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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Mobile ad-blocking isn’t a disaster… yet

June 8, 2017 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

When Apple announced last year that it would offer mobile ad blocking on iOS 9, and Google stated it would crack down on interstitial ads on mobile websites, publishers went immediately to sky-is-falling mode, predicting that these moves would undermine their chances for mobile ad revenues. But so far the panic has been overblown, especially in the U.S.

What appears to be a burgeoning trend in Asia is still in its infancy here. This gives publishers a bit of time to readjust their advertising formats to meet consumers halfway.

That said, Google, with its own vested interests, has just announced a new offering that will definitely push publishers: A new ad blocker. Thetech giant prefers to call an “ad filter” which will be integrated into its widely popular Chrome browser. It’s a move that’s likely to shake the entire advertising industry. Then again, it may just help to thwart the dreaded rise of further third-party ad blockers.

But Apple announced its own Safari ad-blocker in the new High Sierra operating system for desktops. This one would block auto-play videos as well as ad tracking across the Internet. While Google is taking a more collaborative approach with publishers, Apple is “taking a harder line,” as Undertone’s Eric Franchi told Adweek.

Mobile Ad-Blocking Uneven

The 2016 report from Pageview, a company in the business of trying to get publishers to reevaluate their advertising models, caused a stir among some circles for its analysis of global ad blocking. Ad blocking increased by 30% last year. And among the 615 million devices blocking ads, more than half — 308 million, to be precise — were blocking on mobile. Taken in another light, that’s 16% of all smartphone users in the entire world.

Yet 94% of all that mobile ad blocking took place in the Asia-Pacific region — in countries where Internet penetration is increasingly mobile-first, and where data prices are too high for most users to want to tolerate video and other data-heavy ads. North America and Europe, meanwhile, were much calmer in comparison, no doubt thanks to more affordable data packages.

A sampling of some of these global figures show what’s exactly at stake:

  • In India, mobile ad blocking is at 28%, whereas desktop ad blocking is a mere one percent.
  • In Indonesia, 58% of users block on mobile, while just 8% do so on desktop.
  • In the U.S., one percent of users block on mobile, whereas 18% do so on desktop.
  • In the U.K., content compensation platform Sourcepointreports ad blocking is at about 18%. The figure is slightly higher in France and Germany. However, data suggests that these rates are stabilizing due to more effective communication between users and publishers.
The Underlying Concerns

It’s pretty obvious why ad blocking on mobile is increasing: Users don’t like the ad experience, and publishers aren’t effectively communicating to readers about why their use of an ad blocker is detrimental to their business.

A fair number of users don’t want to see ads at all. However, users aren’t simply hating on the content of ads. Among the reasons people chose to use an ad blocker were privacy concerns and irritation at interruptions. Users who block ads tend to be highly educated and aware of the ecosystem they’re involved in.

That being said, of course publishers feel threatened. The West may be slow to block on mobile, but the world’s next billion Internet users are going to be mobile-first.

Still, it’s not an apocalypse. In the current climate, publishers need to be more transparent to users about what’s at stake — and how they can make a difference.

Google, Apple Making Moves in Browsers

In an environment like this, it’s no surprise Google has announced what it’s hinted at for some time: A new ad blocker for its Chrome browser. The new browser will create a higher bar for the kinds of ads that appear on the web by filtering out the more annoying ones, like auto-playing video ads. The goal of the blocker, which is slated to come out in 2018, is to create a better user experience. The Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group Google belongs to, is creating the standard for permissible ads.

The tech giant is signaling its collaborative intent by giving publishers six months to prepare for the ad blocker’s release, and to adjust their advertisements accordingly. It will then essentially grade publishers on the kind of advertising they’re offering. Google is also launching a feature called “funding choices.”  This will let publishers charge users per page view if they’re already using an ad blocker.

Apple, meanwhile, announced new features for Safari in its glitzy announcements at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference recently. While they might not have been as sexy as the new HomePod speaker system or multi-tasking iPads, the default setting in Safari to block ad tracking and auto-play video will make a huge difference for publishers. (Irony alert: The link above to Apple’s website listing its new products does include — gasp! — an auto-play video ad.)

While it’s discomforting that Google and Apple wield such dominance, the companies are at least taking leadership positions where others haven’t. And they’re doing so while mobile ad blocking is still on peoples’ minds, but before it’s become unstoppable. The time is right for publishers to get their advertising house in order.

 

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