Who Created Pornhub? Everything you need to know

Bernardo Montes de Oca

It's October 4, 2021, and the entire world feels the direct consequences of our addiction to social networks. For several hours, Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp went down. In some countries, lockdowns were still in full effect, and many had no choice. The consequence? Pornhub's traffic increased by 10.5%.

Though 10.5% might not sound like a lot, let's put things into perspective. For every hour that Facebook's services were down, Pornhub added about 500,000 more users. There's no denying it: the world loves porn, and Pornhub is the world's biggest brand.

This website has revolutionized adult entertainment and how people perceive it. To some degree, it has even managed to remove some taboos surrounding pornography. Pornhub has even donated to charity, but that doesn't take away its dark side, from mysterious finances to human trafficking.

The Numbers Behind The Adult Entertainment Industry

The pornographic industry dominates society, accounting for 30% to 35% of all downloaded content. On average, every second, 29,000 people are watching something related to porn, and every day, 68 million searches on Google relate to pornography. The world is addicted, and one of the main dealers is Pornhub.

In the 21st century, Pornhub consistently ranked among the top ten companies with the most social impact. That's not to say it's positive, as those surveyed believed that most companies (including Facebook, Google, and Twitter) harm our lives. Still, there's no denying how important Pornhub is.

If anyone visits the website, there are loads of free videos, so there's no need for a subscription. At least, that's the theory. So, how does this company make money? That's where Mindgeek comes in.

Pornhub is only one of many companies under the giant umbrella that is Mindgeek. You're not the only one if you've never heard of them. Go to their website, and you'll see a company that works on content delivery and advertising, and that's true. The caveat is that Mindgeek focuses on porn. In theory, that's not bad, but the company has also blurred the lines between right and wrong.

Who created Pornhub? 

Historically, buying pornography was a straightforward business. People paid for videos online and watched them. To make money online, suppliers created a site with galleries that would attract customers to subscribe.

When YouTube came out, another possible market came out. After all, it didn't take long for the adult industry to emulate it, creating its own series of tube sites. Now, the content was easier to obtain and with a greater variety. One leading the tube site revolution was Canadian Matt Keezer, who created Interhub and, subsequently, Pornhub.

Keezer, Stephane Manos, Ouissam Youssef, and Feras Antoon had previous experience in galleries as far back as 2003. One of their most significant discoveries was that "niche" content was the most profitable. With this knowledge, they founded what would become the biggest adult production company in the world, Brazzers.

When did Pornhub start? By 2007, Brazzers had created its first tube site, and many others. Thus Pornhub was born. Interhub, the umbrella company, was slowly becoming a mainstay in adult entertainment, and it drew the attention of another "connoisseur" of the industry, Fabian Thylmann.

In the occasional interview, Thylmann has stated that he's a geek who rarely goes out. So, in his own words, he was bound to get into porn. At the same time, Thylmann had created a tracking software that allowed companies to track advertising links and clicks. This way, businesses could charge commissions over these. So, it was the perfect combination for a potential buyer.

Thylmann loved adult content so much that he spent his earnings from the software to buy several adult-themed websites, such as Interhub, for about $140 million, in 2010. After the purchase, he named his new emporium Manwin. Thylmann had one goal: to grow, and he accomplished it.

Manwin increased earnings by 40% in less than a year, with Pornhub responsible for most of that growth. After that, the company did not stop. In no time, it even owned the rights to big brands such as Playboy.

This company seemed to be a sure success until 2013 when Thylmann got into trouble for evading taxes. Manwin executives bought him out in a desperate move, and the company changed names to MindGeek, with two prominent names. Feras Antoon, one of the original founders, David Tassilo. Together, they would relentlessly pursue the dominance of the adult industry.

How does Pornhub make money? 

In 2022, Pornhub reported 150 million daily active users and an average of more than 50 billion visits annually. Behind these massive numbers lies a consistent effort to understand the data that fuels this global addiction.

When we say global, it truly stands for all over the world. In 2022, the company's biggest markets were the US, UK, France, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and the Phillippines.  We know this because MindGeek makes a great effort in analyzing all of its users. Here's what they found in 2022

Pornhub visitor demographics for 2022

Those millions of daily users provide MindGeek with as much information as it needs to improve its content and keep users engaged. One vital element for this success is providing plenty of variety. In fact, it's estimated that Pornhub alone has so many videos that it adds to more than 170 years of continuous playback.

Therein lies the problem. There's illegal and dark content in that sea of perversion, including sexual aggression. The problem is that, with so much out there, keeping track of all the illegal content is downright impossible.

How Pornhub Failed At Moderation

In short, Mindgeek has too much content. For the one who owns the porn industry, this can actually be a problem, and it gets worse. Now, there's even more. Riding the wave of content creators, Pornhub introduced Community channels, where regular people upload their videos, hoping to land followers and money. While Pornhub does pay creators, providing an alternative income source, it also brought more problems.

According to former employees, keeping all the content at bay falls on moderators' shoulders, but this division is severely understaffed. In 2020, former Mindgeek moderators revealed that it was impossible to keep up. They had to watch 1200 videos daily and catch anything from underage sex to bestiality to death.

With so many videos on hand, moderators cleared some videos instead of flagging them. Also, people working on one site didn't block content flagged on another. Amidst this, the employees' mental health was taking a toll.

MindGeek has insisted that it has taken action, but it seems too little, too late. It added mental-health services and reported videos to authorities, only doing so after hundreds of thousands of videos had already made it to the site.

Underage content leaked into Pornhub

It was only a matter of time until videos depicting underage girls landed on the website. Then, in 2020, a story broke that two girls, aged fifteen and fourteen, were filmed without consent. Then, they ended up on Pornhub.

After desperate attempts to take the video down, Pornhub only obliged when one of the girls impersonated a lawyer. Still, her images and videos have already navigated the untraceable sea of pornography that's Pornhub and its branch companies.

After the initial article came out to the public, other reports started coming in, and the situation was even worse than people had thought. Many underage victims had been drugged or inebriated, and this crisis highlighted the more significant issue within the company.

At one point, the moderation team only had ten employees, and the orders were to immediately take down content if the person appeared to be under 12. However, the rules were much looser when people seemed to be 15 or 16 years old. Moreover, verification consists of uploading a picture with an ID, which is easily forgeable.

Again, the public outcry led MindGeek to "take action" and remove videos involving sex trafficking, abuse, or non-consent. The resulting numbers were shocking.

Pornhub went from 13.5 million videos to under three million in days. The speed with which Pornhub reduced the numbers showcased the ugly truth: Pornhub knew about it but didn't do anything until word got out. As a consequence, 2022 was an extremely active year for user-flagged content, even after Pornhub removed millions of videos.

A chart displaying how many content removal requests Pornhub received during 2022

The backlash was immediate. Major companies dropped their partnerships or sponsorship from Pornhub. So, Mastercard, Visa, and Discover all terminated possible use with the web site's payment platform. Plus, women also took action, as there are many lawsuits worth millions of dollars. If they do fall in favor of the plaintiffs, the money will come from interesting sources.  

How Pornhub Makes Money

When Thylmann wanted to make the company grow, he relied on investors, and some were big names. One hundred twenty-five individuals and companies dished out $362 million in debt to help the pornographic expansion. And these included JPMorgan Chase, Fortress Investment Group, and Cornell University.

It's important to note that Cornell University dropped out as an investor in 2016. Still, when the media questioned the prestigious university, a spokesperson said that Cornell University didn't know Mindgeek's line of business was the adult industry. Instead, they believed that Mindgeek was only an "online media distribution company."

Even without Cornell University, Manwin (at the time) had relied on investors to grow, but what about sustainability? Though the company is private, estimates for its revenue range between $250 and $460 million, with most coming from ads and subscriptions.

Ironically, it could be damaging its own revenue because of its size. Mindgeek, hence Pornhub, is a monopoly. All the companies combined consume more bandwidth than Twitter, Amazon, or even Facebook.

It's so massive that the company has copyright issues with its own companies. So producers create videos that end up on Mindgeek's free sites, thus lowering the returns for Mindgeek. This is called a vampire system.

At the same time, the company has so much porn available that it has driven down income for itself and artists. The company launched the Communities mentioned above and Creator channels to counter this. In these, members can tip specific stars in a business model similar to OnlyFans. All these actions ensure that it continues to be an adult content monopoly and has somehow managed to clean up its image.

Is Pornhub ethical? It pretends to be

Mindgeek participates in thousands of charities, including breast cancer and the environment. It has also raised money for the protection of whales. In addition, its founders and executives donate to charity, including Canada's UNICEF programs.

All the while, the company continues to operate in a shroud of secrecy. In 2022, after the reports of nonconsensual videos on the platform, both Antoon and Tassillo resigned. The biggest name that remained since was Bernard Bergemar, one of the biggest shareholders, but there was little trace of him in Google, which is quite a feat these days.

Still, the world has set its on him, and the other founders, as the company came under fire. Several news outlets have desperately tried to get a glimpse of him, and the rest, but most of images resemble more mugshots than anything else.

Three of Pornhub's most important characters, from left to right, Antoon, Tasillo, Bergmair (Bergermar)

What's known is that Bergemar owns a series of subsidiaries that have lent money to Mindgeek for generous monthly payments. The problem is that if you try to understand the company's financials, you find yourself knee-deep in a complex web of offshore companies on financial fraud watch lists.

Bergemar also came under fire when the news of the illegal content broke out. News came out that his wife had urged him to quit the company, as the world became much more aware of how MindGeek pushed the boundaries of legality and downright ignored the most basic ethical grounds.

It took reports of abuse and sex traffic for the world to open its eyes and begin questioning if there was any justification for Pornhub to operate as it is, and even this changed. Then, in 2023, a private equity firm, ironically called Ethical Capital Partners, purchased MindGeek and promised to "be the internet leader in fighting illegal online content."

The answer to whether this will work will come soon, but there's little hope that it'll be a yes.

Bernardo Montes de Oca
Content creator in love with writing in all its forms, from scripts to short stories to investigative journalism, and about almost every topic imaginable.
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