Reasons to fear the coming 'adblockalypse' - TechCentral

Reasons to fear the coming ‘adblockalypse’

andrew-fraser-180Later this year, Apple will release the latest version of its mobile operating system — iOS 9 — and, among the promised upgrades and benefits, is one that terrifies Internet content publishers that rely on advertising revenue to stay afloat: content blocking extension support in the Safari mobile Web browser.

Before delving into the potential repercussions of this move by Apple, it is probably a good idea to define what this blocking does, and why it is seen as a good thing by most consumers.

Content blockers are software extensions that allow the user to, as the name suggests, block certain types of content on the Web. Primarily this content tends to be advertising, tracking scripts and cookies, pop-ups, but can even be images or videos. The advantages for the consumer of enabling these content blockers are simple: Web pages load faster, there are no annoying ads obscuring information, Web activity isn’t tracked, and the amount of data required to open the page is reduced. The last one is especially important in the case of mobile data usage, which tends to be expensive.

These blockers aren’t new: there are already a number of desktop Web browser extensions that do it, but until now these kind of extensions and software blockers were not supported by the mobile operating system providers. Although theoretically possible on Android devices, it requires installing software from outside of the official Google Play Store, and it simply isn’t possible on the current version of iOS. That means that most mobile users aren’t doing any blocking, but this will change as Apple rolls out the new iOS.

For Web content providers, advertising revenue is the most common way to monetise content. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and you as the reader or viewer pay for your lunch by seeing the advertising. As Web viewership moves more and more into the mobile space (in the US in the first half of 2015, more than 50% of time spent on the Internet was using a mobile device), these devices are a key audience for the content owners and advertisers. Blocking the ads deprives those content providers of their core income, and that will lead to a few drastic changes in approach, not all of which are good for the consumer, or even advertisers.

But what of Apple? Is this a demonstration of how consumer friendly it is? My cynical view is that Apple is less concerned with making its customers’ Web viewing more enjoyable and more with ensuring that it gets a bigger piece of the advertising pie. Apple makes money off in-application advertising through their own iAd service. It earns nothing on mobile Web advertising that is viewed in a browser. Apple’s obvious endgame here is to push Web content publishers to supply their content to iPhone/iPad users through a native app, either their own or through Apple’s upcoming “News” app (also to be released with iOS 9 … what a coincidence). So users will still see advertising, and likely still be tracked. And in the case of the News app, it’ll all be handled by Apple itself.

Soon to be an ad-free zone ... well, in Safari anyway

Soon to be an ad-free zone … well, in Safari anyway

Web publishers are going have to think long and hard about how they are going to approach this. For many traditional news publishers, the Web has already had a massive disruptive impact, and it has necessitated some experimentation with sources of income. Some of the big traditional newspapers have instituted paywalls to varying levels of success. Others have embraced alternative channels of distribution through content curation applications such as Flipboard or Zite, but most have relied on various forms of advertising. As more devices start to block this advertising, advertisers are less likely to place ads on these sites.

The most obvious thing to do for most of these sites is to just buckle to Apple’s will, sign up for Apple’s News app and hopefully make some money out of it. This is quite risky for niche and smaller sites, as they could find themselves overwhelmed by content from other publishers.

The second option is to create their own native application. On iOS it will be able to display ads, and it will ensure some differentiation, but the process of getting a user to download an additional application in order to view content is disruptive, and unless the content is genuinely valuable, is unlikely to succeed.

The last option is that of a paywall, making consumers subscribe for the content. The big advantage here is obviously that ad revenue becomes less important. But changing consumer behaviour is difficult, and getting them to subscribe with a credit card is a difficult proposition.

Until technologies are developed to bypass the blockers (and that’s already happening), content publishers are going to have difficulties. We can only hope that the thing that makes the Web such a vibrant place — variety — is not the victim of this process.

  • Andrew Fraser is an independent marketing strategist with a focus on the South African IT, telecoms and consumer electronics industries

 

11 Comments

  1. Completely welcome.

    I currently use Firefox and have blocked every ad and script that has come my way – needless to say that I don’t get any of that kind of advertising anymore. I have also dropped News24 as a news source because their articles are essentially just clickbait to get their hit numbers up so that they can try to command higher ad revenue. The problem with that is that it has completely discredited them as a news source.

    Advertising on the web is just visual noise. I am not a noise kind of person.

    I am, however, not an Apple kind of person either.

  2. Greg Mahlknecht on

    No mention of the REAL “adblockalypse’”? Google Chrome stopping flash ads auto-playing from today, and Amazon outright blocking flash ads. This will have a far greater impact than Apple’s measures.

  3. Not really in the mobile space… Flash ads don’t work there anyway. Anyhow, most advertising delivers two versions of an ad to desktop browsers – a flash compliant version and a static or jpeg version. If the browser is determined to be non-flash compliant, a static version is delivered.

  4. Greg Mahlknecht on

    The “adblockalypse” is being spoken about a bit, and refers to mobile+desktop together, and the majority of those ad impressions come from desktop. Seems strange talking about it and not mentioning the most important bit.

    Of course Google’s ad play is much the same as Apple’s – A thinly veiled “in the interest of the users” blurb while giving themselves more control.

  5. The real issue is that consumption of content on mobile devices has overtaken desktop, and thus while impressions may be higher on desktop it is likely only because there’s more space on a single page to place ads.

    Blockers on desktop browsers have existed for a number of years but from a consumer perspective, the gain in blocking ads on mobile is higher than that on desktop due to relative processing power, screen real estate and cost of data.

    While this issue only directly impacts iOS devices, Apple users are prime targets for advertisers. There are a number of studies that indicate that Apple users deliver higher returns on advertising..

  6. Lets be honest, agencies went too far by placing annoying, deceptive and intrusive ads into every pixel they could spare – now they’re crying that it came back to bite them in the ass. Too bad.

  7. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Yes, I understand the technicalities – everything is a win for the consumer; the “adblockalypse” is essentially about how it impacts content publishers; in that sense on a global scale, Apple’s play is a sideshow here.

  8. Beneficial to consumers? Mostly, yes. In the short term. But those ads were funding a content industry. The risk to smaller and niche publications is high, and losing that content cannot be seen as a win for consumers.

  9. Greg Mahlknecht on

    The content won’t go away, the creators will be forced to find new ways to monetize, and they will – they’re only using the current way of advertising because that’s how it’s been done forever. Google’s Contributor is a very interesting take on what could replace it. Everyone, even the content creators thinks ads are an awful way to fund the industry, change will be hard but in the end everyone will win.

  10. The answer is simple. Many sites relying on adds for revenue has gone too far. I consciously select the sites that I frequent to turn of AB+ on. If the experience is not good then I turn AB+ back on.

    Its simple as that. I’m sure its great to reap the maximum reward from showing adds on half of the screen, but this recent tendency for people to turn adds off on everything is a natural response to abuse. People are overloaded by advertising. Its too much. If sites don’t like it they can block people who use AB+. Right?

  11. I only block feeds with irritating adverts that flash or move. Pretty much like most of the ones on this page. If ad providers supply less intrusive advertising they will get blocked less.