The world’s digital consumers are voting with their browsers — there are now more than 408 million users of adblocking browsers. And here’s the really bad news for digital publishers in the Asia Pacific: 93 per cent of the world’s adblockers live here.
The reason may surprise you.
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According to the authors of PageFair’s “Adblocking Goes Mobile”report, “Adblocking browsers improve page speed and reduce bandwidth consumption on mobile. Accordingly, they are most rapidly adopted in markets where mobile data infrastructure is less developed and therefore slow and/or expensive relative to income.”
Bloated, invasive, unwanted advertising, it seems, is no way to find favour with consumers. Publishers ignore this trend at their peril.
The figures bear out the conclusion. China, India and Indonesia are the most popular geographies for adblocking, with the three countries reporting 319 million active adblocker browsers in March this year.
This latest study follows an analysis by Juniper released earlier this week, which found that by 2020 adblocking would cost publishers almost $US28 billion a year.
The PageFair study meabwhile, argues that developed markets in the US and Europe have not been as quick to take up mobile adblocking due to more affordable data costs. “Nonetheless,” they say, “high rates of desktop adblocking in western countries indicate an appetite for adblocking, which may easily shift to mobile unless advertising practices change.”
And the global expansion of the technology has not happened randomly. Rather, according to the study’s authors, “The rapid success of adblocking browsers appears to be the result of a well-executed global strategy combining country localisation with regional expansion offices.”
None of this is good news for the media sector.
The report suggests mobile adblocking 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.
Furthermore, usage in western economies is likely to grow as more manufacturers and browsers start to include adblocking as a feature, according to the report.
Among the key findings of the report:
- At least 419 million people are blocking ads on smartphones (this number excludes content blocking apps, in-app adblockers, and opt-in browser adblockers);
- There are twice as many mobile adblockers as desktop adblockers;
- Mobile adblocking is most popular in emerging markets, such as China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia;
- 36 per cent of smartphone users in Asia-Pacific are blocking ads on the mobile web;
- 22 per cent of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users are blocking ads on the mobile web;
- Adblocking browsers are the dominant method of mobile adblocking;
- In March 2016, 408 million people used an adblocking browser on their smartphones;
- Adblocking browser usage nearly doubled during 2015;
- Despite the hype, content blocking apps on iOS have had only 4.5 million downloads, making a limited contribution to adblocking usage globally;
- Mobile adblocking is less developed in North America and Europe;
- In March 2016 there were 14 million monthly active users of adblocker browsers in Europe and North America;
- In total, 4.9 million content blocking and in-app adblocking apps were downloaded from app stores in Europe and North America since September 2014.
And the kicker: this is no longer just about the mobile web. In-app ads can now be blocked.
Apps are available to block third-party ads in other apps, such as Spotify, Apple News or CNN. These apps also block ads in any installed browsers. One more thing: Facebook and Instagram are not immune.
The next billion users
The authors conclude with a warning. “The next billion Internet users will come online via low bandwidth, relatively expensive mobile connections. With readily-available mobile adblocking technologies, the next billion Internet users may be invisible to digital marketers.”
While local publishers like News Corporation Australia and UK publishers like Trinity Mirror continue to think they can get away with threatening to punish their customers, the message about improving customer experiences seems to be getting through at least in some quarters.
Reacting to the report, Stephan Loerke, CEO, World Federation of Advertisers said, “We have heard the message loud and clear: an increasing number of people aren’t satisfied with the online ad experience, and they’re voting with their feet. The ad industry needs to better understand what is driving them to opt for ad-blocking, and address the underlying issues head-on. Brand-owners are determined to take the lead.”
And Vincent Peyrègne, CEO, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, noted that with mobile now a major channel for news consumption and growing rapidly, adblocking constitutes a real threat to growth. “We as an industry knowingly allowed bloated ads to run amok on news sites, packed with enough tracking software to annoy readers ad nauseam, and causing a host of UX problems for users. We have to fix this.”
An Apple a day
In its report, Juniper said the threat to ad revenues was intensified by Apple’s inclusion of content-blocking software in iOS9. And it noted that publishers will soon face additional challenges from network operators. For instance operator Three has already announced plans to roll out adblocking at a network level to all of its customers, and Juniper said it expects more operators to follow suit.
Research author Sam Barker added: “Adoption is being driven by consumer concerns over mobile data usage and privacy. They are also incentivised to adopt the technology in order to reduce page load times.”
The researchers also noted that Acceptable Ad Initiatives (AAI) such as Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) program are being rolled out to increase trust in digital ads and discourage the use of adblockers. “Juniper argues that such initiatives are a positive thing, and vital to both publishers in maintaining revenues, and users receiving the content they demand.”