For many image conscious consumer-orientated businesses, a key to commercial success lies in carefully calibrated branding and marketing.
A hand-picked celebrity with the right attributes, for example, can enhance the images of both parties in the eyes of consumers. These associations can be nurtured through memorable online promotions but for the past several years, some websites have been virtually labeled “proceed with caution”.
Rightsholders Warn Brands Not to Support Piracy
Thousands of pirate sites rely on advertising to generate revenue but entertainment companies are keen to highlight the downsides of dealing with them. The general message is that advertising on illegal platforms not only fuels piracy but also supplies a reputation boost due to association with legitimate companies.
As a result, major brands work with companies such as White Bullet to keep their ads away from pirate platforms, while industry groups such as Hollywood’s MPA lobby authorities to take action against supportive advertisers and networks.
While it’s clear that more can be done, there are plenty of obstacles too. Advertising networks can be extremely complex, pirates have a reputation for deploying countermeasures and adapting to threats, and some advertisers are attracted to the millions of people visiting pirate sites. Other issues are even more tricky.
Imagine a scenario where a major sports rightsholder with its own piracy problems is sponsored by a company accused by Hollywood of using piracy as a promotional vehicle. Then, given the importance of branding and association, imagine that company’s logo is instantly recognized by millions of pirates as being piracy-linked, while those same pirates are being criticized for supporting piracy.
Serie A Chief Blames Pirate Fans For Revenue Failures
As CEO of top-tier football league Serie A, Luigi De Siervo has responsibility for ensuring that Italian football is a success locally and elsewhere in Europe. But despite Serie A’s standing as one of the best football leagues in the world, De Servio has a problem.
Known locally as ‘pezzotto’, piracy-configured set-top boxes are often linked to unlicensed IPTV services and other illegal streaming sites. Italian fans looking for cheap viewing options are using them in their droves, diverting money away from the league. This means that Serie A struggles to compete with the most powerful league in Europe, its CEO says.
“How can Serie A compete with the Premier League? We must all do our part,” De Siervo said recently.
“When we hear people talking about the pezzotto and illegal ways of watching matches, we need to ask them to stop. Piracy takes away from Italian football over 300 million euros a year, resources that would be reserved for our clubs.
“This sad record of the Italians who think they are always smarter than the others must end. In reality we are a country of freeloaders, something unacceptable from a public point of view,” he added.
According to the Serie A chief, the financial gap between his league and that of his English rivals is about 500 million euros, a figure that could be cut in half if piracy didn’t exist. While that doesn’t take into account any boost in revenues the Premier League might also gain in the absence of piracy, De Siervo’s messaging is clear; piracy is wrong, damaging, and should not be supported in any way. That might be a problem.
Serie A is Sponsored By 1XBET
Back in 2019, Serie A launched an anti-piracy campaign, declaring that “Piracy Kills Football”. It’s a message still being pushed today but for millions of fans with a tendency to pirate, there is an elephant in the room.
Gambling platform 1XBET has been an official partner of Serie A for years, sponsoring the league’s presentations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and the Americas. The original deal noted that 1XBet would be featured in all match graphics, idents and virtual goal mat advertising, in all live Serie A broadcasts.
The problem is that the 1XBET brand is almost synonymous with a specific type of piracy. Hundreds if not thousands of movies illegally camcorded in cinemas have been released online with 1XBET branding. Who records them and puts them online is unclear but it’s safe to say they all like to advertise 1XBET, whoever they are.
Pirates have a love/hate relationship with these poor-quality watermarked releases (and their embedded promo codes) but if people want to watch movies that are still in theaters (Top Gun: Maverick, for example) beggars can’t be choosers.
1XBET watermarks like these will have been seen by a countless number of Serie A pirates over the years, and they are obviously on Hollywood’s radar too.
Hollywood Appeals to US and EU to Act Against 1XBET
In a submission to the Office of the United States Trade Representative last October, the Motion Picture Association gave its reasons why 1XBET should appear on the government’s ‘Notorious Markets’ report.
“1XBET is not an ad network but an advertiser. In 2020 it became the third most active online advertiser in Russia. It is an online gambling site that originated in Russia but now operates worldwide,” the MPA wrote.
“1XBET knowingly and routinely pays to place display ads on pirate sites as well as ads with promotion codes watermarked into infringing videos, including in some of the earliest releases of infringing theatrical camcord recordings. After Russian law enforcement agencies initiated an investigation in 2020, its advertising activity declined. However, 1XBET remains active, and its ads continue to appear on infringing websites today.”
Earlier this year, the MPA repeated similar complaints in a submission to the European Commission, adding in a few extra details for good measure.
“Piracy is used as a vehicle to support this online gambling giant. Within 6 months in 2019 alone, more than 1200 advertisements for 1XBET could be found on structurally infringing websites. 1XBET is blocked in Russia; its alleged beneficiaries are under criminal investigation for illegal gambling and declared fugitives at the request of the Russian Investigative Committee,” the Hollywood group wrote.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a website run by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies reported that companies including 1XBET are still sponsoring Serie A and Spanish club Barcelona. According to the MPA, this has a particular function.
“1XBET still attempts to launder its reputation by sponsoring football events, most recently as an official sponsor of the African Cup of Nations,” the group told the European Commission.
Why European entities Serie A and Barcelona weren’t mentioned directly to the EC isn’t clear but if fans are to be persuaded to abandon their pezzotto devices, an understanding that everyone agrees on the same rules might be a good start.