Apple’s New Ad Blocking Could Hit Pubs’ Bottom Line

This post originally appeared on NetNewsCheck.com

Making decent money from one’s mobile properties represents an opportunity, but it comes with its share of well-documented challenges: poor ad formats, less advertising real estate and a lack of audience data. If it wasn’t hard enough already, Apple quietly extended a middle finger to publishers at its June WWDC conference.

Buried in its announcements and documentation lives this statement: “The new Safari release brings Content Blocking Safari Extensions to iOS. Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups and other content.”

Browser plugins and extensions have been around for years (check out all of the available Chrome extensions). Apple initially launched App Extensions in 2014 for social sharing, photo editing and more. The Content Block App Extension is a new feature for iOS 9 that will allow developers to build ad blocking software for the mobile Web viewing experience on the Safari browser. It can be used to block any type of content on a Safari mobile Web page: banner ads, style sheets, popups, fonts, files or cookies.

Its primary purpose will likely be to block advertisements. Additionally, if a publisher relies on cookies for paywall metering, having those cookies blocked may render a responsive design website’s paywall impotent, and that immediately translates to less mobile revenue.

This feature is not live in the market today, but will be soon. Apple releases new operating system versions every fall, well in advance of the holiday shopping season. And this also affects only mobile Web viewing from Safari, not natively built apps.

Ad blocking technology is nothing new. According to a September 2014 joint study by PageFair and Adobe, the use of ad blocking software grew 70% from 2013 to 2014, now reaching 144 million worldwide users. Its rising popularity represents consumer backlash to obtrusive ads that interrupt a reader’s experience and slow performance of their machines.

This new iOS feature will undoubtedly impact mobile Web advertising revenue, but no one yet knows how small or large that impact will be. That said, to attempt a reasonable estimate, begin with simple math.

If iOS users represent approximately 50% of a site’s mobile traffic, and traffic to a responsive design or mobile Web site accounts for 50% of that, that’s in the neighborhood of 25% of one’s audience population that may be impacted by Content Blocking. If half of one’s audience adopts ad blocking software in the next five years, which is reasonably possible, that translates to a 10%-12% cut in mobile advertising revenue.  

(A side note is that Google appears to be slightly less supportive of ad blocking, given that’s how it still makes the majority of its money despite the rapid growth in usage of AdBlock Plus in Chrome.)

If this bears out, and mobile ad blocking takes off just as desktop website ad blocking currently has, publishers will aggressively drive users back to native mobile apps, where ad blocking doesn’t exist. There’s hope for this strategy due to two factors. The first is the rise of deep or universal linking. This allows any link to point directly to content within an app, rather than a mobile website.

The second is that app users are more loyal users. Historical data proved this out, with the typical app visitor logging 50-70 page views per month, with mobile Web users accounting for only 9-12 page views per month.

This will also force faster adoption of ad formats arguably better suited for mobile: native advertising, sponsored content or saving promotions or coupons to a smartphone’s wallet. We can also expect to see more focus on proving the efficacy of advertising by means of viewability and attribution.

Apple’s rationale and its heart are probably in the right place. It’s looking to protect the end user experience. Unfortunately, it may be punishing the 95% that behave appropriately for the sake of the 5% that don’t. The new behaviors are ultimately good for the long-term, but those not planning ahead will feel the squeeze

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