Something has to give. If I keep visiting my favourite sites with my ad blocker software turned up full blast one day my favourite site won’t be there anymore because it will have gone bust.
That is the obvious downside of ad blocking technology. But that said, there is a balance that needs to be struck. Is it fair that in order to watch a 90 second video clip on YouTube, we must first watch a 30 second ad, most likely one we have watched many times before? Aren’t YouTube rich enough already?
And who are the real victims of the “adblockalypse”? In a nutshell, any advertiser funded online publication, but particularly those who publish longer form content, although ironically, they are not the root cause of the problem.
People don’t necessarily object to ads that don’t unduly interrupt their viewing experience. Back in the day it was easy to skip through the pages of the glossy magazine to the article we wanted, and equally nobody really minds a respectfully pitched ad in a sidebar or banner; it’s when we’re confronted by a full pager with apparently no easy way to click and close that we get agitated and begin to look for a way to “make it stop”.
But the problem is not going away – according to a recent study by Page Fair and Adobe there are now 200 million monthly active users of ad blocking software across the world; 45 million in the US, which could cost US digital media businesses as much as $9.7 billion in lost ad revenues, according to Business Insider Intelligence. To make matters worse, Apple announced last year that it was developing ad blocking software for iPhones, and that future operating systems would make it easier for ad blockers to develop on.
Digital advertising in the US is a $60 billion dollar business but with 25% of Americans now employing ad-blockers the numbers are beginning not to add up; according to AdWeek a typical US internet user is worth $215 per annum to advertisers. There’s an argument that says anyone using ad-blockers was probably not interested in viewing ads anyway so good riddance. The subliminal counter argument runs that ad blocker users consume more online services than any other user (hence why they decided to employ ad-blockers) and are therefore worth a great deal to advertisers.
Google is in the process of developing a contributor network that lets users pay to view participating publications online without ads, but to compensate for the loss in ad revenues, the fee per user, Adweek says, would be around $60, with heavy users’ worth up to ten times more than that.
Plus, if my adblocking software is working effectively, why would I pay for ad free content?
And, we’re back where we started! Sites like Forbes have trialled an idea that asks users to switch off their ad blockers in exchange for an “ad lite” experience. They say its working, but as one of the more ad-ridden publications on the web, users aren’t convinced – and how are Forbes finding out whether users are employing ad blocking software – is that legal?
Possibly not for much longer within the EU, as privacy campaigner Alexander Hanff claims to have received a letter from the European Commission that any sites checking to see whether a user employs ad blocking software are breaking the law. Forbes’ reasonable attempt to find a halfway house might be about to unravel.
So what’s the best solution? As per usual Facebook have probably come closest to cracking it. To begin with their advertising is like a science, so highly targeted and precise that it looks unobtrusive. And the style is also non intrusive – one video ad amongst a collection of video funnies offends no-one, and besides it can be easily scrolled through. Facebook’s “little and often” strategy, with a typically Zuckerberg-like emphasis on the polite and respectful, should keep the advertising dollars flooding in. And boy do they need that to keep happening, because a paywall would probably destroy them.
And Youtube? Well, the major culprits, the guys whose ads are more responsible for ad blocker software than any other site on the web, apparently, win both ways. Don’t want ads, pay a subscription fee. But Youtube don’t have to create their own content. Their overheads are lower, and their slice of the market is more like the whole cake than a slice.
Finally, it’s worth noting that ad-blockers are businesses too. How do they make money? Some, like Privacy Badger, are not for profit and funded via donations and free coding. Others permit some ads, but reject others, and it’s rumoured that certain big businesses are paying them big chunks of money to rule their ads acceptable. That’s some responsibility – let’s hope their heads aren’t turned by the huge sums of money on offer.
The reality is that we are a long way from resolving any of the issues around ad blocking. The debate looks set to rumble on and on and on, until we find a way to block it. The technological singularity can’t come soon enough – when we no longer have to work for a living and have robot servants, we’ll have to find something else to moan about.