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Brand Safety: Are Your Ads Running on Illegal Streaming Sites?

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Brand safety continues to dominate conversations whenever advertisers and marketers express their concerns with the current state of digital advertising. A survey of industry professionals conducted by GumGum revealed that 75% of brands reported at least one brand unsafe exposure within the past year. And 70% considered brand safety a serious or very serious problem.

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And why wouldn’t they? Most brands don’t want their ads running next to questionable content in fear of the consequences. Just look what happened to YouTube after major companies realized their ads were running on extremist and offensive content.


illegal streaming sites video

But there’s a lot more to brand safety than violence and hate speech. Internet piracy continues to be a huge problem for creative industries across the board. Hungry for new content, some consumers seek out illegitimate ways of obtaining it online. As long as there’s a demand for “free” content, there will be sites ready to supply it. And how do those illegal streaming sites stay in business? Ad revenue, of course.

Are Your Ads Running on Illegal Streaming Sites?

The piracy website model is pretty straightforward. Someone makes a streaming website with the intent to distribute illegal content, such as pirated movies, television shows, music, video games, or even books. Some sites host the content files on their own servers, while the majority simply aggregate third-party links to illegal content in an attempt to elude copyright laws.

To keep their sites running, most owners sell ad space, usually through programmatic exchanges. Because of the automated nature of programmatic, many advertisers simply don’t know when or where their ads are placed.

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Programmatic ads normally operate on CPM or CPC revenue models, meaning that higher traffic volume equals higher revenue for site owners—and more money spent by unsuspecting advertisers. With little overhead costs and plenty of visitors, piracy site profit margins can range anywhere from 80% to 94%, according to a report by the Digital Citizens Alliance.

A Brand Safety Nightmare

Aside from unknowingly sponsoring illegal activities, shady ad placement carries other brand safety concerns. If a pirate runs ads from famous, household brands, it makes their site seem more credible to the average visitor, which may prompt repeat visits. After all, a reputable brand would advertise only on legit sites, right?

Not all advertisers are afraid of bad placement either. Ads promoting gambling firms, questionable software downloads, and explicit adult content are commonplace on illegal streaming or illicit sites, as these advertisers don’t particularly mind associating themselves with illicit activity.

Related Post: Brand Safety: Before and After Digital Marketing

But it’s a huge problem when other brands’ ads run right next to them, as seen with the Target ad below. The company probably was unaware their ad was on an illegal movie streaming site, let alone next to an obscene image.

illegal streaming sitesSource: Vox Indie (NSFW)

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Protecting Programmatic Platforms

Luckily for brands that want to avoid placement on piracy sites, there are solutions. Back in 2015, TAG announced the formation of a new credential: Certified Against Piracy. This program requires participants to take “commercially reasonable steps” to reduce the risk of inadvertent placement of ads on sites distributing or promoting illegal content.

These steps include implementing real-time measures to prevent ads from running on undesired websites, creating protocols that prevent payments to undesired websites, and in the case of publishers, providing legal proof that they own all the content present on their site.

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Of course, you aren’t limited to partnering only with those in the Certified Against Piracy program. If you’re working with an agency or exchange, check to see what safeguards they have in place, like ad verification systems or blacklists (though if you’re using a list, make sure it’s consistently updated for maximum protection). Keeping your ads off piracy sites may take some extra work, but it’s better for your brand safety in the long run.

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