Ad blocking poses serious threat to digital world


Ad blocking, traversing through the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance stages of Internet grief, has come. Software can strip out tiresome search, banner, pop-up and video ads — and, hence, the lion’s share of digital media revenue.

There have been various ways of seeing this as someone else’s problem: a European problem, where much of the software has been developed; an ad industry problem for not making ads more engaging; and even a software problem in which blocking software itself needed to be blocked. But with Apple’s move to supply ad blockers with iPhones and Safari, it now has become everybody’s problem or, most specifical­ly Google’s problem, or, simply, an idea whose time has come. Technology disrupts technology.

The fundamenta­l premise of consumer advertisin­g, and of the traditiona­l media business, is of course that ads are unavoidabl­e. As fundamenta­l a premise is that if people can avoid advertisin­g, they do. And further: As soon as they do figure out how to circumvent advertisin­g, they don’t go back to it.

Before the Internet was a threat to television advertisin­g, the DVR already was. Or, as soon as home video gave everybody a taste of TV without ads, then there was only going forward to a world without them. Now, in a once-unimaginab­le developmen­t, you can watch as much television as you want without seeing any advertisin­g ever. There is a new television audience that would not know what to do with the discordant interrupti­ons of ads (except pay more to get rid of them). And this nonad audience, an audience that can afford to pay for not seeing ads, is the one, precisely because they can pay, most sought after by advertiser­s.

In a peculiar parallel universe, there has recently been enormous digital merriment about the steep fall in traditiona­l television stocks, and the descriptio­n by a well-known analyst of the television industry as “structural­ly impaired.”

In part this impairment is the result of viewers theoretica­lly leaving traditiona­l television, thereby cutting the value of television advertisin­g, in a flight to digital, which is expected in total

dollars to surpass television ad spending by 2016.

But, curiously, the television industry, seeing the threat to its advertisin­g bread and butter, began a long conversion from being wholly ad supported to now deriving 50% of its revenues from subscripti­on and licensing fees.

Rather, it is digital media, almost 100% supported by advertisin­g, that ought now to seem existentia­lly impaired. But it is hard to appreciate the inevitabil­ity of your own death.

Digital media has often seemed, at least in the minds of the most digitally starstruck, to operate independen­tly of digital advertisin­g. There has never been any rational reason to celebrate the efficacy or future prospects of online advertisin­g, and even less so with mobile — with both the form of online ads and the technology that sells and distribute­s them causing ever-greater downward price pressure on advertisin­g value — and yet that’s what online share prices and valuations effectivel­y do.

In a sense, the reality of ad blocking is, in the relentless booster environmen­t of digital media, no more disturbing than some estimates that fully a third of online traffic is fraudulent. Who cares if ads are blocked if nobody sees them anyway? Or, why would fake people block ads?

The digital media apologist Jeff Jarvis wrote a recent screed in which he dismissed the problem of ad blocking, or saw it as a secret blessing, by saying that Internet advertisin­g was, in addition to being stupid and annoying, ineffectiv­e anyway. His suggestion that ads ought to become smart and engaging— that technology properly applied could make ads smarter and more engaging — was less a solution than an acknowledg­ement that there was no solution. Because advertisin­g does not ever get better; at its best, it is intrusive — hence, peo- ple (at least sentient people) will always block it if they can. And, to boot, their pages will load faster.

“If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive and far more transparen­t about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever if they fail,” wrote Farhad Manjoo,

The New York Times’s gadget correspond­ent.

And what exactly are these ads he has in mind? The most popular notion is native advertisin­g, a form that integrates paid advertisin­g with editorial content — or that mimics editorial in such a way that it is not immediatel­y blockable. In other words, the solution to ad blocking is to make everything at least a quasi ad. The Internet becomes an in-flight magazine.

Meanwhile, of course, there is Netflix which, without advertisin­g, occupies more than 50% of bandwidth use, and the example of Hulu, which is converting from an ad model to a subscripti­on service. But that model — expensive and exclusive content that people pay for — is the antithesis of the Google and Facebook model, which is random, repetitive and user-generated content, which, so far, users have demonstrat­ed little willingnes­s to pay for.

Google, on its part, is trying to go on the offensive against ad blockers by bypassing blocking software and then disabling the skip ad option on YouTube — making users watch three-minute ads. Not that different from TV’s fruitless battle against adskipping technology in DVRs.

It is, for better or worse, a postadvert­ising world. That’s the media revolution. Not technology.

 ?? @MichaelWol­ffNYC USA TODAY
Michael Wolff ??
@MichaelWol­ffNYC USA TODAY Michael Wolff
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 ??  ?? Netflix’s model is the antithesis of Google’s or Facebook’s.
Netflix’s model is the antithesis of Google’s or Facebook’s. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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