How Montreal Went from Sin City to Porn Hub

Canada's own "Porn Valley" leads the way for online porn but its booming tech scene is killing production.

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Nov 30 2016, 3:25pm

Photo via Flickr

If you've watched porn online lately––and I'll go out on a limb here and say you have––chances are you watched it on a site owned by a company founded in Montreal.

Free tube sites YouPorn, RedTube, Tube8, and Pornhub with its 60 million daily visitors are all owned by MindGeek––an IT company, which maintains the majority of its over 1,200 employees in Montreal even though it's technically headquartered in Luxembourg.

MindGeek, which was founded in 2004 (initially called Mansef and later Manwin), also owns paid sites Brazzers, Reality Kings, and Digital Playground, gay sites Men, Sean Cody, and Reality Dudes, as well as Playboy TV and Spice Network.

Suffice to say, MindGeek is the porn monopoly you probably never heard of and it picked Montreal, not Los Angeles, New York, or even San Fernando a.k.a. Porn Valley, to house the bulk of its operations.

So why Montreal?

MindGeek's vice-president of Mainstream, Games and Mobile Applications, Mark Antoon, says it's Montreal's tech scene and quality of life that encourage the company to stick around.

"Montreal provides an ideal setting for tech talent," Antoon said in an email interview. "It has a unique multicultural backdrop, a great joie de vivre, and an affordable standard of living that make it a very attractive option for tech resources."

For Robert Mann, a spokesman for Montreal-based porn gaming company Nutaku, it's the tech and gaming scene as well as the "liberal attitudes towards sexuality," which allow businesses working in adult entertainment to operate out in the open.

Photo via Flickr

Mann, whose company is backed by––who else?––MindGeek, says that porn today isn't what you might think of if you're picturing Boogie Nights.

"The adult industry isn't a bunch of people dreaming up strange porn films. Mostly, it's an engineering problem. It's a question of how you deliver this content to millions of people around the world, how do you monetize it properly, how do you get cost per click and your KPI (Key Performance Indicator), and all the rest of that," he told VICE. "It's not what it was in the 90s, it's a lot more a technically-minded project than it was back in the day and Montreal is the centre of that."

But besides the tech scene, Montreal might be attractive to the adult entertainment industry because it has a long history of being comfortable with sex. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s Montreal was the place to be in North America for a wild night on the town and was dubbed the city of sin.

"If you look at period footage of Saint Catherine street back in the 30s and 40s you see cabaret after cabaret," said Dr. Thomas Waugh, a Concordia professor who specializes in the study of sexuality, "and if you see similar footage of Toronto you see churches."

In the 1980s, Montreal had access to porn and was producing XXX videos long before English Canada, according to Waugh.

When I asked Antoon about MindGeek fitting in with Montreal's sinful past, he said the company is a tech company and "the type of content that drives [its] incredible metrics is irrelevant."

I'm sure managing the heavy bandwidth that comes with some of the internet's most visited sites is a technical feat (Pornhub is 50th overall on the Alexa Global Index), but I'm not so sure it's fair to say the content it releases is irrelevant.

In any case, MindGeek isn't producing porn in Montreal, so who is?

Vandal Vyxen. Photo via Youtube

Vandal Vyxen has been in the business for 12 years and says Quebec is the best place in the country to work in the industry.

"If I compare any other province, Quebec is where people are most open-minded in general and more wild, that's for sure."

Vyxen, who stars in a reality show on Quebec TV, says she manages to make a living, but has seen a major drop-off in the amount of content being produced.

"I guess I didn't start producing at the right time," she said.

Similarly, Vid Vicious, a porn director and photographer who has been producing in Montreal for 15 years, says when he started he was shooting $65,000 worth of content per month and releasing eight to 10 scenes a week. These days, while he's been "doing fine" thanks to Can-con for TV, Vicious says there are just 30 to 40 people producing porn in Montreal and content has dropped 60 percent.

"For programming companies, yeah Montreal is the leader, no question there," he said. "When it comes to content we were a leader, but we're not anymore."

So while Montreal is booming from the tech side of porn, it's dying on the production side. How did that happen?

Essentially, what happened to the porn industry was the same thing that happened to the movie and music industry––the internet happened.

"From 1998 to 2000 here in Montreal it was booming, booming, booming on the production side––on the technical side it kept getting bigger. And it kept going like that until the tube sites came in and that's when we took a big slap across the board," said Vicious.

And according to him, the porn industry has only itself to blame.

"The decline of porn was created by its own industry, by a very, very, popular website by the name of Pornhub," he said.

The beef with tube sites like Pornhub, and MindGeek in general, isn't unique to Montreal. Porn industry blogger and former porn actor/director Mike South says the entire adult industry has plummeted 75 percent since the tube sites came along, and the reason, according to him, is because MindGeek pirates content.

"They've stolen content from me, they've stolen content from my friends––it's because of them that a lot of my friends no longer have jobs in the adult industry," said South. "It just really irritates me to see somebody's hard work stolen and given away for free with no compensation and if you try to get it taken down, essentially all you get is a big fuck you."

MindGeek wouldn't comment about the piracy allegations, but whether the content was poached or provided legally, it's not likely much is going to change. The boom days of porn production are long gone and if MindGeek isn't the one posting free porn, somebody else will.

As for the industry in Montreal, there's never been more porn in the city, but not the kind vets like Vicious fantasize about.

"I miss the old days, I'll just say that," he said.

Follow Joel on Twitter.

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