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Study: More Top Brands Showing Up as Advertisers on Piracy Sites

A new study of online piracy gives little evidence that premium brand name advertising on sites trafficking in pirated content is on the wane, despite greater awareness of the flow of money to online infringement.

In fact, according to a new report from the Digital Citizens Alliance and Medialink, which sampled 589 sites, legitimate advertisers are actually showing up in greater numbers. Their researchers found 132 premium brands as advertisers in the 2014 snapshot, compared to 89 in the previous year.

The figures are detailed in the report “Good Money Still Going Bad,” an effort to focus attention on advertising dollars that fuel piracy sites.

“Premium brands appeared on 32.3% of large sites vs. 28.9% the year before, and on about 15% of sites overall, further underscoring the need to protect brands’ reputations and value,” the report stated.

The report showed that the 589 sites generated an estimated $209 million in aggregate advertising revenue, nearly the same as a year earlier. This is despite the fact that seven large BitTorrent sites, generating $44.3 million in ad revenue, were shut down. That was offset by the growth of smaller and medium sized sites, as well as video streaming.

Operating margins ranged from 86% to as high as 93%.

Even as many sites were shut down, “Others simply spawn copies, growing back to flourish like the mythical Hydra that grew two new heads for each one cut off,” the report stated. “As a result, content owners and authorities working to stem the problem are faced with an ever-changing cast of characters.”

The report showed a shift to piracy via video streaming, with 40% more such sites in the 2014 sample compared to the previous year.

The report said that “this shift from downloading to streaming, with ads embedded in the video streams, offers content theft site operators a shot at the higher CPMs paid by advertisers seeking more opportunities to reach streaming users.”

About one-third of the sites included links that had the potential to infect computers with viruses or other malware, and in some cases it was not even necessary to click a link to spawn a download.

The complete report is here.

The Digital Citizens Alliance noted that a initiative was recently started by the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau to help agencies try to keep their ads off piracy sites. The initiative, Called the Trustworthy Accountability Group, includes a certification for companies that offer tools to block or limit placements on infringing sites.

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