Pornhub owner MindGeek loses top two executives

The two top executives at MindGeek, the owner of Pornhub, resigned on Tuesday after more than a decade running one of the most powerful and controversial online porn companies.

The departure of Feras Antoon, chief executive, and David Tassillo, chief operating officer, followed criticism over the company’s business model and rising tensions with its owner, Austrian investor Bernd Bergmair.

Luxembourg-based MindGeek towered over the adult industry after the advent of video streaming. Revenues peaked at about $460mn in 2018 and profit margins at times neared 50 per cent.

But MindGeek was brought to the brink of collapse in late 2020 after its flagship site Pornhub was cut off by Mastercard and Visa following investigations that identified unlawful content on the platform. MindGeek has denied allegations of wrongdoing.

The resignations came as the Financial Times released Hot Money, an eight-part investigative podcast into MindGeek, Bergmair and the power the company has wielded in the adult industry.

MindGeek’s leadership team, which is based in Montreal, has tried to steady its fortunes, but they have been at odds over the diagnosis of its problems and the best approach to take, including over a potential sale of the company.

Most recently Bergmair, a former Goldman Sachs banker who bought a majority stake in MindGeek in 2013, has sought to raise funds to buy out Antoon and Tassillo as shareholders, according to two people familiar with the effort.

One person who had spoken to Bergmair about his plans said there was a “messy fight” at the company, and the owner was unhappy with the management team leading MindGeek into trouble. “It’s a very precarious situation right now,” the person said.

Tensions have also risen between Antoon, Tassillo and top managers of MindGeek’s main properties, which include free sites such as Pornhub and YouPorn, as well as paywalled platforms such as Brazzers. One source close to MindGeek said lay-offs began on Tuesday.

Antoon and Tassillo have also complained to friends about the public scrutiny in recent years. Antoon’s $16mn mansion in Montreal burnt down in April last year. A police investigation has yet to identify the cause.

MindGeek said the leadership transition had been “in development” since early 2022 and that a search was under way to find successors to Antoon and Tassillo, who remain shareholders.

In a statement announcing the departures, MindGeek said Antoon and Tassillo had “revolutionised not just internet content sharing, but internet safety and content moderation”.

Under the threat of losing its access to credit card networks in 2020, MindGeek removed the majority of its videos from Pornhub. The site has since lost about a third of its traffic, falling to around 2.1bn visits a month, according to Similarweb.

Two investors who were approached by MindGeek about a potential sale told the FT that Bergmair remained more reluctant to part with the company than Tassillo and Antoon. One of the potential issues hanging over a sale are legal liabilities from lawsuits against MindGeek, according to the potential investors.

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