Did you know that piracy is about making money? Most people don’t seem to be aware of that. Piracy is about money. It’s serious business.
It doesn’t have to be though. When you share your favorite content to your friend over a USB key, you don’t benefit from it. When you share a torrent, you don’t benefit from it.
We won’t talk about being a good friend today. Today, we’ll talk about running a business. Specifically, a site that distributes links to streaming and direct downloads.
Have you ever noticed how many ads and malware are thrown at you when you’re looking for a movie. Let him who never googled “<new movie> streaming” throw the first stone. These things are paying the site to attack your mind and your computer.
We’ll focus on AwesomeMovie. (The real name has been edited).
It’s a major[*] website for getting awesome content: the latest shows, movies, games and musical albums.
It’s a very simple website. The welcome page is a mosaic of the latest titles and there is one page per category. A content page has the description, ratings, trailers, and various links to streaming and direct downloads.
There are additions a few times a week after new titles are released. The whole site is borderline trivial. It could be done and maintained by a 15 years old teenager in his spare time after high school.
[*] I didn’t realize it was big when I started writing. I think the lifetime statistics would be over a billion views and maybe a hundred million of downloads.
Chances are that you or your friends have been there before. If you’ve googled anything at the right time, you’d end up there soon enough.
What’s so special about this site? They made one mistake. They opened some of their analytics statistics in the period 2014-2015, probably not something they intended to do.
I sampled the titles on the front page twice a month. The following charts display some of the well-known titles. It gives a rough idea of the traffic and the refresh rate.
The numbers are way beyond expectations, I am gonna have to analyze that in more details.
The traffic is incredibly massive and spiky. An episode page can get a hundred thousand views in a day. A great movie page can get a million views in a day or two. Most titles will get the majority of their lifetime traffic in the first few days, then fade into oblivion.
If you’ve run any site before, you know that doing a million page views per day is quite an achievement.
The basic currency of the internet is visitors and views. That can be converted back to dollars through a simple process.
When in doubt, remember that the two biggest tech companies are Google and Facebook. What they do all day is sell receptive brain time. They have a combined market cap over a trillion dollar for doing just that.
Advertising and marketing rule the world. (Why am I in tech???)
Pay per View Advertising
The pay per view is the most classic form of advertising. It pays a fee to the site every time an ad is displayed. Typically $1-2 per one thousand views (Cost per Thousand).
Let’s say that we take $1 CPM, also known as $2 CPM with 50% of users having an ad blocker.
Each episode can earn $500. Each movie can earn a few thousands dollars. A bit more or less depending how popular it is.
Oh wait. That’s only for one ad. You can put multiple ads per page and triple that number easily.
Ever wondered why websites are filled with garbage ads? Now, you know.
Pay per Click Advertising
The pay per click is the second most common form of advertising. It pays a fee to the site very time an ad is clicked. Typically one to a few dollars.
These are more tricky because the user have to click them. The normal click rate can be as low as 1% or 0.1%, so it doesn’t necessarily bring more money than pay per view ads even though they appear more “expensive”.
Oh wait. What if ads are masqueraded as the normal buttons that the user is looking to click? That’d be great to send the click rate (and the revenues) through the roof.
Ever wondered why websites and apps on your phone are full of misleading ads covering your whole screen with a fake button that opens the ad instead of closing it? Now you know.
Pay per Install (the dark side)
Let’s get into the dark side. One can get paid for helping to install software onto people’s computers. The vast majority of it is malware and it’s really crossing a line.
Ever wondered why ads are trying to attack your computer, it’s because being evil has higher income. Now, you know.
The most popular example of pay per install is certainly Google Chrome and the antivirus that came with your computer. Did you know that Google pay cash for every new installation of Google Chrome? Yes, they do.
Streaming and Hosting Affiliation
Hosting platforms come and go: rapidshare, megaupload, megavideo, filefactory, sendspace, mediafire, 1fichier, youshare, openload, mega, google drive, mail.ru…
They tend to close down because they are not always profitable (high infrastructure and bandwidth costs, historically) and not always legal.
If you remember rapidshare and megaupload a decade ago. They used to pay the owner of the file when the file is downloaded. I recall $4 per one thousand downloads, may vary with the size of the file. Once upon a time, 700MB movie had to be split into 10 files of 70MB, so the counters got higher.
This form of retribution was deemed outright illegal. It’s paying money directly to encourage piracy, couldn’t fly forever. Most of the file hosting died along the business model.
Next, there was the commission for sending new subscribers. Get people to register to the service and get a commission. (Remember megavideo that cut the video after 72 minutes if you didn’t have a gold account?).
Good hosting can be found for free nowadays, without need for the users to register or pay anything. That changed the landscape.
Some streaming sites might pay back a percentage of their ad revenues, not sure. (Either way, that’s the same incentive as paying for downloads, so won’t fly for long).
Site Wide Statistics
There were more than 677 million views over a period of less than a year.
Full disclosure: Like every statistics, there is a risk that the data might be influenced by bots or partially faked.
I’ll have to revise my statement that a title appears only once, gets a massive amount of view quickly and fades.
Some of the titles were re-published twice or thrice. It’s attributed to either the sources being taking down prematurely or a later release of perfect quality.
Lesson learned. One can earn thousands of dollars for sharing a video.
A site with 700 million views a year could approach a million dollars of revenues with fairly moderate non-intrusive advertising. Considering the site is far into the “intrusive” spectrum, the reality could be a multiple of that.
It’s hard to estimate side revenues from affiliation and malware, there might be another sizable sum made there too, or not.
To conclude this. There appear to be a multi million dollar piracy operations, possibly run by a teenager.
At the speed at which the latest domains have been taken down, he might not be on the run for much longer.