Online advertising has become a really tricky game to get into. Monetizing a popular website that generates a lot of online traffic used to be much, much easier than it is now. The simple answer used to be advertising, but nowadays you would need to generate OVER A MILLION pageviews in a month just to generate $5,000. Without those users having an Adblocker installed on their browser.
$5,000 a month is nothing to scoff at, but generating that much traffic is a very, very tall task. So online streaming websites like CBS’s Showtime and the infamous Pirate Bay are doing something else in an attempt to monetize their considerable traffic: mining cryptocurrency on their viewers’ computers.
We’ve written about cryptocurrencies before, but to keep it simple: mining cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum takes considerable amounts of processing power and electricity which is what makes it so hard to “mine” and it gets harder as time goes on. That’s why people often say it’s a better to just invest into a cryptocurrency rather than mine it yourself if you’re late to the game.
So, these two websites were caught using their viewers’ computers to mine the cryptocurrencies for them, putting the burden onto customer’s (and pirates) computers to avoid racking up their own significant electricity costs and using their own processers.
If you don’t have an adblocker, it’s pretty simple for them to be able to run a script from your browser that would just mine cryptocurrency in the background. However, using the viewer’s processing power in the background is also a really easy way to hurt the quality of your product. The stream isn’t going to buffer and load as quickly, and the quality is very likely to suffer because of that – not to mention that it could overheat computers if they’re not too careful.
It’s easy to see why they would want to find an alternative to advertisements to turn their considerable online traffic into money, but it’s pretty shady to be using the consumers that are ALSO being shown endless advertisements like that.
The Pirate Bay doing something like this isn’t that surprising, because they are an illegal streaming site. People aren’t likely to complain to the authorities about something like this because you really shouldn’t be using their service anyway. They also owned up to it already, and getting ahead of the bad publicity is pretty ironic given who they are.
It is very concerning that Showtime is the other big-name website that just got caught doing it, because not only do customers PAY for Showtime, they are also given small advertisements while on the site. They’re not double-dipping, they’re TRIPLE-dipping.
That’s like Hulu on steroids (disclaimer – I don’t mind that Hulu charges customers and still gives advertisements because for just $4 more a month you are able to avoid those ads altogether, but that’s beside the point).
At the end of the day, this is an intriguing situation to watch unfold. Pirate Bay said it was a test, basically saying that mining on consumers’ computers could potentially be used as an alternative to advertising altogether – which has been met with mixed reviews. It’s actually a pretty good idea.
If I had a transparent choice between ads and dedicating some of my processing power to them (for a very limited time) I might consider the latter. The biggest question now though, is just how many of these websites are doing this? Doing something like this is debatable even when completely transparent, but the fact that such large websites didn’t let their customers know (okay, so maybe I’m just talking about Showtime here) is very concerning.