What’s this about?

The latest news about the iOS 9 update with ad blocking extensions has taken the publishers and advertisers by storm. This update which is scheduled for a release in September, 2015 has stirred up a huge debate on whether it’s the end of the world for publishers and advertisers whose revenue models are based on pushing advertisements on the mobile platform.

So, it is Apple versus Publishers & Advertisers? Or should we say – Apple versus Google?

(As you know, Google is the No. 1 digital advertising company on the internet and 90% of its substantial revenue comes from advertisements. Of course, we can foresee a good fight from Google!)

According to this iOS 9 update, users can choose to install ad blocking extensions from the App store to enjoy an advertisement free mobile browsing experience on Safari. However, ad blocking will not be the default setting for a user. Say, a user wants to block advertisements on the Safari browser, it will involve these following steps:

  1. Installing the ad blocking extensions from the app store
  2. Tuning the settings to include and exclude ads as per your preference

(This feature is also available for Safari on OS X)

What are the threats?

  • If it becomes popular on iOS, this trend of ad blocking will also reach the android platform.
  • Publishers & Advertisers will lose out on their revenue.

How big a threat are these ad blockers?

Ad Blockers are not a new thing when it comes to web browsing as popular ones like – AdBlock and Adblock Plus (ABP) already exist. There are many users who have been using these blockers in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, etc. But Apple’s official endorsement of ad blockers in the mobile space has caused a lot of discomfort amongst publishers as – Now the target audience is mostly on mobile. That’s where you have to catch them! As per statistics, maximum users use mobile phones to browse so it can really affect the publishers. More specifically, Safari happens to be one of the most popular mobile browsers in the US.

“Mobile Safari represents 52% of the mobile browsing market (and 14% of total web browsing). With support for ad block apps in iOS 9, we expect ad blocking on mobile Safari to trend towards the levels seen in the mobile version of Firefox [16%].” – Apple Insider

One of the first ad blockers developed for iOS 9 is Purify which is supposed to wipe out all sorts of irritating ads on all iOS devices.

  • A look at Purify – It will work as a native ad and tracking blocker for iOS 9
  • How Purify works?  Check out the video

Two kinds of opinions have emerged on this –

  • Ad blockers will cut down the revenues of the Publishers & Advertisers. As per some early reports, publishers are likely to lose $21,8 billion in 2015 and this figure might almost double to more than $41 billion by 2016.
  • Ad blockers will actually instigate the Publishers & Advertisers to a drive away from the traditional model (ad banner business) and raise the bar of their content. Also, move towards in app advertising to truly usher in the era of mobile first generation.  

Arguments for and against Ad Blockers –

  1. Users have control on what they want to see and what not.  Ad Blockers is for the benefit of the users. Ad blockers will save the data wastage for users who are annoyed with advertising pop ups eating into their time and money. Counter argument – Ad blockers are harsh on the phone memory (CPU/RAM hogging) and drain the battery – Causes performance issues for mobiles – That’s why they are unpopular amongst mobile users.
  2. How powerful the blocking will be is still uncertain – We need to wait and watch.

What are the possibilities ahead?

  • Publishers might be pushed to a state of greater dependence on third party platforms such as Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover, etc. These platforms may emerge as decision makers in terms of having an authority over what qualifies as ‘news’ according to their content radar. While big publishers may get past this block, it may not be the same case for small publishers and bloggers who lack a strong influence. So, in the worst case scenario, these small time publishers may be the worst hit lot.
  • Apple’s move may trigger a backlash – Apple may make too many enemies in the internet space and they might gang up against Apple by hampering its web experience- where certain sites are not compatible with Safari.
  • Make a case for advertisements – We need to remind the users that even though some advertisements could be annoying, they are actually serving a greater purpose which needs to be highlighted. Ads are paying the bills for of the content that is available for free. They ensure larger access to content for all internet users. So, shooting ads down also means that we are shutting some of our favourite websites down

What are the optimists saying?

Not everyone is panicking with Apple’s news. Surprisingly, there are quite a few interesting perspectives that have come up and they surely ring in the optimistic bell.

  • Although Apple’s move may enable it to consolidate its position in the market, it  may not necessarily be an impediment for publishers and advertisers. In fact, Apple might be giving a big push to the idea of an app-first economy by driving traffic towards its iOS certified apps and prompting the publishers to follow its lead.
  • This also means that Apple is instigating the Publishers & Advertisers to a drive away from the traditional model (ad banner business) so as to raise the bar of their content. Also, move towards in app advertising to truly usher  in the era of mobile app generation.  
  • In-app advertising will thrive: This may actually be good news for the mobile-first companies as it this ad blocking trend becomes popular, it may actually set off a shift in the inventory from mobile web on iOS to an in-app scenario. That is, mobile web inventory will go down and it will lead to an increase in the value of in-app inventory.
  • Now, advertisers may start banking more on the idea of switching towards in-app advertising.
  • This move might indicate a greater bent towards native advertising as it is  non intrusive in nature and ad blockers cannot really “block” these placements.
  • The effective cost of media buys should ideally go up as supply will now be restricted to only the ‘interested users who don’t want to block ads’.
  • Another obvious route that can be adopted by publishers and advertisers is to get their ads white-listed while they buy the time to come up with some innovative strategies.

Publishers can actually take a leaf out of Facebook’s approach of creating its own app ecosystem, while dealing with this situation.

This is definitely a speculative piece as it is too soon to draw conclusions at this point. It will be interesting to make some thorough observations after Apple launches its iOS 9 update. In the mean time, Publishers and Advertisers need to monitor their business statistics quite carefully. The real picture can only be certain after analyzing the situation post the iOS 9 launch and examining its impact on the publishers.


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