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Adblocking Policy Update

31 May 2016

On the 5th May BIMA attended a meeting at DCMS with John Whittingdale, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, to discuss the potential issues that AdBlocking is going to have on BIMAs membership companies. Whilst in its infancy, ad-blocking is quickly picking up pace and could pose a huge threat to all of our clients and revenue for our businesses.

Adblocking is a technology, which allows for the blocking of digital advertising before they are loaded by the web browser. It means that you are saving bandwidth and the page is rendered faster within your browser. In itself, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing. However, it has also been announced that companies such as Three UK are going to be trialling Adblocking at a carrier level. Using a technology called Shine they could block all advertising for it’s customers or potentially replace ads for ads they control. All of which raises some serious questions of legality under the EU’s net neutrality rules. Other networks are also discussing the idea of switching off advertising across their network.

In attendance at the meeting with BIMA were; News Media Association, Association of Online Publishers, IAB, ISBA, Advertising Association, Advertising Standards Authority, Professional Publishers Association, IPA PageFair, Google, Facebook, Viacom, Yahoo and Radium One.

The meeting, on behalf of our members, was largely to discuss; The current scale of ad blocking / The impact ad blocking has on the digital economy / Industry activity to address the issue / Why some people are supportive of the practice.

Earlier this year at the Oxford Media Convention, John Whittingdale said there was very serious need to educate consumers more on how most online content is funded (the value exchange), and that the whole advertising sector needed to be smarter. “If we can avoid the intrusive ads that consumers dislike, then I believe there should be a decrease in the use of ad-blockers” - Which BIMA fully supports.

PageFair presented their findings on the impact of AdBlocking, which is currently fairly small numbers (200m monthly adblock users globally - 41% YoY growth) but in the UK the base for AdBlocking appears to be growing at a higher rate (more like an 82% YoY growth). AdBlocking is currently mainly through browser extensions that consumers install.

In survey conducted by PageFair, 85% of people said they AdBlocked because of a bad user experience on sites with advertising, 17% cited privacy concerns and only 8% cited performance.

The main drivers of Adblocking are:

1. Viral - People install Adblocking after reading or hearing about it in the press.
2. Sticky - Once installed people leave it installed mainly because they forget they’ve done it.
3. Passive - All ads get blocked automatically, without any further notice to the user.

At the session there were three predicted outcomes the industry and consumers will face because of AdBlocking:

- Walled Gardens - Companies like Apple and Facebook will create content where they control the advertising within their own eco-system that AdBlockers can’t reach.

- Web Pay Per Read - Premium publishers will have to return to paywalls. Wired, as an example, have already reinstated a paywall because of the impact of AdBlocking on their online business.

- Adblocking will eliminate bad ads so that better advertising can flourish via new ad formats that cannot be blocked by the current suite of AdBlocking technologies.

At the meeting Steve Chester from the IAB UK delivered the concept of a charter that companies in the UK could sign up too to improve the quality of advertising in the digital space:

LEAN

Lightweight ad formats / file sizes
Encrypted
Ad Choices - all ads should support consumer OBA opt out
Non Invasive or disruptive. Ads should not interfere with the UX by covering content etc.

DEAL

Detect Adblocking
Explain the value exchange
Ask for changed behaviour in order to maintain an equitable exchange
Lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choice.

All of which we believe are fair and good steps forward for tackling, at an industry level, the threat of blocking, but also the quality of the content produced in the UK.

Let me finish by stating my point on this topic. Whilst the company I own and run is not in the advertising space and so not directly affected by the issue of Adblocking, the conversation worries me greatly. The thorny issue is moral one about decision making being taken out of the hands of the individual by companies like Three UK and technology like Shine. I am sure the best interest of customers is the main drive, I can’t help but feeling that taking that decision away from the customer also takes away their choice. What if an ad gets blocked from say, CALM or the Samaritans, which contains a phone number for someone at a time of crisis — The obvious reasons of poor adverts and bad experience are understandable, but blocking might come at what cost to a vulnerable member of our society?

Further Reading

http://mandmglobal.com/are-publishers-detecting-ad-block-users-breaking-the-law/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/04/23/anti_ad_blockers_face_legal_challenges/
http://www.threemediacentre.co.uk/news/2016/shine-announcement.aspx
http://chrismarsden.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/shine-but-not-rise-ad-blocking-and-net.html

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