The widespread use of ad-blockers, said to be much higher amongst the under 35s, is threatening both traditional online news providers and their new all-digital rivals. Also, the number of people willing to pay for online news is very low – under 10% in the English-speaking world.
The contract between consumers and online publishers – you get free news and we show you ads – is under pressure. A quarter of consumers in the USA and Germany use ad-blocking. In France the figure is 30%, and in the UK it is 21%. Ad-blocking on mobile devices is lower but the Reuters Institute believes that it is likely to rise. Publishers are resorting to other strategies, like the use of branded content. Often outsourced to organisations like Taboola and Outbrain, this mimics regular news and so avoids ad-blocking. The issue is acute for traditional news organisations mainly because the Internet has reduced barriers to entry to the industry. Publishers have responded by paying more attention to branding their online platforms as sources of reliable news and, either charging for access to them or requiring users to create a free account. This helps them capture consumer information that, in turn, helps them sell online advertising.
What does the future hold? Getting around ad-blockers is a big challenge for news organisations. Ad-blockers are a consumer response to ads that are annoying and irrelevant – or, rather, annoying because they are irrelevant. But if consumers wish to continue to enjoy free news then they will need to be persuaded to provide more data about themselves. Otherwise they will continue to see advertising that offers irrelevant ads at inappropriate times. Consumers are likely to be offered the opportunity to give news platforms more access to their online shopping preferences, purchase history, and even opinions. In turn news providers will need to ensure that targeted advertising designed on the back of this data really is relevant to consumers. They will also need to reassure consumers that their data is safe and will not be sold to less scrupulous third-parties.