What Indian Online Publishers Think About Ad Blocking

Ad blocking is a global problem but yet to hit India. We speak to leading Indian online publishers to understand what they think about ad blocking

The online publishing industry is going through a sea change. One of them is the menace of ad-blocking for which the industry was never prepared while it took the reader for granted. Before the publishers and marketers could realize it, the reader became smarter throwing new challenges to the publisher in a mobile first world.

Ad-blocking is a way by which readers use softwares to block all the ads that kill their reading experience. These ads could be those banner ads that are bigger than the content, the video pop ups that come from nowhere and so on and so forth.

A recent report found that about 16 percent of users in the U.S. block ads. Globally, there are nearly 200 million people stopping ads, 181 million of whom are on the desktop. Almost $22 billion in global ad revenues has been blocked so far this year, representing about 14 percent of all global ad budgets, with the U.S.’s final figure for 2015 expected to be about $10.7 billion. Next year, the U.S. figure is projected to double, reports Marketing Land.

The entire debate on ad blocking gathered heat when Apple decided to include ad blocking capabilities for the mobile Safari browser. Within hours after iOS 9 came out on September 16, three ad blockers made it to the top 10 most popular paid apps for iPhone in the US market. The Peace ad blocker even took the number one spot.

Apple supports ad blocking as its motive is to hit Google’s revenue platform. Nilay Patel’s Welcome to hell: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web has more relevant details.

While publishers and marketers have been digging their own grave by chasing advertising dollars at the cost of reading experience, it is their bread and butter too. There are other revenue making options but all come with their limitations, so if readers are going to block all ads it’s a grave problem for publishers.

This has also led to the debate of good and bad ads. The recently concluded Advertising Week in New York became the hub of such discussions, where IAB went into retrospection and publisher education mode.

India which is still being called a rising nation on digital and with Internet penetration still very nascent, the problem is not yet hitting publishers but it will in the coming future. An ideal time to learn from the mistakes of the West and prepare for the coming challenges.

To understand what some of the leading online publishers in the country think about ad-blocking or ad filtering, Lighthouse Insights spoke to them over email. Here is an edited version of their thoughts:

Shradha Sharma, Founder, YourStory

It was bound to happen, sooner rather than later, before being a publisher or advertiser or anything else, we all our consumers of content, and we all like non intrusive, clean and clear reading experience. Its nothing else but the coming of age of consumers and putting central the requirements of consumers. We all have experienced it, too much advertisement, pop ups etc and you run away from that page.

As a publisher, this is an interesting challenge and therefore an interesting opportunity, I think its time for branded content, native advertising to come of age in India.

Anant Goenka, Head, New Media, Indian Express

Ad blocking is a little overstated as a problem in India but the trend is real. I think it’s very evident that platforms like Apple, Facebook, Google all want to have as much control as possible on the digital and advertising industry so the excuse of improved user experience is perfect for them to have more control on ad delivery and therefore pick up even more data.

They are smart, I’d do the same if I was one of them and as a colleague of mine in Whatsapp said recently, it’s delirious to think that we (the publishers) are in control here.

Vignesh Vellore, Co-Founder, The News Minute

Currently the ad blocking penetration into India is at 2% (4 million) and this number will grow rapidly. The advertising industry in India is not matured like how it is in the West. CPM rates are one of the lowest around the globe. This is the reason publishers are forced to have multiple running ads on their web pages which in turn ruins user experience.

I am hoping that before the ad blocking happens extensively, the Indian market will mature or start making changes from a publisher and advertisers perspective. If revenue from one or 2 small ads can compensate the big rolling ones which cover the entire page then a consumer may not mind that much. Basically if every publisher is able to provide a good user experience to every consumer then the need to install blocking software may not arise.

The biggest problem is a consumer may be unhappy with one or two particular sites which have too many ad’s and hence will install an ad blocker, so even if they are ok with the ad’s on your site you will be affected. Also once a consumer has installed an ad blocking software the chances of him/her uninstalling it is absolutely zero affecting all publishers.

By installing blocking software a consumer is limiting his/her ability to get access to good content, may not happen now but if publishers lose money then this may eventually happen.

Nikhil Pahwa, Founder, Medianama

Intrusive, in-your-face, advertising is what has led readers to this place. Reading is an increasingly uncomfortable experience on publisher websites, and there’s a difference between advertising that attracts readers away from the reading experience, and advertising that prevents.

However advertising for a publisher is commoditised to a level where it attaches little value to the quality of the content or the publisher’s brand. The rates have been ridiculously low, the payment cycles are too long, which means that in order to sustain, publishers end up trying to: 1. sell as much advertising as possible, 2. Increase the number of impressions served or clicks on links, and 3. Offer intrusive upgrades (some of them call them ‘innovations’) as a means of getting higher rates.

All in all, this is essentially the impact of the enormous scaling of content and audience that has taken place across platforms (not just publishers) which has led to an enormous scaling of supply of advertising inventory, which has brought prices down and commoditised the audience (i.e. you’re just a number).

Raju PP, Founder, TechPP

Ad blocking is a valid and genuine issue. Both the quantity and quality of ads are to be blamed for ad blocking to get so much prominence. Ad networks like Google adsense have mandated number of ads on a single web page to be a maximum of 3, but some publishers have been misusing the availability of multiple ad networks to shove ads into readers’ faces. But that shouldn’t mean ads are bad or advertising as a monetization model is bad.

On the contrary, I believe advertising helps publishers to remain neutral and objective (if they choose to). If ad blocking goes mainstream, there is a great threat that everyone goes the native advertising and sponsored posts way which is definitely not what readers want or deserve.

Arun Prabhudesai, Founder, Trak.in

Ad blocking is growing to an extent where web publisher’s businesses are in jeopardy. Over 98 percent of web publishers survive due to advertisements. If ads are blocked, publishers will either need to find alternate ways to monetise or close down.

And, alternatives are scary – publishers will be forced to use unethical promotional activities (like advertorials without disclosing or use ads that don’t look or behave like ads) to keep their chimneys burning.

Amit Bhiwani, Editor-in-chief, PhoneRadar

Ad-blocking is a debatable topic, but at the same time something that’s very important too. There are millions of advertisers who advertise their products & services on the Internet, the benefit of which is given to the website publishers who could monetize their inventory by showing these ads. Few websites showcase too many advertisements, making it hard for a general user to read the content, following which they end up using an ad-blocker that blocks advertisements on every website. There are certainly pro’s & con’s of this, though being a content creator the ad blockers are something we would hate, but they are useful at a few situations where malware stuffed advertisements are hosted on websites & users end up getting malwares or trojans on their websites.

That said, there has to be an equal responsibility by the content creators to ensure that they have limited number of advertisements & ensure that the users are still able to read or consume the content at an ease.