ad-week-piracy-Ad industry executives were out in force this week at the annual “Advertising Week” convention in New York City.  Not surprisingly, the issue of digital piracy’s link to advertising dollars was raised during a panel discussion “Digital Media Under Attack-It’s Worse Than You Thought.”  Privacy-net’s Gordon Platt reported on the event:

Much of the conversation focused on the relationship between advertising and piracy, not unexpected for an Advertising Week event. “No one has asked the blunt question of whether you want your ad associated with a pirate site,” said [Rick] Cotton. He added, “Advertisers should not want their ads to be in that environment. It’s getting more risky to be in business with criminal websites.”

Bob Liodice, CEO of ANA (Association of National Advertisers) agreed and suggested the industry needs to be accountable for its role in monetizing piracy.

“It makes us all shake our heads, wondering how we can wrap our arms around this. We have theft going on here.” Liodice believes that one problem is that no one has taken “ownership” of the piracy problem. “We have to create a level of collaboration in order for the [advertising] industry to own the issue.” Liodice stressed that collaboration has to be “systematized” and that the industry has to make it “personal.”

Part of making it “personal” is for advertisers take responsibility for where their ads appear.  Unfortunately, this is an issue that extends beyond advertising on rogue sites offshore. Ad sponsored piracy is also ubiquitous on so-called legitimate, U.S. based websites like YouTube and Facebook.

Let’s take a look at YouTube first.  Thanks to ad revenue, the popular UGC (user-generated content) site is a cash cow for Google and (some) content creators.   Advertisers of all stripes are eager to see their products plastered over the latest in viral videos.  There are four basic types of ad placements available:

  1. Display ads (banners) run across all areas of the site except the Homepage. They are available as a 300×250 ad that appears to the right of the feature video and above the video suggestions list. Learn more.
  2. Overlay in-video ads are transparent overlay ads that appear on the lower portion of your video.Learn more
  3. TrueView in-stream ads are skippable video ads that are inserted before, during or after the main video. Learn more.
  4. Non-skippable in-stream ads are video ads that can be inserted before, during, or after the main video and must be watched before the video selected can be viewed. Learn more.

The question real question is do advertisers know where their money is going and do they care?  What determines which ad goes where and how much it will cost?   YouTube explains it this way:

Monetized YouTube videos may display ads served via the AdSense auction as well as ads sold on a reservation basis via DoubleClick (DCLK) and other YouTube-sold sources.

AdSense Ads

The Adsense ads displayed on your video are determined automatically by our system based on a number of contextual factors relating to your video. These factors include but are not limited to your video metadata and how you categorize your video.

We aren’t able to control all of the ads that appear with your videos manually. Similarly, we can’t guarantee that specific ads will be displayed with your videos. We regularly monitor and update our content-targeting algorithms in order to deliver the most relevant ads to your video pages.

Like most things YouTube, it’s not particularly clear, but for advertisers who don’t want to miss out on eyeballs this lack of transparency seems not to be of much concern. Here’s a cross-section of “overlay” ads that represent a variety of companies that I found plastered on videos linking to pirated content.


YouTube isn’t alone.  As I’ve reported in past blog posts, Facebook advertisers also routinely have their ads placed side by side with pirate offerings.


Facebook’s explanation of its ad placement and targeting options is fairly simplistic too:

Choose the location, gender, age, likes and interests, relationship status, workplace and education of your target audience. If you are the admin of a Facebook Page, event or app, you can also target your ad to people who are already connected to you.

Clearly the ad placement is dependent on who is looking at the page rather than the page content itself.  That needs to change.

During the Advertising Week event NBCUniversal’s  Senior Counselor for IP Protection, Rick Cotton suggested, ““The simple message is that we need a systematic approach to this problem. Otherwise it’s bad news for the industry.”  Very true.

Why not start with cleaning up our own back yard in Silicon Valley?  If advertisers were to stop advertising on sites like YouTube and Facebook until they can be sure their ads aren’t associated with pirated content I imagine things would change rather quickly.  After all, money talks…