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The Geek-Kings of Smut

Evolution of an Empire  

It was inevitable, once YouTube launched in 2005, that someone would start a porn equivalent. Sure enough, over two months in the summer of 2006, three different sites launched that would become major adult-only tubes: PornoTube, RedTube, and YouPorn. Like YouTube, the porn tubes were flooded with free content—some of it licensed for pennies from older companies that didn’t understand the web, much of it pirated from paid sites. The tubes had a new business model: They made most of their money by keeping surfers on their sites and selling banner ads, though they also put some content behind a paywall. Porn surfers migrated en masse from the old TGPs and eight-second MGPs to free movies on tube sites that could run upwards of 30 minutes. Traffic to the affiliates and conversions to paysites both plummeted. The proliferation of cam sites (where you can video-chat with a live model), together with the waning popularity of DVDs, compounded the industry’s problems. Steven Hirsch, president of Vivid Entertainment—who five years ago was called “The Porn King” by Forbes—says his company’s online revenue projections are off 50 percent. Other companies report declines closer to 80 percent.

When the old porn companies complained that the tube sites were stealing their content, the tubes claimed, as YouTube did, that the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act absolved them of responsibility for “user-uploaded” content. Never mind that industry consensus was that the sites were doing the uploading themselves. (How else to explain tube sites full of content from day one?) The sites could simply deny it—or point to YouTube, which had launched using a similarly shady business model and was now owned by Google.

Content thieves “will not steal it and get away with it,” Brazzer declared. “Their days are counted!”

The furor over the tubes began to dominate discussions on (GFY), the main online industry forum, and finally someone took action. In December 2007, nine months after Viacom sued YouTube for copyright infringement, Vivid sued PornoTube. Around the same time, an anti-tubes diatribe was posted on GFY by Ouissam Youssef, a co-founder of Brazzers, one of the most successful new companies producing and branding online content. In a thread on piracy earlier that year, “Brazzer,” as Youssef called himself on GFY, declared that content thieves “will not steal it and get away with it, their days are counted!”

In fact, Youssef had already helped launch a tube site of his own. In January 2007, Matt Keezer, another of Brazzers’ creators, had bought the domain name for $2,750 from a speculator Keezer had met the previous year at the Playboy Mansion. PornHub went online as a tube site in early 2007. It was owned by a separate company called Interhub, but the Brazzers group were silent partners. Brazzers and the tube sites were owned by the same people and run out of the same office.

The Brazzers founders had gotten their start in the industry four years earlier, as 22-year-old Montreal techies bonding over a bar game. Youssef and Stephane Manos, friends at Concordia University, had met Keezer on, of all places, the competitive-Foosball circuit. Keezer was the best player and biggest enthusiast—he had helped stream live Foosball-training sessions online, and drawn praise for his wicked push shot—but all three liked to play, and Keezer and Youssef traveled across the States to compete. In 2003, while still students, Keezer, Manos, and Youssef, along with Youssef’s brother and another friend from Concordia, started some TGP and MGP sites including Jugg World, Ass Listing, KeezMovies, and XXX Rated Chicks. At first, they focused on busty women, “because the big-tits niche was so cheap,” explains Feras Antoon, the company’s current CEO. Then “they saw, wow, that tit niche is huge. Then they realized that the MILF niche—the older-woman niche—is even bigger. And they became the masters of the big-tit–MILF niche.”

They were making good, easy money, and they rapidly expanded, creating their own affiliate network (Jugg Cash) and their own paysite, Brazzers. Several of the founders were of Middle Eastern extraction, and the name was their private joke, a throaty immigrant-Arabonics version of “brothers.” They contracted with producers in Los Angeles, and later Las Vegas and Miami, to create content (which they charged for), and Brazzers drew notice for its high-quality productions. “They changed the face of porn,” says Lux Alptraum, editor of Fleshbot, who ascribes the resurgence of breast implants in the industry to the Brazzers signature look.

“They never imagined they would grow that big,” Antoon says. “Who would have?” Soon Brazzers was rolling out more sites: JugFuckers, DoctorAdventures, RacksAndBlacks … Eventually, in addition to the Brazzers paysites, the company would build a second network, Mofos, featuring lesser-known girls doing more-extreme things. They slept in the office, worked weekends, bought houses near each other in the Montreal suburb of Laval. As their need for manpower exploded, they hired friends, neighbors, classmates—loyalists who could learn on the fly and pitch in as needed (Antoon, for instance, is Manos’s brother-in-law). Every year, the company nearly doubled in size. They had 80 employees in 2007, 150 in 2008, 250 in 2009. Youssef was the business visionary, Manos the salesman and motivator, Keezer the savant of search-engine optimization. “He’s a master,” Antoon says. “By far the best in the world, in my opinion. Who can get ‘porn’ and ‘sex’ to be No. 1? We’re the No. 1 result [for each]. You know how hard that is?” (In a recent search, came up as the No. 2 Google result for “sex” and No. 3 for “porn.”)