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Straight Talk Media & Entertainment

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Apple’s decision to include ad-blocking Safari add-ons within iOS 9, launched this week, could significantly shake up the digital publishing market. Ad-blocking is already growing in appeal among mobile users, but Apple’s move threatens to accelerate its adoption and bring it into the mainstream.

This poses a real challenge for content publishers needing to grow their revenues from digital and mobile advertising. So what are they doing in response to the threat of losing a significant part of their potential audience? Judging from conversations Ovum has had with some publishers in the last few weeks, not a lot.

This may be a response to the industry “crying wolf” previously. Publishers have become so used to a climate of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that they fail to see a genuinely disruptive threat. However, even those that are keen to respond will find that there is no simple solution. Countering an active community of online ad-blockers is not a realistic option.

The practice of ad-blockers “whitelisting” companies with an approved ad strategy (i.e., allowing companies that pay them to be exempted from the block) is tantamount to blackmail. Yet, though their practices are unpalatable, they have a point.

Consumers – who are often happy to accept ads within other forms of media – are understandably unimpressed by a poor experience on the mobile web. Load times are slowed considerably by the inclusion of unwanted ads and tracker software, which also eat into the user’s precious data allowance.

In the longer term, digital advertising will succeed by adding value to the user experience, but at the moment that is rarely happening. Too little thought is given to how an ad works in context: witness Instagram’s bizarre decision last week to offer 30-second video ads in its stream, a reminder that many in the ad industry still do not really understand how mobile media works. And until that changes, the appeal of ad-blockers will only grow.

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