Commentary

Taking Aim At Ad Blocking, NYT Readies Ad-Free Digital Edition

The New York Times Co., along with most other major publishers, is taking ad blocking seriously—so seriously,  it’s preparing an ad-free digital edition in response to the sharp rise in this practice. Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson confirmed the plans on Monday in Cannes, where the global advertising industry meets annually to celebrate the best advertising and discuss other issues—like ad blocking.

As most readers of MediaPost newsletters know, ad blocking is one of the most serious threats to the industry—along with ad fraud (non-human traffic), viewability, and transparency issues (agency and third-party fees, media kickbacks, and related items that the Association of National Advertisers report cited recently).

More than one in five of the world's 1.9 billion smartphone users are blocking ads when browsing the Web on their devices, according to a report by analytics firm Priori Data and PageFair, which helps publishers come up with solutions to ad blocking. At least 419 million people are blocking ads on smartphones, up 90% between January 2015 and January 2016, according to the report. And there are now twice as many mobile ad blockers than desktop ad blockers, because more people are browing the Web on their phones. Research firm Ovum projects that publishers lost $24 billion in revenue globally in 2015 due to ad blocking.

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Meanwhile, the Times is developing an edition that allows users to opt out of advertising if they want to. The ad-free version will cost consumers more than a standard subscription, and rightly so. Thompson told the assembled audience at Cannes that readers need to learn “the journalism they enjoy costs real money and needs to be paid for.”  He didn’t disclose pricing for the new option.

Separately, Thompson told the audience that the Times’ T Brand Studio, its native advertising unit, will generate $60 million in revenue this year—revenue that presumably will help prop up the rest of the business.

Adblock Plus, one of the biggest ad blockers, lets ads from hundreds of companies pass through its filters if they meet its “acceptable ads” policy. Some of those companies pay to be included in the program. The Times and other publishers have tried this program and others to fight ad blocking. Thompson said that more than 40% of non-subscribers in a test agreed to “whitelist” the Times Web site—meaning that those readers let ads through their blockers when they were presented with a message about the need to pay for “high-quality content.”

Forbes has tried preventing users with ad-blocking software from accessing its site. It recently started allowing ad-blocking users to access Forbes.com if they register for a Forbes account—which means they have to offer personal information such as an email address or access to information from their Google or Facebook profiles.

Wired has tried asking readers outright to turn their ad blockers off, and The Wall Street Journal has begun doing this as well.

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