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February 25, 2018

Attributor Brings Ad Rev Sharing to Content “Piracy”

Important Details: It’s a fact of web life. Anyone can scoop up news content they like and paste it onto their own pages. Companies do it. Individuals do it. According to Attributor, a Silicon Valley-based content tracking company, such unlicensed use is rampant.This week, the company introduces a new service to deal with unintended, and maybe illegal, use in a new way — by connecting an ad revenue sharing system to its “digital fingerprinting” system. The system will potentially be connected to the leading ad networks of the time — Google’s DoubleClick and AdSense and Yahoo, and others. Attributor is now in talks with those networks.

The system, dubbed the Fair Syndication Consortium — identifies the suspect news usage and allows publishers to automatically contact websites using the content. The publisher can allow those sites to continue using it, while paying the publisher an ad revenue share related to the pages the content it appears on. The basic idea for publishers, Attributor CEO Jim Pitkow, told Outsell: “Make sure the ad servers know to put a penny in my cookie jar,” when content is found on web pages with which publishers have no existing business relationship.

Publishers – Reuters, The German Press Agency dpa and Politico are the charter members of the program – set their own pricing, such as a percentage of revenue share expected. Attributor is presenting the new service to another larger group of publishers in New York City later this week.

Essentially, the new ad revenue share option adds to three others that Attributor has powered, since its inception two years ago. Once identifying unlicensed usage, publishers (Attributor has 28 text-based clients, currently) have, until now, been able to make one of three demands/requests:

  • Request an attribution/distribution link back to the publisher’s site;
  • Offer a license agreement for content;
  • Request the content be taken down;

The ad revenue option is one that Attributor believes will have a major impact. CEO Jim Pitkow, an alumnus of Moreover, says the company’s December study indicates that the market for extending ad revenue sharing to unlicensed news usage could be as much as $250 million a year or more, assuming even relatively low “remnant” ad pricing.

In lieu of an agreement to share revenue, the new service will allow publishers to ask the offending site, or a search engine directing traffic to that site or an network serving ads on that site, to “take down” the content.

The company’s study was conducted in December, 2008. It checked 285,000 articles that the company had ingested from 25 news providers, against 35 billion web pages. The conclusions:

  • 3.2 million unlicensed, extensive (50% of the article, of articles at least 125 words in length) uses of that news content.
  • In other words, the company’s test showed the “true audience” for a news company is more than five times its destination site traffic.

Pitkow says the intention of the study and the new product is to go far beyond the Fair Use argument. That long-established, legally sanctioned practice allows for the re-publication of headlines and short news excerpts without payment, or linking. Pitkow says that Attributor found that 77 per cent of unlicensed usage is “extensive,” meaning, again, that more than 50% of a story was used. In fact, in almost half the of the unlicensed usages, more than 90% of the story was used. These are the egregious cases, of websites taking essentially whole stories without compensation, and often profiting from them.

Implications: Outsell has recently written about bringing Fair Share principles to news publisher/search aggregator relationships (see Insights, Google and Newspapers: Beyond Fair Use to Fair Share, April 10, 2009). Though sharing the “Fair” name, this new Attributor product is a distinct approach. Overall, though, what we see is that the news industry is now immersed deeply in redefining its relationship with the web, testing a number of next-generation strategy concepts.

The Fair Syndication Consortium is aimed essentially at piracy, going beyond the current controversy about how much the big search aggregators can use story headlines and snippets without payment.

Outsell believes that Attributor’s concept makes a lot of sense. Importantly, it doesn’t aim at restricting the nature of the web — a free flow of news and information of every imaginable type. Instead, it accepts that world and aims to put an overlay on top of it, with a system for more fairly apportioning advertising revenue.  No matter how much some pay models pan out, advertising will continue to be the main digital revenue source.

Outsell also believes that this initiative’s success will depend on scale. The consortium idea demands wide participation of publishers and of the major ad networks, and that may be the biggest challenge ahead for Attributor.

Lastly, the new initiative points out the effort of newer players to become key middlemen in this next generation of web business. In the first generation of wider news content usage on the web, we’ve seen fairly simplistic business models — and in those models, the distributor sites last publishing content have had disproportionate power.

Now, as more nuanced models are in discussion, would-be service providers (whether Attributor here offering a new service as a “consortium,” or the Journalism Online start-up noted last week in Insights, Journalism Online Seeks to Re-Establish Paid News Content, April 17, 2009), are presenting publishers with several choices. Which of the business models offered by middleman will make the most sense? What exactly should the role — and revenue participation — of the middleman be going forward? These are the next-stage issues to be sorted out, as the year proves to be a pivotal one for news publishers everywhere.