Underground infrastructure, or, how to rent your Plex server for fun & profit


I run a Plex home media center that stores all my very legally-acquired movies & TV shows and streams. My current stack is a mid-power NUC, a 4-bay Synology NAS, and a Chromecast Ultra on the TV, usually controlled by an iPhone.

One of Plex’s most interesting features is being able share your server with other Plex users. My friends & family just need to sign up for a free Plex account, add me as a friend, and can then stream anything from my library. Or at least as much as my limited cable Internet upload bandwidth allows (sorry)

Last year I discovered there is an entire marketplace for renting out access to large Plex setups – r/plexshares. Pricing generally starts at about $5/month for access to libraries with tens of thousands of movies and TV shows. Some of these are multi-region setups with failovers and off-cloud backups. This is some webscale-level devops work.

There’s two major business models: P4S, where you just pay $5/month for access, vs. S4S where you give access to your library in exchange for access to theirs. The latter is more popular on r/SharePLEX, but that subreddit is only 10% the size of the pay-for-access subreddit, which says something.

Customer support is often handled on well-run Discord servers. Members can chat with each other about what’s worth watching. The support tickets are often just requests for new movies or shows. The experience is excellent.

For contrast: Netflix costs me $12/month and has 4-5k titles, which is a fraction of what’s available on a good r/plexshares server. So while there’s obviously a bang-for-the-buck benefit, I think it goes deeper than that:

Interestingly, these networks operate openly on reddit, and not on .onion darknet markets. I’m unclear on the legality of these setups, particularly e.g. if the server operators are in a copyvio-friendly jurisdiction like Sweden or New Zealand. How culpable is the end-user for streaming pirated content? Is it better or worse that they paid for access?

I’ve also heard there is a similar underground economy for Parsec-based cloud gaming. Got a beefy gaming rig that mostly sits idle, and crypto mining isn’t ROI positive? Just rent it out for others to play your games! Parsec’s latency is excellent, and all but the most twitchy multiplayer games are playable at high-res. GeForceNow and Shadow.tech are solid, legitimate options for cloud gaming, but not all games are allowed, and you have to actually buy the games. Wouldn’t it be nice to just pay per-minute for a machine that’s fully loaded with AAA titles?

Lastly, there’s some comparisons and contrasts to draw with private torrent trackers. Eleet music trackers like oink.fm, what.cd and waffles.fm were all strict about ratio and the importance of participants contributing back to the illicit public good. To keep downloading, you needed to seed popular torrents or upload desirable content. Sometimes you could just pay cash to boost your ratio, but usually you had to earn your keep. Plexshares, by contrast, is dominated by more traditional $5-10/month P4S setups. It’s a different product for sure, but I can’t help but notice the Internet professionalizing more and more every year, even in the dark spaces.

waffles.fm rules

Thanks to ChrisK for feedback on this post.