VAMPIRE PORN: MindGeek is a Cautionary Tale of Consolidating Production and Distribution in a Single, Monopolistic Owner – The Tube Master

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Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Video sites are by far the biggest consumers of bandwidth on the Web: Netflix, YouTube, Twitch … MindGeek. Or maybe that last one doesn’t ring a bell? Founded in 2007 by Canadians Stephane Manos and Ouissam Youssef, MindGeek (formerly known as Manwin and Mansef) has over 100 million daily visitors and is one of the top 10 consumers of bandwidth; some reports have them in the top three. They operate nearly a hundred websites that in total consume more bandwidth than Twitter, Amazon, or Facebook. Of all top content providers, though, MindGeek has by far the most shadowy presence. Its website says they are “pioneering the future of online traffic”—but doesn’t say much about what they actually do with all that bandwidth.

David AuerbachSLATE By DAVID AUERBACH

MindGeek is a porn provider. Or more accurately, the porn provider. MindGeek has become the porn monopoly, putting industry members in the paradoxical position of working for the very company that profits from the piracy of their work. The MindGeek hydra exerts so much force that people in the online-porn industry are scared to talk about it for fear of blacklisting. And MindGeek’s dominance should serve as a cautionary tale of the dangers of consolidating production and distribution in a single monopolistic owner.

Because of taboos surrounding pornography, no antitrust actions are going to be taken against MindGeek any time soon.

Specifically, MindGeek owns a large number of porn aggregator “tube sites” (so named because they mimic YouTube’s format) such as Pornhub, YouPorn, and Redtube, which serve up huge amounts of free porn funded by ads. According to porn-industry blogger Mike South, MindGeek now owns eight of the top 10 of these aggregator sites (the exceptions being xHamster and Xvideos). These sites, whether owned by MindGeek or not, notoriously host a lot of pirated content.

While each individual tube site responds to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests, most porn producers do not have the resources of movie studios or record labels to monitor piracy; according to adult film star Siri, MindGeek’s sites “force copyright holders to jump through hoops to get our content removed.” South told me that consequently, production of porn films is down 75 percent from where it was eight years ago, and DVD sales down 50 percent in that time. The general sentiment is that the porn business crash around 2008 was due to the rise of widescale piracy on tube sites and torrents, an increase in amateur porn, and the Great Recession.

The decline has continued since then, driving down fees and causing performers to look elsewhere to make ends meet. When South started in the industry, “I could count performers I know who did prostitution on one hand. Now I can count the performers I know who don’t do it on one hand.” According to Salon, while performers working as escorts was rare and frowned upon in 2000, by the end of the decade it had become common. Adult performer Houston told Salon’s E. J. Dickson last year, “If you look at the escort sites, pretty much every porn star is on there.”

The crash in the porn business provided MindGeek with the opportunity to purchase high-profile porn content producers, including big names like Brazzers (in 2010) and Digital Playground (in 2012) at discounted rates, each of which themselves operate dozens of sites. Alongside names like Hustler and Vivid, MindGeek effectively came to control a huge amount of the mainstream “traditional” porn industry—the Hollywood-like production scene based in California’s San Fernando Valley, which has given us Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey.

As Adult Empire director of business development Colin Allerton told the Daily Dot, “every major studio and star is now partnered with MindGeek or has worked for a studio that MindGeek purchased.” Since then, industry workers have been in the difficult situation of seeing their work pirated on sites owned by the same company that pays them—imagine if Warner Brothers also owned the Pirate Bay. The way Siri puts it, it’s as though Walmart drove mom-and-pop stores out of business “and then to top it off, went into the mom-and-pop shops and literally stole all of their products to be resold at Walmart.” It’s a tough time to be a mom-and-pop porn shop.

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