What is the biggest challenge publishers are facing today on digital? The answer is revenues, handicapped by an industry created monster: Ad blocking. To give a perspective on how big the problem is: a recent study by IAB finds that the number of people using ad blockers has increased to 22 percent.
Ad blocking or installing software to remove the buggy ads that kill user reading experience is rapidly growing both on web and mobile. Ad blocking software is set to cost digital publishers almost £19 billion by 2020, a new report from Juniper Research reveals, with global ad block users rising 41 per cent year-on-year.
In India the problem has been perceived fairly young. In a recent conversation, Gyan Gupta, CEO DB Digital cautioned that even though it is small, it needs to be tackled right now before it becomes atrocious. “I think publishers are waking up to ad blocking. Partly it’s our doing as well, whereas we didn’t focus on user experience. We have taken this very seriously and revamped the site to make it user-friendlier.” He further added, “In India the % is still small, it is about 6-7%, so if we take corrective actions we can avoid that. Other than this there are many challenges we deal with, and as of now we are focusing to foster and grow the language ecosystem.”
Gyan isn’t wrong, Indian publishers need to wake up and start taking ad blocking seriously. According to a latest report by PageFair, at least 419 million people are blocking ads on smartphones. So far mobile considered to be a safe heaven is seeing twice as many as ad blockers than desktop.
The report further goes on to say that 22% of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users are blocking ads on the mobile web. Emerging markets which has seen proliferation of smartphones are the growing hunting grounds of ad blocking market. 36% of smartphone users in Asia-Pac are blocking ads on the mobile web.
According to the report, ad blocking browsers are attracting mass adoption in emerging markets. China leads the monthly active users by 159 million and India stands at 122 million, followed by Indonesia and Pakistan.
Going forward, mobile ad blocking is a serious threat to the future of media and journalism in emerging markets, where people are coming online for the first time via relatively expensive or slow mobile connections. As per the report within the Asia-Pacific region, 36% of smartphone users are blocking ads with an ad blocking browser. In March 2016, the Asia-Pacific region contained 55% of global smartphone users, but 93% of ad blocking browser usage.
Pagefair has also identified 45 different ad blocking browsers available for download on iOS and Android. Alibaba-owned UC Browser (in its many versions) has more users than all other forms of ad blocking combined. The flagship mobile browser of UCWeb over the last couple of years has become No.2 mobile browser in the world and has consolidated its position as the No. 1 mobile browser in three most populous countries of Asia – China, India and Indonesia.
Recently, the company overtook Chrome to claim the top spot in Asia (as per StatCounter), at over 33 percent market share.
The growing adoption of mobile ad blockers is rational in emerging countries of Asia were the data costs are high. These ad blocking browsers not only make the reading experience better by removing all kind of irritating ads but also improve page speed and reduce bandwidth consumption on mobile. Publishers and advertisers will have to consider this growing mass behavior.
Adblocking browsers are also popular in Europe, twice as popular as in North America, with over 27 users per thousand smartphones.
Opt-in browser blocking has been also listed as one of the ways mobile browsers are now providing opt-in ad blocking functionality. For instance mobile browsers like Firefox, Opera Mini and Maxthon all support opt-in ad blocking functionality. The report estimates that 30 million Firefox for Android users are blocking ads and approximately 24 million Opera Mini and Maxthon users will enable ad blocking.
In the near future other browser vendors will be under pressure to provide such a feature to the user. As a result publishers will face more problems.
And if you hoped that advertising on Facebook and Instagram would be beyond the reach of adblocking, then these platforms are no more immune.
Last year Lighthouse Insights had spoken to leading publishers in the country and very few of them had a concrete road map on how they planned to tackle it. Shradha Sharma, Founder at YourStory thinks that this is an interesting challenge and therefore an interesting opportunity. “I think it’s time for branded content, native advertising to come of age in India. Hopefully, that way the long ailing challenge of CPM and CTR’s will lose that much of hold for advertisers. There will be a premium placed to quality content which can be branded by the advertisers. Of course, the wall of advertised content and editorial will have to be very clearly defined.”
The report ends with a prediction that is sure to send shivers down Indian publishers. The next billion internet users will come online via low bandwidth, relatively expensive mobile connections. With readily-available mobile ad blocking technologies, the next billion internet users may be invisible to digital marketers.”
Adblocking browsers will continue to grow wherever data costs are high, India is no exception.