Pornhub might be the next frontier in streaming entertainment


According to an oft-repeated (and, perhaps, apocryphal) tale, pornography decided the victor in a battle of early on-demand entertainment. As the story goes, adult filmmakers preferred VHS to Betamax tapes and helped boost the former’s sales, leading it to become the dominant video recording format for more than two decades.

Whether you believe that legend or not, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that pornography has played a big role in shaping the media landscape over the past century. Consider a line from Silicon Valley, the HBO sitcom hailed for its accurate portrayal of its titular region: “Adult content has driven more important tech adoption than anything. The first fiction ever published on a printing press was an erotic tale. And from there: super 8 film, Polaroid, home video, digital, video on demand…”

In 2018, there’s another battle afoot, but this one isn’t between VHS and Beta. In the online video, platforms—YouTube, specifically—are taking aggressive actions in order to appease partners in the advertising industry. In doing so, thousands of aggrieved creators have spoken out, arguing that the quest to make a video platform “advertiser-friendly” robs them of their ability to make an adequate living.

But this isn’t another piece meant to rehash the same talking points that both creators and platforms have offered over the past year and change. My goal is to look into a specific solution, a site that offers its users the ability to make videos about pretty much anything they want while still claiming ad revenue from their work. It’s a platform that fosters a network of more than 20,000 creators, many of whom reach highly engaged subscriber bases and take home considerable revenue from pre-roll ads.

Yes, I’m talking about Pornhub.

Naturally, the most popular porn site on the internet is known for its NSFW content, but work-safe videos are permitted on the platform and can earn revenue from it all the same. So far, non-pornographic videos on Pornhub amount to little more than a curiosity, but maybe they shouldn’t be. In the interest of examining whether PornHub has anything to offer to creators outside its typical purview, let’s take a look at the SFW videos that have been shared on it.

‘A group of content creators who are truly open and non-judgemental’

Pornhub launched in 2007 in Montreal and was acquired three years later by a company now known as MindGeek. The website soon emerged as the flagship brand within the Pornhub Network, a collection of adult video sites owned by MindGeek that also includes notable destinations like YouPorn and Redtube.

Though many satellites within the Pornhub Network draw considerable viewership, it is the titular site that claims the largest audience of any porn site under MindGeek’s control. By some estimations, it is one of the 15 most-trafficked sites on the web. In 2017 alone, it attracted 81 million visits per day and saw more than four million new uploads. (Those stats, as well as several others, are available via an infographic Pornhub shared as part of its end-of-year recap.)

Pornhub’s audience is also growing rapidly. In an email to Tubefilter, Pornhub VP Corey Price shared a pair of graphs depicting the company’s growth:

pornhub streaming

Almost all of these visitors are going to Pornhub for porn, and almost all of the videos they’re finding are porn, but early in 2018, a pair of creators from Arizona framed Pornhub in a new light. On March 20, Karl Kasarda and Ian McCollum, the owners of the InRangeTV channel, shared a Facebook post in which they announced their decision to begin uploading their firearms content on Pornhub. Their reasoning was simple: They no longer felt that YouTube, which had recently tightened its restrictions on gun-related platforms, was a “safe harbor for a wide variety of views and subject matter,” and they wanted to promote their work on a platform that fits that bill.

“PornHub has a history of being a proactive voice in the online community, as well as operating a resilient and robust video streaming platform,” reads the Facebook post. “InRangeTV is excited to be joining a group of content creators who are truly open and non-judgmental when it comes to potentially controversial content.”

All of a sudden, the idea of Pornhub as a video platform for things other than porn took off. While Kasarda and McCollum have only reeled in a few thousand views on their Pornhub channel (and have also declined to monetize those views), their new home generated discussion across the internet. Polygon discovered a Reddit thread suggesting that Pornhub should create a section called TheHub that would feature non-porn content. “We’ve joked about doing something like this in the past but now it’s becoming more and more realistic and not so crazy,” replied Pornhub’s community manager, who goes by the name Katie. “We’ll see!”

‘Our offering is actually quite similar to YouTube’s’

What makes Pornhub a particularly intriguing option from a creator’s point of view is the presence of its partner program, which is partially inspired by a similar program available on YouTube. It lets its users run ads on videos they upload to Pornhub, and it offers a revenue split that appears to far outdo most others in the online video industry.

In a 2017 interview with the Next Web, Price said Pornhub pays out “approximately 90 percent of the ad-revenue earned” to creators. While that number may be a bit optimistic, the FAQ section for Pornhub’s Model Program reveals that partners take in 80 percent of ad revenue.  YouTube, by comparison, has long been said to pay out 55 percent of ad revenue to members of its partner program. “Our offering is actually quite similar to YouTube’s,” Price said at the time.

“Today, our Partner Program has a global reach of over 100 million daily users with world-leading, high-quality adult traffic and has been a proven program for hundreds of models and content producers who take part,” Price told Tubefilter. “We have helped boost the branding and exposure of content partners from a variety of niches. Furthermore, in our Model Program, we actually share a large percentage of our ad revenues on the videos uploaded directly by models in the Partner program, something that was inspired by YouTube.”

Bolstered by the strong revenue-sharing rates it offers its partners, Pornhub has fostered a passionate community of adult performers, some of whom have audiences that rival YouTube-based professionals. Lindsey Love, an amateur pornstar, has accrued more than 283,000 subscribers on her channel and has received more than 190 million views on her videos. Her content includes porn, yes, but also updates about her plans and conversations with her fans. In order words, she has the same sort of friendly rapport with her audience that is typical in the YouTube community.

Emboldened, perhaps, by its thriving community, Pornhub has itself strayed into the world of content production. It has posted Pornhub Originals on YouTube since 2014, receiving more than 230,000 subscribers along the way. A recent video featured “Premium Places” with names that sound dirty in English. It went viral, receiving more than 475,000 views. The people who live in those towns, meanwhile, received free subscriptions to Pornhub’s premium service.

In its original content, as in its partner program, Pornhub seems to take cues from YouTube. The platform works with the stars straight from its own community. Asa’s Adventures, for example, is hosted by the porn star Asa Akira, whose Pornhub page has close to 300,000 subscribers. At the end of 2017, Pornhub released a compilation sharing some of the top videos of the year from its Model Program. At least one savvy commenter noticed the similarities to YouTube’s own year-end recap:

“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our platform and provide our fans with the best user experience possible,” Price told Tubefilter. “We take into account everything from user feedback to current trends, and everything in between.”

Pornhub has the platform needed to compete with other video sites because so much of its infrastructure seems to be modeled after them. But the question still remains: Are non-porn creators using it at all?

‘In need of a hard shucking’

The most high-profile non-porn videos in the Pornhub catalog are still, well, kinda porny. Gender-bending performer Mykki Blanco partnered with the site for a 2016 music video for “Loner,” which features sexually explicit themes and imagery. A year later, country musician Wheeler Walker Jr.shared his love of female anatomy in a video titled “Puss In Boots.” Other well-polished entries in Pornhub’s safe-for-work (SFW) category feature porn stars doing things that aren’t sexually explicit.

It seems like the community-driven portion of Pornhub’s SFW category is, like the rest of the internet, very into memes. A video of some corn has made it onto the site with the title “In need of a hard shucking.” Donald Trump’s inauguration speech has been uploaded as well, with the title “Rich white man fucks entire country at once.” It’s a game to see who can make a non-pornographic video sound the most salacious.

And then there are the illegal reuploads. In Pornhub’s SFW category, you can find entire episodes of TV shows and full movies. Earlier this year, actor Kumail Nanjiani talked about Pornhub during an interview on Conan, noting that his film The Big Sick was available in the site’s interracial section.

“That’s the American dream!” he quipped.

An advertising haven

Those TV shows and movies represent one of the biggest questions Pornhub will have to answer if it wants to get serious about SFW content. Right now, it handles its DMCA takedown requests manually, a solution that could prove ineffective if its non-porn community starts to scale upward.

The more pressing issue, though, is one that should be evident to anyone who has been clicking the links in this article: If you go to Pornhub, even to watch a SFW video, you’re going to see some porn, whether along the sidebar or in a pop-over advertisement. Unless Pornhub does get around to building that separate, non-porn website suggested on Reddit, there will be no way to use Pornhub without being tied to porn.

But perhaps that’s exactly what creators who have been hit hard by YouTube’s demonetization need. Porn is, by its nature, a salacious and edgy category of online video. Those adjectives could also be applied to some of the creators who are pushing boundaries on YouTube and getting deemed unfriendly for advertisers as a result. On Pornhub, they wouldn’t have to worry about getting put into that bucket, because the advertisers are themselves explicit.

As I said before, SFW videos on Pornhub and Pornhub Premium are still just a curiosity. But based on the company’s strong, sturdy monetization features, its understanding of online video trends, and the size of its audience, it’s primed to take in some, but not all, of the refugees from YouTube, should the world’s top video site find itself unable to reach a monetization solution that satisfies both brands and creators.

And if, as a videomaker, you’re looking to be on as many platforms as possible, Pornhub should cross your mind. It may not be the perfect fit for your brand, but hey — a lot of your fans are probably spending some time there already.