Comparing pornography to mainstream content - study
30 September 2020
YouTube and Netflix are giants of the video streaming sphere in both scale and popularity but what about their x-rated counterparts?
These days video streaming makes up around 60 per cent of all internet traffic but it’s not just Game of Thrones we’re watching: one study estimates pornography makes up 27 per cent of total streaming traffic.
The growth of this content and the potential problems it poses have long been acknowledged: the United Kingdom considered a ban and an opt-in system, while in New Zealand, the Government is considering a range of options following a recent internet safety campaign, “Keeping it real online”.
But so far very little research has been done on porn sites that compares them directly to other streaming services.
“Pornography online has been with us since the fledgling days of the internet but research into online pornography has been and continues to be very limited,” says Dr Aniket Mahanti from the University of Auckland.
In a study by Dr Mahanti and data analyst Cameron Wong from the University’s School of Computer Science, data and metrics on a popular pornography website, xHamster, were analysed and compared to those of streaming giant YouTube.
They collected data on the number of videos, the number of views of each video, duration of videos, tags and use of a site’s social features such as the ‘like’ feature.
They found xHamster is nowhere near as large as YouTube – the latter was hosting five billion videos when the data was gathered in 2018, with an estimated 500 hours of video uploaded per minute. Meanwhile xHamster typically had 2000 videos uploaded in one 24-hour period and had just under four million videos.
But a comparison on the number of views of each video shows a significant difference between the two sites: on average, a YouTube video receives 5,500 views whereas on xHamster, individual videos were viewed on average 63,000 times.
Looking at the median length of time videos are watched, the difference is stark: the median number of views of an xHamster video is 17,000 while the number of median views for a YouTube video is 89.
“Put simply this means xHamster videos are likely to get almost 200 times the number of views a YouTube video will get,” Dr Mahanti says.
“And that’s not just about the number of videos available, it means that users are continuing to watch whatever is posted to xHamster which in turn is evidence that there is very strong demand for this content.”
xHamster videos are also generally shorter than those on YouTube with the average video length of 8.8 minutes compared to 11.7 minutes on YouTube. Shorter duration videos appeared to be more likely to have been uploaded by amateurs rather than paid video studios which continues a long-running trend for all web content.
Another comparative difference between mainstream video streaming services and pornography websites is that social networking features on xHamster and other porn sites are relatively underutilised. The average number of comments on an xHamster video is seven, while on YouTube the number is 475 (2010 figure).
The study found xHamster videos do receive more comments and ratings than comparable sites though, with an average of 99 ‘likes’ per video and an average of seven comments, compared to an average of five comments on PornHub and an average of two on YouPorn.
The ‘like’ feature is by far the most popular social feature on pornography sites in general.
Another difference between the sites is the relative popularity of new content – xHamster videos tend to gain almost all their views in the first three days, behaviour that is more like that of people accessing weather reports or online news, Mr Wong says.
“While the research didn’t focus on pornography addiction, that behaviour appears to show that porn viewers are constantly looking for fresh content which in turn might mean a small number of individuals are consistently looking for something they haven’t seen before because they have already viewed a lot of a site’s content.”
These findings confirm the popularity of porn – xHamster has been growing exponentially since 2012 when smart devices and internet access became much more widely used. Data shows the number of videos being uploaded to xHamster tripled from 2013-2017.
“The internet is a defining force in today’s society so we need to understand all of it, not just part of it,” Dr Mahanti says. “We need to understand how these services are operating so that government policy and education policies are better informed to educate people about the dangers.”
Anne Beston | Media adviser
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