ST. PETERSBURG — Publishing a sex tape of the former wrestler Hulk Hogan embroiled Gawker Media in an expensive legal battle, but it also was a boon to the media company.
On Friday, an expert witness hired by Hogan testified that when Gawker.com posted a one minute and 41-second edit of the video on Oct. 4, 2012, web traffic spiked. Google searches of the New York-based website's name soared, increasing the company's value by as much as $15 million.
Asset valuation expert Jeff Anderson said that between Oct. 2012 and April 2013, when the video was removed, Gawker's value, as measured by the number of readers who visited its website, climbed by $54 million. On its own, the Hogan sex tape accounted for 28 percent of that increase, he said.
"It's those provocative stories, such as an exclusive celebrity sex tape…that can drive value," Anderson said. "As I think Mr. Daulerio even said, this wasn't just boobs," he said, referring to A.J. Daulerio, the former Gawker.com editor who posted the video.
Listening to Anderson's testimony, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton shook his head at the assertion that in 2012, the company was worth $232 million. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, is demanding $100 million in damages.
The sex tape stayed on Gawker.com for just over six months and was seen by about 2.5 million people, an expert on web analytics said. Another 5 million readers visited the page hosting the video.
Attorneys for Gawker disputed Anderson's figures, calling them artificially inflated and the result of a methodology that was out-of-date.
According to them, in 2012, Gawker.com received 678 million page views, of which the Hogan sex tape accounted for less than one percent. The website's writers published some 10,000 posts that year, and while the video was popular, it was only one of many such stories, they said. Moreover, in the month after the video was published, Gawker.com's page views actually declined.
They also argued that Bollea's decision to file a lawsuit for invasion of privacy increased the video's exposure. The week of Oct. 14, 2012, Google searches for the word "Gawker" reached their highest point ever. Bollea sued Gawker on Oct. 15.
Attorneys for Bollea finished presenting their evidence Friday, concluding with a last jab at Daulerio, who in the course of a week's testimony has become the face of Gawker's unscrupulous practices.
Referring to an incident from 2010, in which Daulerio posted a video of an obviously drunk young woman having sex in a bathroom stall, Bollea's attorneys highlighted his unfeeling response to the woman's pleas for him to take the video down.
In one email, Daulerio told the woman: "It's not getting taken down. I've said that. And it's not a very serious matter. It is a dumb mistake you (or whomever) made while drunk in college. Happens to the best of us."
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A few days after posting the video, Daulerio did agree to take it down. In 2011, he told a reporter for GQ that he wished he hadn't published it at all and that he hadn't examined it close enough to determine if the sex was consensual.
"It wasn't funny," he said. "It was possibly rape."
Daulerio is expected to take the witness stand Monday, when Gawker's attorneys will have the opportunity to present their case to the jury.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips on Twitter.