Posted February 18, 2014 6:05 pm by with 2 comments

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Small Content theftIt’s 2 o’clock. Do you know where your ads are?

According to the Digital Citizens Alliance, a large number of your legitimate ads are working to support online content thieves. They estimate that these rip-off sites will earn around $227 million in annual ad revenue. The 30 largest sites that specialize in downloaded movies, music and TV shows will each make more than $4 million.

Even if you don’t agree that download sites cut into entertainment industry profits, is that where you want your ad dollar to go?

Good Money Gone Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business” calls out four types of sites and happily names names. The biggest offenders are the 144 peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Then there are the 283 Linking Sites. These sites don’t actually host any content, they just act as a giant card-catalog for downloadable material. There are 75 Video Streaming Host Sites and 94 Direct Download sites. These are the ones where you can upload large files to share with others – a common way to share weekly episodes of TV shows with fans who can’t see the show in their country or just want a digital copy.

The largest sites get more than 5 million unique visitors a year so it’s easy to see how the ad dollars can add up.

The Digital Citizens Alliance says the trend is going to continue because the sites generate a lot of money and have a low barrier for entry. It doesn’t take much money or effort to set up a file sharing site. And since so many people are online looking for free content it’s not like you have to work hard to get traffic. When one site goes down, another pops up. It’s like digital theft whack-a-mole.

But the websites are only half the problem. The ad system is also to blame because it’s become so automated. In the last three years we went from 76% of ads being programmed by hand to only 36%. Magna Global says that number will drop to a miniscule 17% by 2017.

US Ad SpendingWhere’s the fix for that? I’m not sure there is one. The online ad market is too huge to monitor on an ad-by-ad basis. We have to use automation tools to keep content flowing. This leaves it to the ad networks to build in mechanisms that will stop content thieves from putting ads on their sites in the first place. Frankly, I’m not sure that’s even possible.

Whack! There’s another one.

  • I think whenever there is ad revenue at stake there will be fraudsters.

    I notice the credits to adwords accounts rarely correlate with potential levels of click fraud. I guess only so much can actually be done and perhaps as marketers we just have to factor it in>

  • Content thieves will always find smart ways to earn their millions. The likes of Pirate Bay have been running around the internet and yet made hundreds of million from ads revenue last year.

    I wonder what Google is doing to prevent such theft. The worst of it is that these sites don’t even host any files, they simply catelogue download links and get people to find these links easily.

    People easily use these sites to find free copies of premium products and there are so many people into this.