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Ad blockers: A solution or a problem?

Robert L. Mitchell | Jan. 16, 2014
It's a cause. It's a curse. It's just business. Ad blockers take a bite out of the $20 billion digital advertising pie.

Who pays for blocked ads?

Who is left holding the bag when ads don't get delivered? It's almost always the publisher.

Unfortunately, publishers may not even know their ads are being blocked until they see a downward trend in advertising revenues and start comparing total ad impressions to page views.

With first-party ads - those sold and delivered directly by the publisher — the publisher loses money on every blocked ad impression. Advertisers have their own methods for independently verifying the number of impressions generated over the reporting period.

If the ad blocker prevents a third-party ad network from receiving a call to deliver an ad, the ad never gets delivered, it's not counted, and again, the publisher doesn't get paid.

One challenge for advertisers and publishers is that ad verification tools don't always account for blocked ad impressions, says Ido Yablonka, CEO at ClarityRay. Verification companies may track ads by embedding code within them -- or the verification code may be served separately. But if the ad blocker creates a situation where the ad server never receives a call for the ad, such as in the third-party ad network scenario described above, there may be nothing to track. The ad request is never made to the third party ad network, and no ad is delivered. From the ad networks' perspective it's like that visitor to the publisher's site never existed. They're not tracked, so publishers may not even know that they've lost the revenue.

There's another side effect, too, says Niero Gonzalez, publisher of the website Destructoid: "Ad blockers block our internal analytics, so we're being hindered in understanding what our readers find interesting."

(Google appears to be less comfortable with the encroachment of ad blockers in the mobile space, where ad revenues are skyrocketing, according to the IAB. Last March Google removed Adblock Plus from its Google Play store.)

"It would almost be malfeasance for them not to sign onto this," says Zaneis. "But what about the businesses that don't make billions of dollars a year?" Small publishers may lack the technology to know whether or not their ads are being blocked or to put up countermeasures, he says. Schumacher concedes that Adblock Plus needs to do a better job making publishers aware of the problem, as well as its solution.

Reddit, which (as previously mentioned) uses only a small amount of display advertising, was one of the first publishers approached by Adblock Plus and became an early participant in the Acceptable Ads program. "We never paid them, and we wouldn't do that if they did ask us," says Martin.

On the other hand, the former executive at the Alexa top-ranking site said an Adblock Plus representative told him he had to pay even though Adblock Plus agreed that the publisher's ads were acceptable and should not be blocked. "If we didn't pay they would continue to block us. To me it seems like extortion," he says.


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