Among the standard responses to any proposal to mitigate online piracy is an insistence that it just cannot be stopped. Perhaps not entirely. But it can be starved. That was the underlying goal of SOPA, but people decided the criminal sites deserved the money they were making because freedom.
As many readers know, the piracy universe is still largely supported by advertising. The majority of the ads on many sites are “non-premium,” which is a polite way of saying sleazy. These are usually promos for snake-oil products, VPNS to hide your identity so you can pirate more, and “dating” services offering men the opportunity to spend hundreds of dollars to exchange sexy emails with Sabrina in Odessa, who is more likely to be Todd in Duluth.
Research varies with regard to how much premium vs non-premium advertising supports particular sites, but major advertisers have been working for a few years now to bring their own contribution closer to zero. Although the total amount of premium advertising on pirate sites represents a small fraction of the US digital ad buy of over $60 billion/year, the advertisers view the presence of their brands on these sites as generally bad for business. In addition to representing waste and lack of transparency in the digital advertising ecosystem; appearing on pirate sites associates their brands with criminal activity and spammy advertising; and it associates their brands with the increasing risk that visitors to pirate sites will stumble into malware.
In February of 2015, the major advertisers launched the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, led by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). As described in this post written at the time, the program was designed to establish protocols to certify suppliers and partners that work to mitigate exposure to risky entities with the ultimate aim of keeping premium brand dollars out of the pockets of pirate site owners. A new report released today by EY indicates that these efforts seem to be working. From the report …
“If the industry were taking no quality-control steps and digital piracy operators served only premium advertisers, we estimate those operators could earn $213m annually from digital ads. In actuality, they earned an estimated $111m from those ads in 2016. The difference of $102m is a strong indication that quality-control efforts are having a significant effect.”