is that content, once the core of the industry, has gone from product to advertisement. Content is what builds a brand that can be leveraged in other ways.

Mindgeek, as the world's biggest repository of free porn, is at the center of these changes. Because Mindgeek is so big, it harvests massive amounts of data about what, and how, viewers watch. It makes money via advertisements and subscriptions, of course. But what is most interesting is how it uses data to shape the production of new porn.

In the paper we detail this process of "data-driven authorship," using a script Mindgeek shared with us. Mindgeek does what Netflix, Spotify, Amazon and others also do—it uses consumer data to recommend, to categorize, and to invest. But Mindgeek goes one step further. It actually makes creative decisions based on the data.

And that process, we believe, has big implications for intellectual property law and theory. We turn to that tomorrow.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    And all this time I thought "YouPorn" was just some joke I wasn't hip enough to understand.

  • Junkie||

    Was there some change made to this article between last night and this morning? It was posted to FB at 8:26pm Pacific time, then again at 5:55am Pacific time.

  • Eugene Volokh||

    Sorry -- I meant to schedule it for this morning, but accidentally entered yesterday's date (but still the morning time), so it ended up buried on our front page below all the other posts from yesterday. A few minutes later, I saw what happened, so I rescheduled it for this morning; I hadn't realized that it had already automatically posted to Facebook.

  • mad_kalak||

    The advertising that keeps making sites like PornHub making money (because the average user experience is like 5 minutes of free material, with so much of it so varied, that the Coolidge Effect never kicks in but for any but an addict) is the advertising for "dating" sites.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The term Coolidge Effect is ascribed to this moment in presidential history:

    The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, "Dozens of times each day."

    Mrs. Coolidge said, "Tell that to the President when he comes by."

    Upon being told, the President asked, "Same hen every time?" The reply was, "Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time."

    President: "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."

  • mad_kalak||

    That story is so hilarious, I love it.

  • M.L.||

    Profiting off warfare against and destruction of the human psyche and spirit. Sad (and sick)!

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    Tonight on Sick Sad World, porn. You'll love it. It's a way of life.

  • santamonica811||

    "...It's impossible to ignore the top-level stat: that Pornhub averaged 81 million visitors per day (28.5 billion visitors for the year), with 24.7 billion searches performed...."

    I am not understanding this. I guess I am one of only 12 people in America who has not yet visited Pornhub's website. But I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the logic of these two competing numbers...

    There are 28.5 billion visitors per years, right? But they only perform 24.7 billion searches? I would have assumed that the average Joe (Jill??) would go to the site, and do a search or two for whatever pushes their proverbial button. But apparently most people, on average, are happy with a single search, right? And a significant number of people go to the site but never search at all...or the number of searches would be (much!) larger than the number of visitors.

    I don't get how this can be accurate. It flies against normal consumer practice--looking at various options before you, ahem, "buy" the goods. I mean; if I were able to look at my own Amazon statistics for a year, I assume that it would show about 100 visits, but also about 750 searches. This week, I bought--on Amazon--a bunch of torches for camping, power outages, etc. Took only one visit, but I needed about 10 searches. (size of the tourch, number of batteries, battery size, battery-only or dual power, etc etc).

    [continued] .....

  • santamonica811||

    ..... [continued] ......

    If I am understanding the statistic correctly, this means that some visitors go to Pornhub's home page and are able to 'finish their transaction' without moving off that main page, right??? This is very surprising to me, and not at all reflective of my own teenage years. (I did not borrow my friend's Playboy and leave it--unopened--at the front cover.)

  • Junkie||

    There are dozens of videos linked on the front page. If you click on one of them you can watch it without ever performing a search.

  • santamonica811||

    Okay. In the interest of science (if my girlfriend ever searches my browser history), I just went to the main page . Yes, there are many videos one can see with no search.

    But my old therapist gig tells me that most people will not do this (ie, go to the main page and click on one of the first videos they see). Maybe a teenager, who is like the proverbial kid in a candy store. "Woo-hoo, porn! Anything will be fine, thank you very much!!!" But it's been my experience that adult men and women end up with particular tastes in sex--even if each person's interests are also rather varied. So, it just seems unbelievable to me that people are given the ability to search out the type of videos they most like, but make an active decision to instead just click on one that shows up on the front page. I mean; according to the statistics I first quoted, I guess that is exactly what is happening. But it makes no sense to me, in terms of human behavior.

    It is like walking into that candy store, with an unlimited amount of time (and and essentially unlimited variety of candies) to select the type of candy you most like, but usually buying one of the 12-15 candies that are right next to the front door. Sure, if you were dropped off at the store with a warning of, "You have 30 seconds to pick and buy your candy!", then it would explain your action. But other than that edge case . . . . to have all those options and deliberately *not* pick out what you most enjoy . . . ??? Weird.

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