So: ad blocking.
It’s been regarded as another nail in the coffin for publishers and media sites. As mobile gains dominance in how users view content, the rise of ad blocking for mobile devices has publishers concerned.
What exactly is ad blocking? Ad blocking includes plug-ins for browsers that allow users — especially mobile users — to block display ads in content. Depending on the source of the statistics, up to 1 in 5 users has ad blocking enabled on their browser and/or mobile device.
Ad blocking is a tactical move by some platforms
On Sept. 16, 2015, Apple released iOS 9, which enables users of iPad and iPhone to disable ads, claiming the capability improves the overall user experience. Ad blocker apps are now available in the Apple Store. The move is regarded as a competitive assault against Google and means of pushing publishers to iOS 9’s new iNews app. The news app, of course, does not have ad blocking for the ads that are served within the app.
There is also near monopoly on the ad platforms used by publishers. Pew reveals in its “State of the News Media 2015” report that last year AOL, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo, “generated 61 percent of total domestic digital ad revenue”; U.S.-only data. These five serve up most of the ads supporting the majority of content publishers. Apple’s new iNews app (part of its iPhone OS) is its entry into ad revenues.
Facebook, as an app-based experience, owns its ad engine and thus, controls all advertising within the app. Ad blockers will not work within an app, in other words. Interestingly, Facebook is also making a significant move to own content distribution for publishers. National Geographic may be among the first to test the new content hosting (NG was recently bought by Rupert Murdoch). While the content hosting may increase audiences for publishers, the publisher will no longer own the customer data and relationship, and will be sharing ad revenues with Facebook. All at a time when publications and news media are struggling to stay afloat — even more so with the threat of ad blockers. You may have seen signs of this with pop-up messages from publishers like Wired asking users to please not block ads on their site if they appreciate the value of the content offered. This is not a new trend. Publishers have been struggling — even without ad blockers — to survive amidst a large millennial market that believes all content should be free and ads are an unnecessary inconvenience.
In mid-August 2015, in conjunction with Adobe, PageFair released its annual ad-blocking report, estimating that blockers would cost publishers $21.8 billion in revenue.
Which is a remarkable figure when you consider that mobile web content accounts for just 3 percent of time spent on mobile devices—5 percent in United Kingdom, comScore finds. Social and entertainment, which are more likely consumed in apps, are the primary mobile experience. 29 percent and 21 percent respectively for the U.S.
The caveat with this statistic is that much of the time spent in social apps is viewing links to mobile web content. Meaning, the apps are a gateway to the mobile web. Some sources say Facebook accounts for nearly half the traffic to web content with users clicking on web content links shared within the app. Search and social represent the two primary drivers to mobile web content.
The rise of mobile ad spend may be impacted, or at least shifted to apps and platforms that don’t allow ad blocking
eMarketer predicts that mobile will account for more than 50 percent of spending this year, surpassing the desktop. Purchasing habits already are changing. In the United Kingdom, for example, about one-third of retail ecommerce sales will be made on smartphones and tablets this year, the analytics firm reports.
Ironically, ecommerce sites for major retailers are being torpedoed by iPhone ad-blockers, with content missing, including broken links, broken product recommendations, and non-functioning shopping carts. Expect to encounter pop-ups on ecommerce site advising users to allow ads in order to be able to shop effectively.
What this means for media and paid media
It’s a good time to evaluate options for native content, search marketing and branded content and in-app content. Social media app placements such as Facebook and Instagram are safe from impact. Personalization such as retargeting, recommended products and sponsored product positioning on sites, as explained in the mobile ecommerce site issue above, can be at risk from ad blockers especially those on blocked ad platforms.
Brands, especially publishers, may have to be more transparent and offer a compelling reason for users to allow ads in order to get access to good content. The operative word here is good content. Skift, a travel research company, emphasizes this aspect of the issue, explaining that ad blocking will likely only impact smaller publishers (especially ones that don’t have native ad placement or rely solely on ad platforms) or ones without compelling content.
This is also a great time to think about your owned channels and getting the most from them. Email and your own social and site content especially blogs as well as any content you can get published in media as native content are good areas to focus right now. These are trends already in motion, given the not-so-slow death of the banner ad.
Alternatively, or jointly, you could embrace the new platforms like Apple’s iAds similar to current retargeting on Facebook and rest assured that if you are funding Apple (or Facebook) that your display ads and retargeted messages won’t be blocked.