The managers of large media groups I meet tell me that 15 to 35% of their audience blocks advertising, depriving them of considerable revenue. In fact, the number of users of ad blockers literally exploded recently, growing by over 69% in the last 12 months according to a recent report by PageFair, and this trend can only accelerate with the recent announcement from Apple that it will allow ad blockers on iPhones with iOS9. The stock prices of several ad tech stars tumbled following Apple's decision. And keep in mind that mobile traffic represents 50-70% of the audience of the major media sites.
In recent months, online media companies have been able to improve their P&L, thanks to new sources of income such as video advertising and ‘recommended’ links, despite the lower monetization of their mobile audiences. The rise of ad blockers is a serious threat, but an unexpected development is blurring their future even more. Facebook’s Instant Articles and the newly announced Apple News format are offering Internet users the ability to consume media content directly, without visiting the media companies’ sites nor their apps. Given the power of these two platforms, there is little doubt that much of the mobile media audience is likely to be absorbed. Media brands would no longer be associated with destination sites, only with content producers. The obvious risk is losing control of their advertising revenue sooner or later.
Faced with this tectonic change, the leaders of the biggest media companies are divided. Some have already announced their intention to play the game of Facebook and Apple, such as the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and more, while others ensure that they will never participate (I will not mention any names).
The main argument of Facebook or Apple for their content distribution services is the user experience. It is more comfortable for a Facebook user to read a Guardian article directly on Facebook, rather than clicking on an external link, and waiting until the news website page loads. This is especially true in the case of the many news sites that are displaying a big pop-up ad making it painful to access an article when you are navigating from Twitter or Facebook. While visits from social networks are opportunities to let new users discover and enjoy media content, they are too often subject to a deplorable welcome experience. The mistake is seeking to maximize the revenue per visit, when what really matters is the revenue throughout the "life cycle" of Internet users. Advertising must respect the user! Otherwise they will not come back.
If the media is to have a promising future, it will require the utmost attention to the quality of the user experience they offer. If the abuse continues, users will massively protect themselves against what they perceive as an advertising aggression and install more ad blockers. In fact, 74% of internet users say that being forced to watch an advertisement ruins their online experience, according to Censuswide Research. Brands and publishers should understand that forced ads have no value, it irritates the user, who very often do not even look at them. Thus, according to a report by TubeMogul for the first quarter of 2015, 66% of users leave the page in less than 2 seconds when exposed to a pre-roll video advertising (non-skippable), while they wanted to watch a video editorial content.
The future of media relies on advertising, but advertising can also kill them. It is in the best interests of both media companies and brands to rediscover the meaning of respect for consumers.