Ad Blocking: How Big is the Problem and What Can Publishers Do about It?

Ad Blocking: How Big is the Problem and What Can Publishers Do about It?

As Published in VideoLink.

Publishers of online media all suffer from the same headache: ad-blocking programs.  While the statistics vary regarding just how many people worldwide are using ad blockers (though percentages consistently remain in the double digits), surveys are consistent as to why ad blockers are popular – and growing in demand.  

With ad-blockers gaining ground and making it increasingly easy for consumers to install browser plug-ins that eliminate online ads, publishers keep taking a collective hit to their revenue. Sources forecast that estimated revenue loss due to ads that are not displayed and page impressions that are not monetized will reach between $25-$35 billion USD by 2020.  

Who Installs Ad Blockers and Why?

Regardless of what country, age group, gender and income level ad-block users represent, they all have one thing in common: they don’t want to see online ads. This begs the real question of why not.  According to industry research, consumers complain about exposure to too many video ads as the main factor driving them to install ad blockers, followed by seeing the same ad repeatedly. Additional reasons are privacy – they don’t want ads tracking their online reading habits – and speed of site performance.

The types of video ads that users consider the most intrusive and consequently lead them to install ad blockers are pre-rolls. According to a November 2015 survey (Source) conducted by video monetization platform, 55% of those surveyed who use an ad blocker on their desktop ranked pre-rolls as the video format that was most irritating to them. This compared with 25% who ranked native video ad format.  On mobile devices, the figures were a respective 52% and 23%, reports

Ad Blocking on Mobile

How big an impact do ad-blocking programs have on the mobile platform? Again, statistics often vary due to methods, approaches and the motivation of those conducting the research, but according to ad-blocking solutions provider PageFair (Source), as of March 2016, 419 million people block ads on the mobile web by using ad-blocking browsers, which come with an integrated ad-block software. This compares with double the amount of users who are blocking ads on desktop and only 4.9 million users who have downloaded in-app ad-blocking software.

These numbers suggest that ad blocking is mostly confined to desktop use. Google and Apple reportedly recently banned software that blocks ads within apps, which is something publishers should consider if they have apps and the means and technology to do so.

What Can Publishers Do to Fight Back?

The ad-tech industry is finding ways to fight back.  Today’s anti-ad-blocking start-ups and technology all aim to help publishers stand up to ad blockers and find alternatives for lost ad revenue because of these programs.  

Several publishers have started denying site access to visitors who have their ad blockers turned on. Others have tried reaching out to users with pop-ups, explaining the necessity of advertising to generate revenue and asking them to disable their ad blockers in exchange for fewer ads. Many publishers have introduced a weekly or monthly subscription rate in exchange for access to ad-free or ad-light content.

Some publishers have opted for working with ad blockers on whitelisting various ads on their website. However, this option has its downside. With the number of different ad-blocking companies out there today, working with one doesn’t mean your ads are safe from the others. This option is either too pricey or not effective for most publishers.

Native advertising units seem to be the route publishers are turning toward, as they are less detectable to ad blockers than other ad formats and therefore not as easily blocked. However, they are not as scalable as regular ads. They also require a certain level of knowhow that publishers may not have.

Then there’s the strategy of desktop websites switching to https, which is a form of encryption that has the potential to improve the user experience. The better the user experience, the less likely people will want to install ad blockers. The https protocol is designed to prevent content tampering and tracking or spying on what users are reading or the sites they are surfing.

Regarding ads, https requires that the ad networks also serve their ads over https. A few media companies, like The Washington Post and TechDirt, have already switched to https. However, according to Google, such a switch will be too difficult for large publishers since a lot of their content and advertising originates from third parties, and they are responsible for making sure it’s delivered securely. It’s also a challenge for publishers’ technology resources, which are already limited.  

The Battle Isn’t Over Yet

As hard a fight as publishers are putting up trying to find ways to stand up to ad-blocking programs, ad blockers remain on their toes by keeping ahead of the coding race. Case in point: New “ad-blocker-blocker” technology makes websites that require users to turn off their ad blockers believe they have, even though they haven’t. Publishers are persevering in their search for options, especially considering the risks involved. The battle isn’t over yet.  


Udi Jacobi is a seasoned digital media executive with over 20 years of experience in the internet and mobile space. His expertise spans over a broad range of industries, including ad tech, telecom, gaming and social networks, as well as marketing channels, including mobile, social media and online.

Throughout his career, Udi has maintained senior roles for worldwide brands such as Badoo and Comverse, where he was largely responsible for their development and growth. His skills in winning new business on an international level has attracted well-known brands such as Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and MTV, to name a few.

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