Adblockers: towards an Internet of the rich and an Internet of the poor?

Following in the footsteps of Adblock Plus Browser, adblocker software is expanding to mobile, representing a loss of income for press publishers and media, who will be forced to rely on subscriptions. Will this create a gap in the online media experience?

Written by Clara Schmelck (Méta-Media)

Loss of income for publishers

Since the end of summer holidays, publishers have been worried about a memo written by Apple on August 24 addressed to developers, stating that the new update of its browser Safari, in the next iOS version, could include the ability to block, on top of cookies and certain images, pop-ups.

When you consider that Safari is currently the number one browser on mobiles and tablets, and that mobile advertising revenues recorded a 35% jump in two years, you can understand the anxiety being felt by press publishers, for whom advertising (display, search and mobile) is often the main source of revenue. Digital is now the second highest media invested in by advertisers (25%), ahead of print media. (Source: SRI).

In Germany, 60% of pre-roll ads, the video messages that play before the content the user has selected, are said to already be blocked on desktops. In June 2015, the various software applications already counted 198 million active monthly users, compared to 121 million in January 2014. A study conducted in August by PageFair estimated the loss of advertising revenues at 21.8 billion dollars this year. The loss for publishers is, however, difficult to quantify, given that the publisher does not see the traffic generated by users of adblockers, which also prevent tracking.

In June 2014, a group of publishers led by Axel Springer, RTL and ProSiebenSat.1, filed a lawsuit against Adblock Plus, accusing Eyeo of operating on an “illegal” economic model. During FrenchWeb Day Media in March, publishers spoke out against Adblock Plus, the well-known German application used to block tracking devices, malware and intrusive ads on the Web, attacking even native advertising.

“Many citizenry already get our journalism for free online, with digital advertising paying only a [portion of] the cost,” a spokesperson for the Washington Post notes. Without advertising, the U.S. newspaper has no means of producing free content that is good enough to attract new readers to subscription offers.

As of this week, the Washington Post has put in place a test to deter its readers from using an adblocker. When attempting to view an article on the site, users with an adblocker get a pop-up window redirecting them to subscribe to a newsletter or paid subscription in order to access the content.

Eyeo, the German software company behind Adblock Plus, responded to the lawsuit and critics by offering content publishers the possibility of being on a white list of sites with unblocked ads, in exchange for a fee. Google and its subsidiary DoubleClick as well as Amazon currently appear on this white list, and pay to be on it!

Some French and U.S. publishers are resorting to the services of Secret Media, an ad-server that uses cryptography to generate a different ad tag for each webpage, making it impossible to be detected by an adblocker. Secret Media is already working with real-time bidding (RTB) stakeholders.

Still, it is not worthwhile for all online content publishers to pay for a place on a white list or for the services of an adblocker blocker. Moreover, adblockers are likely to quickly develop anti-adblocking solutions. The tug-of-war could go on for a long time.

Wanted! cleaner sites

This is why, according to Pierre Chappaz, President of ad video platform Teads, quality media must put the user experience back at the centre of their online publishing strategy by regulating the ads on their site themselves, both in terms of quality and quantity. [TRANSLATION]“The media that will have this courage will benefit from a virtuous circle: more frequent visits, increased consumption of their content, and better brand image,” he asserts to Swiss magazine Bilan. As for advertisers, they would have [TRANSLATION] “everything to gain by putting a stop to the pursuit of contact at all costs, which is seen by Internet users as forced and unpleasant.”

This approach involves the publisher refusing the offers of certain advertisers, even hiring somebody to be in charge of editorializing and placing ad content in the digital mockup. Only subscriptions can offset the costs. Readers who are prepared to get out their wallets will thus enjoy a site or app devoid of any advertising that does not present a cultural, esthetic or educational value. Others will have to deal with pages jammed with all sorts of ads and intrusive trackers, on websites that are heavy and slow to load.

This trend could apply in the same way to SVOD. Last week, U.S. video streaming service Hulu unveiled its ad-free subscription service. For four dollars more a month, “Hulu Plus” subscribers can immerse themselves in their movies without ever having to be distracted by unrelated video sequences.

Digital divide

Is the business of adblocking creating an Internet of the rich and an Internet of the poor? For some, the comfortable and fluid reading of a text or viewing of a movie, and for others, visual fatigue and the deafening sweeping sound of pop-ups that appear out of nowhere like fireballs on a desert road. The ability to concentrate could become a luxury that only a small group of newspaper and SVOD site subscribers will be able to afford, while the masses will have to be content with a hodge podge of broken up, scattered and hastily produced words and images.

The Internet would no longer have the same configuration and would no longer offer the same opportunities, depending on whether you have the means to enter from the subscribers’ gate or if you’re coming in from the door of the simple visitors.

Up to now, the digital divide has referred to a gap between those who have consistent and convenient access to digital technology and those who don’t. With the adblocking ecosystem, this gap could very well come to refer to an Internet of the rich and an Internet of the poor.

This article was originally published on Méta-Média and is presented here as part of the editorial partnership between CMF Trends and Méta-Média.  © [2015] [Méta-Média]. All rights reserved.

MIP Blog
MIP Blog is the official blog of MIP Markets, the world’s entertainment content tradeshows, MIPTV, MIPCOM, MIPJunior, MIPFormats & MIPDoc. Its aim is to foster debate and exchange of TV and entertainment industry knowledge, as shared both at MIP Markets and beyond, all year round.
Read Bio