Chrome’s Default ‘Ad-Blocker’ is Bad News for Torrent Sites

Opinion

Torrent sites are having trouble maintaining a steady flow of revenue, with the increasing use of ad-blockers affecting sites right across the board. And with Google's plan to add a default ad-blocker to the Chrome browser looming, some operators fear that they might not be able to keep their sites afloat.

Online advertising can be quite a nuisance. Flashy and noisy banners, or intrusive pop-ups, are a thorn in the side of many Internet users.

These type of ads are particularly popular on pirate sites, so it’s no surprise that their users are more likely to have an ad-blocker installed.

The increasing popularity of these ad-blocking tools hasn’t done the income of site owners any good and the trouble on this front is about to increase.

A few weeks ago Google announced that its Chrome browser will start blocking ‘annoying’ ads in the near future, by default. This applies to all ads that don’t fall within the “better ads standards,” including popups and sticky ads.

Since Chrome is the leading browser on many pirate sites, this is expected to have a serious effect on torrent sites and other pirate platforms. TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of one of the largest torrent sites, who’s sounding the alarm bell.

The owner, who prefers not to have his site mentioned, says that it’s already hard to earn enough money to pay for hardware and hosting to keep the site afloat. This, despite millions of regular visitors.

“The torrent site economy is in a bad state. Profits are very low. Profits are f*cked up compared to previous years,” the torrent site owner says.

At the moment, 40% of the site’s users already have an ad-blocker installed, but when Chrome joins in with its default filter, it’s going to get much worse. A third of all visitors to the torrent site in question use the Chrome browser, either through mobile or desktop.

“Chrome’s ad-blocker will kill torrent sites. If they don’t at least cover their costs, no one is going to use money out of his pocket to keep them alive. I won’t be able to do so at least,” the site owner says.

It’s too early to assess how broad Chrome’s ad filtering will be, but torrent site owners may have to look for cleaner ads. That’s easier said than done though, as it’s usually the lower tier advertisers that are willing to work with these sites and they often serve more annoying ads.

The torrent site owner we spoke with isn’t very optimistic about the future. While he’s tested alternative revenue sources, he sees advertising as the only viable option. And with Chrome lining up to target part of their advertising inventory, revenue may soon dwindle.

“I’ve tested all types of ads and affiliates that are safe to work with, and advertising is the only way to cover costs. Also, most services that you can make good money promoting don’t work with torrent sites,” the torrent site owner notes.

Just a few months ago popular torrent site TorrentHound decided to shut down, citing a lack in revenue as one of the main reasons. This is by no means an isolated incident. TorrentFreak spoke to other site owners who confirm that it’s becoming harder and harder to pay the bills through advertisements.

The operator of Torlock, for example, confirms that those who are in the business to make a profit are having a hard time.

“All in all it’s a tough time for torrent sites but those that do it for the money will have a far more difficult time in the current climate than those who do this as a hobby and as a passion. We do it for the love of it so it doesn’t really affect us as much,” Torlock’s operator says.

Still, there is plenty of interest from advertisers, some of whom are trying their best to circumvent ad-blockers.

“Every day we receive emails from willing advertisers wanting to work with us so the market is definitely still there and most of them have the technology in place to circumvent adblockers, including Chrome’s default one,” he adds.

Google’s decision to ship Chrome with a default ad-blocker appears to be self-serving in part. If users see less annoying ads, they are less likely to install a third-party ad-blocker which blocks more of Google’s own advertisements.

Inadvertently, however, they may have also announced their most effective anti-piracy strategy to date.

If pirate sites are unable to generate enough revenue through advertisements, there are few options left. In theory, they could start charging visitors money, but most pirates go to these sites to avoid paying.

Asking for voluntary donations is an option, but that’s unlikely to cover the all the costs.

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