Ad Blocking Blocks Publishers’ Business Model, Threatens Free Internet


by Andrew Edwards

How will the integration of new ad-blocking technology, such as Apple’s latest mobile iOS software update, affect the current state of the free Internet and the future of publishing?

According to a recent article in Business Insider, more than 200 million Internet users deploy some kind of ad-blocking software. Apple is also launching a new version of iOS that makes ad blocking almost native for mobile.

Apparently, users are no longer buying into the unspoken pact between themselves and publishers: to access free content on the Web, one must view the ads that pay publishers. This profit enables publishers to continue publishing free content for users. Today, it seems as if looking at ads has become either too much of a burdensome nuisance, or ad blocking has become too simple.

Whatever the reason, this could mean major changes in digital publishing that may even impact the current state of the “free Internet” – now the Internet may come with a price. For instance, if the publication of your choice is soon deprived of the revenue it gets from ads, it will have to figure out another way to survive, a fate too difficult to even imagine.

Some publishers are fighting back. According to The New York Post, Hulu is blocking users that block ads. Additionally, The Washington Post will automatically send you to a subscription page if it detects ad-blocking software. Though Apple does not make money from publishing content, it wants to help users block ads. Rival Google, which does profit from ads and content, appears to take the opposite approach. YouTube users with ad blocking software were deprived of the ability to skip a YouTube advertisement, according to an article in SkyNews. Some say this may have been caused by a glitch in Chrome, but at this point, no one really knows the true cause.

In any case, it’s fair to say that no digital publisher can welcome ad blocking because it simply strips away their ability to monetize content. In an interview with USA Today, Michael Wolff says ad blocking is a major threat to digital media, and now is the time for publishers to begin worrying.

How Does This Affect Analytics?

A MediaPost article claims that when ad-blocking software is present, loading times drops significantly, which is really no surprise. But publishers looking at page-load times currently have no way of knowing what their average loading time is because they are clueless to how many users utilize ad-blocking software. Perhaps the percentage of users with ad-blocking software is needed as a new segment in analytics reporting.

It wasn’t so long ago that digital publishers were gloating about ad dollars leaving television and moving online. Yet television has changed. Broadcasters have become partially, if not entirely, fee-based. Because they often have compelling enough content, broadcasters see users subscribing due to their curiosity about what’s on TV. On the other hand, online and mobile content remains heavily dependent on ad revenue. It’s unclear whether digital publishing can survive in a recognizable form where fees are charged because its ability to be compelling enough to charge for the privilege of interacting with it is still questionable.

Advertisers and publishers continue to insist the unspoken pact between themselves and consumers still maintains validity. They firmly believe that consumers recognize how their access to free content via Web, mobile, print, or television requires accepting pitches made in their direction by folks selling cars, cosmetics, burgers and so on. Now, technology has come to disrupt yet another assumed convention, but this time in the precincts of the digital empires themselves. Users now have the technological key to escape looking at ads. We know that, like cats, technologies never go back into the bag.

If the above suggests anything, it’s that ad blocking leads to content subscription, and failing to do so leads to content extinction. Prepare to watch ads or subscribe to watch content. Although if ad blocking comes to dominate the user landscape, you may also need to brace yourself for the final days of interacting with free content on the Web. Then, you’ll have to resort to buying the newspaper in order to get news.