Online Publishers vs. Adblocking

How big is the problem?

Recently, several studies took on the task to show just how much damage the Adblocking phenomena does to publishers of online media. The damage is measured in revenue lost due to ads not being displayed and thus page impressions not being monetized. Business intelligence provider Ovum released two forecasts: in the worst-case scenario (with no adequate reaction to the Adblocking threat) publishers stand to lose 78.2bn USD until 2020. In a realistic scenario, in which publishers respond to the threat the expected losses will be 35.3bn USD. To a smiliar conclusion comes Juniper Research according to which publishers will lose 27bn USD within the next five years.

Who uses Adblocking Software?

According to data from comScore the people who use Adblocking software are not as diverse as one might think. Especially young males (18-24) stand out. They are 100% more likely to use Adblocking software than the average user. Females in the same age group still have a 42% higher likelihood. The comScore statistics become even more relevant, when you look at in what income segment Adblocking software is used the most. In the US, Adblocking is 27% more prevalent in the highest income segment compared to the average.

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Adblocking on the mobile web

In it’s 2016 Mobile Adblocking Report PageFair states that as of March 419M people are blocking ads on the mobile web. That is about 22% of the world’s smartphone users. Most of these users do that by way of adblocking browsers (that is browsers that come with a built-in Adblock software). Comparatively, only 4.9M users have downloaded in-app adblocking software, so mobile apps seem to be one of the last save havens for online advertising. This is supported by tech giants Google and Apple, who recently banned software blocking ads within apps.

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The industry fights back

While anti-adblocking measures are not yet commonplace, several publishers have started to fight back against adblocking. In March, the association of French online publishers GESTE started their anti-adblocking campaign. That entailed either preventing adblocking users from entering their sites altogether (Le Parisien, L’Équipe) or notifying them via pop-ups about the essential necessity of generating revenue through advertising (Le Monde). Other individual publishers around the world are implementing similar plans: Germany’s largest tabloid Bild-Zeitung denies access to users with active adblocking software and the New York Times has recently started experimenting with a hard lock-out.

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The anti-anti-adblock movement

In February, popular online magazine WIRED implemented their new anti-adblocking policy, locking out users with active adblock software, but offered content access for either white-listing their website (and in turn only showing “polite” ads) or paying a weekly subscription. But the adblocking community did not take that lying down. Instead, the so-called adblocker-blocker was released, intended to trick websites that require disabling your adblocker into thinking you have when you really haven’t. This adblocker-blocker is supposed to work against many popular anti-adblock measures and thus the technological arms race has begun.

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The technological arms race

To understand the arms race it is important to look at how popular Adblocking software actually works. Adblock and Adblock Plus (the two most popular adblockers by far) suppress the browser’s requests to load advertising content. That is accomplished by blocking all requests to known ad server URLs, which are compiled in so-called library files (for example, all URLs containing google.adsense will naturally be blocked). Merely masking or changing the request address of the adserver only ever works for a short period of time until adblock libraries are updated via open source platforms such as github.com. Currently, the best option to prevent this continuous to and fro is to separate the ad serving framework from the content delivery framework. But only very few anti-adblocking software providers have yet developed a solution that reliably works and has no unreasonable setup requirements.

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So what is being done about it?

Option A: Preventing users with adblocking software from entering the website. Publishers hope to convince users to either disable their adblocker or to pay the subscription fee in exchange for ad-free access. But this option is a double-edged sword, since publishers effectively gamble their users for revenue. This is a naturally a far greater problem for small and mid-sized publishing houses.

Option B: Pay adblocking software companies for whitelisting ads. This is only relevant for the advertiser side and comes with the requirement of a huge up-front investment that effectively magnifies advertising costs. On top of that, there are several different adblocking software companies so white-listing with one of them gets you only one piece of the pie.

Option C: Resort to ad types that cannot so easily be blocked like the so-called native ads. These seem like an ideal solution on first glance, but come with the draw-back that they are not nearly as lucrative and scalable as regular and premium ads.

Conclusion: There are definitely ways to combat adblocking, but the options are either costly or risky and even more so for small to mid-sized publishers and advertisers.

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How ATG handles the issue

In order to combat adblocking without making the mistakes of existing anti-adblock strategies ATG Ad Tech Group has developed a different approach. It allows to selectively lock content elements (instead of the whole website) for adblocking users and displays a message to deactivate their adblocker. Once that is done the content is instantly accessible (no page reload required). What makes ATG’s solution different is that it is not circumventable due to the fact that content access requires the unlock key from both the ad server and the web server. And that key is only granted after a complete ad view. Thus, ATG’s approach also prevents a drawn-out arms race with adblock software providers.

More information on the ATG Adblock Prevention