Ad Blocking: Publisher's Downfall or Saving Grace?

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Ad Blocking: Publisher’s Downfall or Saving Grace?First in a two-part series is a look at the rise of ad blocking and how it is affecting publishers across the board.

By Alex Schwartzwald

Somewhere in the scramble to adopt digital as part of their offerings, publishers got distracted. As online users have become more technically sophisticated and media savvy, the industry fell into an arms race that escalated into creating the most disruptive and interruptive advertising formats. Pop-ups, pre-roll videos, and pop-unders have become the go-to standard in the industry to get users attention.In response to these intrusive and often irritating forms of online advertising, millions of users have decided to fight back by ad blocking. This action of removing or altering advertising content on a webpage is becoming extremely prevalent these days. According to a study conducted by PageFair and Adobe, the number of people using ad-blocking software grew by 41 percent year over year (Q2 2014- Q2 2015).Whether or not your association publishing team is aware of it, a war has been waging between publishers, digital media, and ad-blocking companies. Publishers are now feeling the aftermath of their actions. According to the same study, the estimated loss of global revenue due to blocked advertising during 2015 was a whopping $21.8 billion.

Before being able to fully understand this epidemic, it's essential to understand the most basic aspects of ad blocking.

1. What are ad blockers and how do they work? As the name suggests, ad blockers are technologies that block advertisements on a webpage. We've all visited a website and dealt with the frustration of advertisements popping up all over the screen; luckily, these ad blockers take away the misery of clicking out of several advertisements before you can continue onto the website. The ad-blocking extensions/plugins, browsers, VPNs, or DNS solutions act like a firewall between the web browser and all known ad servers. Most ads are blocked by open-source web browser extensions installed by end users. The database of blocked ad servers is curated by a large, active open-source community.

2. What are the best or most popular ad blockers? The most popular ad-block extensions on the market today are Adblock Plus and AdBlock. Once installed, these extensions block ads on websites and are effective against almost all ad formats. According to Ben Williams, communications and operations director at Eyeo, parent company of Adblock Plus, their extension has been installed on people's browsers more than 400 million times, and they sit somewhere between 50 to 60 million active users.

3. What are some common misconceptions about ad blockers? Ad blockers believe that all ads are bad and that ads should disappear completely. The reality: Ad blockers are trying to help broker a deal that encourages a positive, informative web experience for everyone. Ad blockers are keenly aware that ads play a critical role in keeping content free online; however, the ads need to be high quality, relevant, and non-intrusive.

Adblock Plus conducted a survey of its users and found that roughly 70 percent of them are actually ok with ads as long as they comply with a set of criteria. The survey also showed that less than 10 percent of their users opt out of the acceptable ads program.

The Rise of Ad Blocking

Users are simply fed up with the quality and manner in which advertisements are being presented. Pop-ups, pre-roll videos, and pop-unders fall under the type of annoying, disruptive ads that have driven users to install ad blockers. Also, advertisements have not adjusted to fit the medium they are being presented on.

In a recent Business Insider article, Wiliams states, "Ad blocking is a symptom of bad ads. Newspaper ads, magazine ads, and TV there is a level of acceptance to a degree. But these transferred one by one over to the digital space, and that didn't work out so well. Click-through-rates and the money people were getting back from impressions fell under a while, and the response was to just make more ads."

Users will always find a way around ads and have now reached the tipping point where they want more control over the digital ads they are exposed to. Publishers and media companies have backed themselves into a corner at a time when users have decided to fight back, and some publishers have realized that ad blocking is a serious threat to their survival.

A Continuously Growing Threat

The biggest threat to publishers was released at Apple's September 9th event. Adblock Plus created an ad-free mobile web browser for iOS in early September. This iOS app was released just a few weeks before Safari on iOS 9, which comes with its own ad blocker or what Apple is calling a content blocker already installed on iPhones and iPads.

Like Adblock Plus and other ad blockers, these content blockers will block advertisements, trackers, and other third-party scripts. The situation for publishers is going from bad to worse to awful These changes are not only affecting publishers, but also larger businesses such as Google. A recent analysis by Goldman Sachs estimated that of the $11.8 billion collected on mobile search ads in 2014, a reported 75 percent of its mobile revenue is coming from iOS devices.

An article in Digiday explains how dire the situation has become for publishers and media companies. It states, "All media must adapt to Apple. Apple is such an omnipotent force that its innovations dictate product roadmaps and revenue forecasts with equal parity. Safari is the most widely used browser for mobile globally, with 42 percent share. What's more, mobile is now the most important platform for publishers to cater to.”

So how can publishers adapt and survive with all of these radical changes occurring all at once? This seems like a tidal wave of bad news that no one in the industry can outrun. To find out how publishers are fighting back, and not just rolling over, keep an eye out for part two of this series in next week's Sidebar.

Alex Schwartzwald is marketing and communications coordinator at Knowledge Marketing.

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