Friday, April 8, 2016

(The Big Disrupt) Ad Blocking: Why publishers are in trouble

2016 (nor was 2015 for that matter) hasn't been a great year for publishers as ad blocking has become more prevalent than ever and ad blocking firms have become more assertive. No ad blocking firm represents this more assertive stance than ad blocking software firm Brave who left publishers in uproar this Wednesday when they announced a plan to cut publishers (55%) and consumers (15%) in on revenue generated from blocked ad inventory1. 

Not surprisingly, publishers aren't willing to bite on this deal as the blocked inventory in question is theirs and any ad revenue generated on their inventory should belong to them. Publishers see Brave's offer as insulting (which it is) and illegal (which is it isn't, yet) as Brave are simply creating a market on top of one that already exists. 

Being a frequent consumer of published content, I'm no fan of invasive and privacy breaching pop up, pre roll and load time killing ads that's rampant across the web but with Brave effectively trying to get paid twice by blocking publishers' ad inventory, placing their own ads on top of them, and then having the cheek to offer a deal to cut them in is, for the lack of a better word, criminal genius. 

Ad blocking, as of yet, isn't illegal but breathtaking gall like this is begging to be regulated out of existence. However, Publishers, outside of banning readers using ad blocking apps and sending cease and desist lettersdon't really have an answer to counter ad blockers and may have to take deals offered by ad blocking firms who are sure to follow Brave's audacious lead.     

All this doesn't bode well for publishers who are more dependent than most on the digital ad market for revenue and have no real power to stop advertisers making the ads their readers hate. Publishers in the end are only one route available to advertisers in reaching audiences for their products and services and while publishers aren't able to stop their inventory from being blocked is unfortunate, there are other options for advertisers to explore with larger audiences. 

Publishers aren’t the only ones bothered by the growth as ad blocking is also a threat to Google, who just as dependent on the digital ad market as publishers are. Ad blocking has been around for a while but with Apple's iOS 9 update last September supporting ad blockers which works as a rather cunning way of Apple "knife into Google's revenue platform"2     

Because of ad blocking, we may see publishers become increasingly reliant on non content producing social and search advertising firms like Facebook and Google who are in a much better position to tackle ad blockers and protect their large ad markets. This would be terrible news for advertisers as their options online narrow intensively Facebook and Google become the only game in town worth entertaining online. 

The only real card publishers have to play is to make the case to readers to pay for content but in an age where a generation has become accustomed to getting the majority of their content for free or dirt cheap, their case is likely to fall on deaf ears.  

In sum, publishers are almost certainly going to rebuff Brave's offer but as ad blocking continues to grow and  Facebook and Google increasingly use their dominance of social and search ad markets on desktops and smartphones to co-opt publishers for content, deals offered by ad blocker like Brave may start to look inciting. 

  1. J. McCarthy, 2016, Ex-Mozilla chief's adblocking extension Brave riles publishers, 
  2.  N. Patel, 2015, Welcome to hell: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web, 

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