Perhaps you’ve heard about Brave, the new Web browser that works both as an ad blocker and as a competitive ad seller? The one that about 1,200 newspapers complained about recently, with thinly veiled threats of lawsuits? We decided to check it out. If this catches on, it’s a true game-changer.
Brave Software and its browser was developed by a player in this space, Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla, and it has already gotten a lot of publicity. So we downloaded it. First, let’s note that this was the fastest download we can ever recall for a browser. It took about one minute. Once we did download it, it began ad blocking immediately. Moreover, it didn’t start generating all those “do you want Brave as your default browser” messages one would expect from, say, Google Chrome. It co-existed nicely with Firefox, which of course was developed by Mozilla.
Using Brave, we went to YouTube first because many who use ad blockers cite an ad-free YouTube as a primary reason they downloaded the software. Sure enough, it was ad-free. We next went to the Fox News home page and, in place of the ads one would normally see, a link appears, “Faster, safer ads coming soon to this space … Click to learn more about how Brave will support site owners, publishers and even users.”
When we did this, we learned that “Brave’s goal is to speed up the Web, stop bad ads and pay publishers. One of the ways we plan to accomplish this is with ad replacements. We will also invite users to fund their wallets and to use those funds to pay the publishers of their favorite Web sites.”
Brave has a concept called “Brave Ads,” which supposedly don’t slow down your browser the way “bad ads” do (ads that the online media get paid for). We are further informed, “Brave will pay users 15% of gross ad revenue. This is the same amount of money that we make from those ads (the rest goes to publishers and ad content partners.) And if you are feeling generous, you may route your earnings back to the sites you browse, and even add more through the use of a Brave wallet, administered through BitGo. In exchange for your generosity, we will block all of the ads on the sites you choose to pay.”
We also clicked on the Web site of New York Times, one of the signatories of that irate letter, and it became remarkably ad-free. We have to admit, as a user, the browser worked great and the absence of ads was startling, but the chutzpah of this is breathtaking.
First, who decides what ads are “bad” and what are not? Sure, some ads slow down your browser. But they are the only way most publishers get paid. This concept of having the users pay for the content seems ludicrous. Supposedly, users are going to create online “wallets” to pay publishers? You can take that to the bank.
We tried to contact Brave, but they seem to have clammed up since publishers started pushing back. But we don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.
This is, as MediaPost editor Joe Mandese put it in January, an “existential threat” to programmatic and online advertising for the following reasons. 1.) Installing Brave is even easier than downloading regular ad-blocking software. 2.) Its founder is a savvy industry vet who knows how to generate traffic online. 3.) Though it’s not totally groundbreaking, it’s the first time a major online company has tried a concept like this, and it can only end in litigation.
Until it does, it could harm online advertising. It’s seductive and powerful.
We don't have a problem saying we were impressed with the Brave product. It’s a sleek, fast, easy-to-use browser that delivers, at least at the moment, an ad-free Internet. For your average college student, infused with anti-corporate propaganda, why not download it?
Try to imagine this, though, in other media environments. Suppose, for example, that cable operators, who do grab some local ad time from cable networks, decided to take all the ad inventory. Of course, cable networks would retaliate. They could take their channels off a cable operator’s wires. But how can they withhold their Web sites from a browser? This apparently will be for courts to decide.