porn tube sites problem pornocracy 01
porn tube sites problem pornocracy 01

One Company Owns the Web’s Biggest Porn Tube Sites, and That’s a Problem

In August 2006, YouPorn appeared on the internet and began offering unlimited free porn videos to whoever wanted them. It went from having very little web traffic to becoming the 26th most popular website in the world, boasting around 370 million unique visitors per month.

Recognizing the site’s potentially devastating effect on the porn industry, YouPorn’s administrators asked porn producers to legally license their content for distribution on YouPorn with the hope that viewers would eventually go to the studio’s sites and buy memberships. Most studios refused, asking, “Why would someone buy a membership when they can get it online for free?” Other studios adapted, but many of the sites YouPorn asked are now out of business.

Of their dealings, YouPorn’s founder J-T said, “We were evil.”

One company now owns a majority of the web’s porn tube sites.

Three years after creating YouPorn, J-T sold his shares to a young German programmer named Fabian Thylmann. Thylmann then bought up some of the biggest porn production studios and websites, including tube sites that offer lots of gay porn, like Pornhub, XTube, ExtremeTube, GayTube, YouPorn, Tube 8 and RedTube. After doing this, he established them all under a company called Manwin, “the first multi-national empire of sex.”

Manwin has since changed its name to MindGeek, but most of the web’s porn videos are still hosted on sites that Thylmann owns.

Annually, more than 100 billion pornographic videos get viewed around the world, and the vast majority are available on free streaming “tube” sites. Several years ago, feminist porn producer and actress Ovidie discovered several of her films on these sites without her permission, so she began looking into the industry. Her startling findings now form the heart of the documentary Pornocracy, which had its North American premiere at the 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals earlier this year.

Tube sites have devastated straight porn performers.

While Pornocracy dives deep into Thylmann’s company, Ovidie shows how tube sites have had a devastating effect on porn performers.

A porn producer interviewed by Ovidie says that, thanks to the porn DVD market crash in 2006 and the financial crash of 2008, porn performer pay is now 10 times less than what it was a decade ago. A woman who runs a site promoting aspiring porn actresses says that tubes have desensitized viewers to standard one-on-one sex — they now crave increasingly hardcore acts that include watersports, physical abuse, BDSM and double or triple-penetrations.

“Never before has so much porn been watched,” Ovidie says in her film. “And yet, the porn industry is in its death throes. … Production companies are shutting down one-by-one. And the first victims are women.”

Ovidie went to Budapest — the undisputed porn capital of Europe since the ’90s — and interviewed porn performers there. She heard multiple stories of men injecting themselves with erectile dysfunction medications so they could stay hard for hours, women injecting lidocaine into their vaginas and anuses so they won’t feel pain. Sometimes actresses take tranquilizers to stay relaxed, apply lotions to reduce vaginal or anal inflammation or take childbirth medications to loosen the vagina or anus for two or more simultaneous penetrations.

The studios offer no health insurance, so if a woman sustains an injury, gets a sexually transmitted infection or becomes pregnant during a shoot, she can be devastated professionally and economically afterwards.

“The worst part,” Ovidie says, “is that the porn stars’ names hardly ever appear on these sites. They are reduced to a series of categories. How can you empathize with these girls if, after all, they don’t really exist?”

Tube sites make porn accessible to children.

Pirated videos make up 95% of online porn content, says Gregory Dorcel, Chief Executive of the video distribution company Marc Dorcel. Thus, tube sites prosper off of people viewing this free, illegal content. Meanwhile, law-abiding porn producers who tried to legally distribute their content have gone under because they can’t compete with the less scrupulous tube sites.

The content becomes immediately available to minors. Laws opposing the distribution of porn to minors threaten fines or imprisonment, but tube sites continue to do so with impunity. Professional studios at least had the pretense of making users enter their birthdates before allowing access.

“It’s funny,” porn producer Vincent Gresser says in the film, “the Chinese are able to block Google, but we’re unable to block a dozen or so big porn sites.”

On the converse, conservative politicians often use child exposure to porn as a way to ban porn sites en masse, showing a lack of nuance by both sides. Surely there’s a better way to keep porn available yet shielded from younger viewers.

porn tube sites problem pornocracy 02
Image by andrearoad via iStock Photography

Have tube sites had similarly negative effects on gay porn?

When we asked Ovidie if her findings also applied to gay porn, she said, “Not so much. I have talked to many friends who are involved in gay pornography, and the situation is quite different because obviously it doesn’t bring as much traffic as is the case for mainstream porn.” Gay porn remains somewhat niche, relatively speaking, and so the pressure exerted by tube sites has expressed itself in the same ways.

To find out more, we spoke to Harlan Yaffe, the editor-in-chief of the gay porn news and video site The Sword (NSFW). He has directed around 1,300 gay porn scenes and has worked in the industry for 14 years.

Porn tube sites haven’t compelled gay porn actors to perform in increasingly hardcore scenes, Yaffe says, because the niche market for extreme gay sex acts has always been small, and those seeking it have always felt satisfied by the studios and actors willing to produce such content. Yaffe regularly speaks to gay porn stars and has never heard one mention a studio coercing them to participate in more extreme sex acts to pacify the tube viewers.

Yaffe agrees, however, that tube sites helped decrease performer pay. Five years ago, a top model could command about $3,000 to $5,000 per scene, he says. These days, it’s half or a third of that. As a result, more porn actors have gone into condomless sex scenes. “They’ve gotten on PrEP,” he says, because the condomless scenes “give them the chance to work more.”

Tube sites haven’t driven more gay porn actors into escorting — which, Yaffe says, has always been a steady side-gig for gay porn actors — but he has noticed more gay porn performers using social media to market themselves to their fans. Stars will offer private cam shows or share their Amazon wish-lists as a way to make up for their lower pay.

How can we consume porn ethically?

When I ask Yaffe whether gay porn consumers can help ensure that studios follow ethical business practices and treat their performers well, he says, “Short of having some independent advisory council that, with no industry affiliation, is able to talk to stars and studios, it’s difficult. But the even bigger question that trumps that is: We live in an age where what’s out there is just there for free, whether it’s porn or music. When push comes to shove, people are more interested in ‘Is the scene hot and will it get me off?’ without really getting around to the production process.”

American porn actress and model Stoya says that tube sites aren’t economically ethical at all: They helped devalue porn studios and then sold those studios advertising so they can compete for a tiny fraction of the tube site’s traffic. Instead, she suggests that free porn seekers pirate it from torrent sites — that is, download sites dedicated to large file sharing.

“I see a major difference in intent between torrents and tube sites,” Stoya writes. She continues:

Torrent sites like the Pirate Bay seem committed to freedom of information and freedom of speech, hosting anonymous leaks exposing government and corporate misconduct alongside [copyrighted] entertainment media. One founder, Peter Sunde, has been incredibly vocal about the overreach of proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA. …

Many of [the Manwin/MindGeek] properties have engaged in ‘settle or we’ll sue’ tactics — directly targeting individual downloaders with lawsuits demanding inflated payment for product viewed — known as copyright trolling.

Admittedly, her solution isn’t perfect either as torrent sites are just another form of piracy, which hurts studios and performers.

“What I hope is that this [film] will open a debate at least. It could be a good start, because most of the people are not aware of what we describe in this film,” Ovidie tells us. “The more we talk about it in a serious way, the more we will find good solutions.”

She continues, “The problem is that when you talk about porn, half of the people are in a moral panic and you cannot find solutions if you are just terrorized by what’s happening. And you cannot find a solution if you are 100% part of the business and saying, ‘No! Freedom of speech! Freedom of speech!’ I just think that we need to open a calm and a wide debate about it.”

 

(Featured image by kizilkayaphotos via iStock Photography)