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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.

Countermeasures

There is no historical model publishers can look to in dealing with these issues, says Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a former FCC commissioner who is now a senior fellow and director at the Center for the Economics of the Internet at the Hudson Institute. "In the traditional media markets, the publishers deal with a finite number of content providers. On the Internet you have essentially an infinite number of places to go," he says. If publishers push users with ad blockers too hard, those users -- and their friends -- will just go somewhere else. And with so many choices, he says, users don't care if a publisher goes out of business.

That said, there are in fact companies that say they can help publishers with ad blocking issues.

For example, PageFair offers a free JavaScript program that, when inserted into a Web page, monitors ad blocking activity. CEO Sean Blanchfield says he developed the monitoring tool after he noticed a problem on his own multiplayer gaming site. PageFair collects statistics on ad blocking activity, identifies which users are blocking ads and can display an appeal to users to add the publisher's website to their ad-blocking tool's personal whitelist. But Blanchfield acknowledges that the user appeal approach hasn't been very effective.

ClarityRay takes a more active role. Like PageFair, it provides a tool that lets publishers monitor blocking activity to show them that they have a problem -- and then sells them a remedy. ClarityRay offers a service that CEO Ido Yablonka says fools ad blockers into allowing ads through. "Ad blockers try to make a distinction between content elements and advertorial elements. We make that distinction impossible," he says.

His customers declined to be identified on the record, but sites given to Computerworld to try did continue to display ads with AdBlock or Adblock Plus running, and a former executive at one publisher -- the Alexa top 100 firm -- says the business has used the service to recapture about $2.5 million in blocked ad impressions annually.

But that doesn't work for all publishers. Destructoid.com's Gonzalez isn't comfortable using a service such as ClarityRay that's designed to defeat ad blocking. "Fighting the people who want to block us is a quick way to lose those readers," he says. "So a product like ClarityRay, for us, would be a last resort."

As one would expect, Yablonka is a vocal advocate for the publishers who are his potential customers. "Content owners should have final control over the page," he says. But while he sees his service as helping recapture revenues, he acknowledges that his business model, which takes a cut of recaptured ad revenues, benefits from the "malfeasance" of ad blockers. So, he says, ClarityRay is moving away from fixed CPM (cost per impression) model "so we don't have a vested interest in seeing the problem become bigger."

 

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