When I first conceived of this blog, quite a few months ago now, my sense of ad blocking as a phenomenon was that it was growing in popularity, but that it was under-covered journalistically, particularly among mainstream publications. I had my pet theories why this might be the case: the technical nature of the topic and a certain reticence among publishers to give attention to something they likely considered a financial threat.
Regardless of why they shied away in the past, that is emphatically not the case any longer. The topic of ad blocking has exploded, with a rising tenor in recent weeks leading to the veritable detonation in the last week with the release of iOS 9 with content blocking enabled.
There have been a few other previous upticks around ad blocking, all of which contributed I believe both to the depth and breadth of subsequent interest and mainstream coverage. Even prior to iOS 9, the lawsuit brought by German publishers against ad blocking company Eyeo produced a good deal of debate around the legalities and ethics of ad blocking. Soon thereafter, PageFair, a company selling ad blocking mitigation technology, release the report in conjunction with Adobe that trumpeted the rising uptake in adoption of ad blocking in recent months.
These previous items demonstrated that ad blocking was likely to be both widespread and tenacious, particularly on the platforms it existed on at that time, primarily desktop and Android. In other words the stage was quite well set even before the Apple content blocking shift occurred.
Beyond just ad blocking however, there has clearly been a notion that advertising’s place in the internet ecosphere is under threat. The ridiculously poor click-through rates seen in online ads is well known. Additionally, the continued growth in inventory puts downward price pressure on online advertising. Even more, the shift from desktop to mobile web consumption, with new challenges in screen real estate, bandwidth and processing power has made the effectiveness and value of online ads even more questionable.
On the consumer side, the popular attitude towards advertising has plummeted with each new revelation of of questionable tracking policies, precisely the element of online advertising usually presented as the key differentiating digital value, but in fact often proven far less effective than originally envisioned. And if that was not enough, the phenomenon of ads spreading malware, even on well respected and large advertising networks, has raised enraged many online consumers.
Apple’s entry into the debate has brought a great deal of attention to the issue for a variety of very clear reasons. First, the central place of Apple among tech journalist and commentators means that anything occurring in that realm is going to receive a very very large amount of attention. Of course, the dominant role iOS plays in North American mobile web traffic (and even more, web profits) means anything happening on the Apple system is going to have a large impact on the tech industry. And, the insight that Apple’s move towards ad blocking also helps push their own App ecosystem (by incentivizing publishers to focus efforts there) while also possibly damaging Google’s advertising based revenue streams, brings an element of corporate intrigue to the story that is catnip to tech business observers.
Fundamentally, the landscape for ad avoidance online is now radically different than just a few weeks ago, something I most certainly did not anticipate before starting this blog. Nonetheless, I find myself still completely enthralled by the story and look forward to following it closely, and in a way that is unique and hopefully sufficiently insightful to bring readers back. Instead of having to really search for the topic, though, the challenge is now to focus and winnow commentary on ad blocking and its effects. My next few posts will highlight the best analysis of the ad blocking explosion, and will explore where things are likely to head in the near future.
But don’t ask me to predict beyond that, my track record is not off to a great start in that respect!