In a recent check, of the English language news websites that had banned adblock last year, it was only NDTV that did not display content to readers using adblock. Other websites, including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Indian Express, allowed readers using adblock to read content on the website without any warnings.
In July 2016 multiple Indian news websites railed against adblockers and stopped readers using adblockers on their websites from reading their content. In 2015, adblocking cost publishers $22 billion. As of March 2016, India had 122 million users, the second highest number of internet users, with adblock software installed on their browsers. The negative impact of adblocking drove India’s most read English language news websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Hindu, and NDTV to take a stand against adblocking. However, in the last few months this blanket ban on users employing adblock seems to have waned.
In the months that followed the war against adblockers, Adblock Plus, the primary adblocking software, launched a new service. The new offering replaces glaring ads with ‘acceptable ads’. The service created a list of acceptable ads and when a reader using adblock comes to a page, they are shown an acceptable replacement ad. Another solution that also arose in the past year was the adblocker-blocker-blocker. Indian readers resorted to all kinds of work-arounds to beat the ban with some readers saving the links to Pocket to read later.
Aggressive Adblock Plus software updates that beat the latest adblock-block seem to be keeping Indian news websites on their toes. When asked why the Indian Express website did not stop users with adblock from using the website, Sandeep Amar, Digital CEO, Indian Express, said, “This is a technological challenge. We need to update our code to keep pace with the changes that Adblock Plus makes.”
Speculating about why the adblock ban is no more strictly in effect, Manan Kotak, Digital Head at Chitralekha said, “Approximately 30% of the 419 million users who use adblockers worldwide are from India. The only reason that comes to my mind on why Indian news websites relaxed their ban on users with adblockers is a significant drop in traffic.”
Drop in revenue from advertising
Adblockers directly influence the revenue of news websites and make it hard for news websites to keep their content free for consumers. According to industry experts, adblocking has significantly impacted the digital marketing industry over the past couple of years. “It was estimated that adblocking had cost publishers globally nearly $22 billion in 2015 and the number grew rapidly in 2016. This has significantly led to a drop in the revenues generated through online sales. Many publishers rely on advertising revenue to survive, and if they are getting a progressively smaller number of saleable impressions and clicks from their adverts, they will be forced to make changes,” said Zafar Rais, CEO, MindShift Interactive.
Creating a clutter-free interface
The dissension towards the adblock ban was evident among users and Indian news websites have acted on offering a reading interface that is not cluttered with ads intruding upon the experience of reading news. Ads that auto-play video and banner ads that deployed upon opening a website were most disliked by users. Ads like those are fewer now.
Speaking to exchange4media, Anant Goenka, Head-New Media at Indian Express, said, “Ads are an integral part of a publisher’s business model and we are constantly innovating the ads. Brand solutions and native formats will be the future. At the same time, we never compromise with the UI, as an example we never run overlay ads on mobile, we also do UV frequency caps to make sure some ad or formats are not shown to the same user again and again.”
Pointing out that free content can only be made available at a cost – that cost being advertisements, Goenka said that it will be the priority of Indian Express to figure out a solution for its advertisers; a solution that will be of value to them.
Native advertising and subscription models - the way forward
Last year Wired had asked readers to either disable their adblockers or pay $1 subscription a week to view an ad-free version of the website. “I feel this is a fair stand. News websites have to find a way to sustain financially on their own - either through ads (including native ads) or through subscriptions. Only then can one continue to maintain quality of content and resources,” Kotak said. He added that websites must also be sensitive towards their followers and ensure that intrusive ads are avoided.
“Overall, publishers cannot avoid ads, but they can definitely ensure they are not very intrusive. Lot more emphasis can be given to native advertising,” said Kotak. He suggested that a subscription model for ad free experience can always be provided as an option but that in India only a fraction of users may be willing to go for that.
Goenka said, “We are currently happy with the audience growth on the digital platform and cannot imagine anything but offering free content. At the same time for our more evolved international audience we will try to experiment with a pay-wall.”