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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

Dear ad blocking community, we need to talk.

September 10, 2015 | By Chris Pedigo, SVP Government Affairs – DCN @Pedigo_Chris

Here at DCN, we’ve been actively engaged on the issue of ad blocking software since last year. Unlike many in the industry, we’ve focused on the consumer and what we consider long-term solutions. We don’t think the digital ecosystem can reach its full potential without consumer trust—as we’ve written about here, here, here, here, here and here. Trust is the foundation upon which consumer demand is sustainably built and we’re hard-pressed to envision a digital business that doesn’t need to be built around consumer demand.

Here at DCN, we haven’t focused on how to wage a protracted tech arms race or destroy ad blocking companies. We recognize the value in having the open development community address inherent consumer concerns. In this case, consumers don’t want ads that are annoying, intrusive or drain their device’s battery – and who can blame them? We’re talking about their data plans, their phones, their computers and, of course, their valuable time. Without a doubt, we need to give them great experiences in exchange for their investment. And that applies to advertising too, as Univision’s Kevin Conroy pointed out: better advertising experiences may be exactly what’s called for to stem the tide of ad-blocking adoption.

This is an industry-wide issue and we all need to step up to address it just as we enthusiastically embraced the progression of digital media and marketing. Unfortunately, the race to invest billions of dollars in ad technologies has focused on following consumers all around the web. Instead, perhaps the industry should focus on developing features and tools in ad tech that assist advertisers and publishers in creating consumer-friendly ad experiences (e.g. warnings for excessive animation, latency/heavy load, too many ad calls and hops). To date, consumer privacy and user experience haven’t been given proper consideration. Now consumers are speaking up with software.

It can’t be denied that blocking all advertising could lead to a world where publishers can’t monetize premium content or experiences. This isn’t just an issue of profitability (though certainly that’s why the vast majority of content companies are in the business), it is also a question of supporting the creation of the content people love—and need. Some content companies are trying an approach that appeals to consumers on that basis—often it’s a reminder message on site entry about ads funding the content they are about to—something those combatting content piracy have tried in the past. And while educating consumers is a valuable piece of the puzzle, it fails to address the systemic issues that got us here in the first place. Long term, the industry must clean up the user experience and provide more transparency and controls for consumers.

As ever, our focus at DCN is on solving issues for our valued consumers and working with the trusted brands that comprise our membership, to seek solutions to this significant challenge. We don’t yet know precisely where the line should be drawn, but we’re talking with anyone and everyone about how to continue to create premium content and delightful user experiences in this new world of ad blocking.

One thing that we are sure of: When third parties cut out our messaging to our customers, that’s crossing the line. When a consumer decides to block advertising and visits sites, we need a way to communicate with them so that we can ask for feedback to solve whatever their issue is that ad blocking addresses. If it is an issue of load time, we need to know. If it is offensive or intrusive ad content or ad experiences, we need to know. If it is due to privacy concerns, we need to know. If they’d prefer an ad-free experience, we need the ability to offer them options, such as subscriptions. It’s beneficial to content companies as well as the consumers. Ad blocking tools cut off the ability for content companies and consumers to engage in a healthy, open dialog and search for solutions – principles that the Internet was built upon.

We are the brands consumers trust. We are the content creators, the publishers, the sites they choose to visit. If a consumer is uncomfortable or unhappy with the experience we provide, they can (as ever) go elsewhere. As the first party that not only creates the content experiences these consumers seek out and spend their valuable time with but, in many cases, have developed long-term relationships with—we certainly have the right to educate and engage in a constructive discussion with these customers.

So let’s be clear: blocking messaging from a site to its customers is wrong. Instead of blocking messages that inform consumers about their options for consuming content on the site, let’s work together on long term solutions that will provide our shared consumers with a better experience, thereby building an even stronger digital ecosystem. Give us a ring to discuss– we promise not to block your call.

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