How Pornhub uses data to tailor-make content for you

Porn sites don’t sell your data to advertisers. Instead, they monetize it in-house.
Pornhub Mobile

2018 data from Pornhub – the world’s biggest porn site – has been revealed this week. Each year, the streaming service publishes information about how its users watch porn on the platform that gets 92 million visits per day (that’s the entire population of Canada, Poland and Australia combined, in case you were wondering).

As we’ve reported before, the annual year in review can be an insightful and often funny look into the viewing habits of porn-watching (in 2017, ‘porn’ was a commonly mispelled word on Pornhub). This year, the top three search terms were Stormy Daniels, Fortnite and 4K.

Bigger than Facebook and Amazon combined

The Pornhub network, which includes RedTube and YouPorn, has a higher bandwidth use than Facebook and Amazon combined. With an average of 207,405 videos watched per minute, that’s a lot of data at Pornhub’s fingertips. Or more specifically its parent company MindGeek, which is the holding company for a number of porn sites including Pornhub.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much porn contributes to the wider economy, as the porn industry is made up of many private companies, it’s estimated that porn could generate $97 billion annually for the US economy. For scale, Netflix generated $11.7 billion in revenue in 2018.

Pornhub Insights regularly publishes data about the site’s users’ viewing habits. Unlike other less transparent tech giants, MindGeek publishing this data shows us just how it can continue to monopolise the online porn industry without selling user data to advertisers – clearly, doing so with porn-related data would be extremely risky in terms of user privacy.

How Pornhub gets you to keep coming back

So how does it retain its user base? Thorough analysis of its users’ viewing habits means MindGeek can tailor-make content for its users, without them have to subscribe or even make an account to watch the site’s content. With porn, users are much more willing to let sites access their data in order to watch content that they can’t really get anywhere else.

MindGeek sites can track what you choose to watch, how long you watch it for and even when you pause a video, for instance. It can then use this information to create millions of videos that will appeal en masse to its users. And it can do so much more cheaply than Netflix, which produces big budget one-offs and TV series.

In 2018, Pornhub published 4.79m new videos. This figure is made up of videos made in-house and user-generated, ‘amateur’ videos (which cost the site nothing at all). MindGeek owns several production companies itself, meaning it can mine through the data of what its users like to watch and create videos that they’re likely to click on – and crucially, produce the sort of tailored content that users will keep users coming back to the site again and again According to Quartz, MindGeek is also still very much interested in the paid subscription model and continues to target the demographic that wants to pay for premium content.

According to a 2018 study by UCLA law professor Kal Raustiala and NYU Law School professor Christopher Spigman, MindGeek produces these videos through an A/B testing format.

They analysed a script from a porn video produced by MindGeek, specifying details of what was included in the film. Things such as what the actors were wearing (‘white thong and camisole’), dialogue included in the script and even the choice of furniture is all derived from users’ preferences taken from the data.

Sextech may be the next thing to use such data in a similar way. Technology designed to enhance sexuality – sextech’s oft-used definition – could be the next venture for porn companies to invest in. Measuring exactly how or when you use a smart sex toy, or use a VR headset to watch porn, could all be collected in a similar way to how MindGeek currently uses data to improve user experience.

If second-by-second data of what you watch on Pornhub is being collected to ensure your future experience is more tailored to you, that can only be a good thing… right?

Read NextFacebook really, really doesn’t want (you) to talk about sex

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  1. The revenues listed should be in (B) for Billions, not m for millions.

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