Firstly, what is it?

iOS Ad-block is a new feature in iOS 9 that enables third party software/apps to block ads and other content from appearing on the mobile websites visited on Safari web browser. In Apple’s words, it’s “a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.” Simply put, if this feature is enabled on the device, and a user downloads an ad blocking app, publishers‘ and ad networks’ tracking scripts will not get delivered in Safari, and the ads will not be viewed. It’s important to note that this only affects web browsing on Safari (not Firefox or Chrome). This software also does not block ads that are displayed inside apps, where approximately 90% of time is spent on mobiles.

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Why would users employ ad-blocking software?

Aside from the obvious, the proposed benefits are that ad blocking software should reduce page loading times, reduce data consumption and improve battery life. There have been some claims going as far as saying that removing the ad-tracker javascript can reduce page loading times by as much as 80%, from 11 seconds to 2 seconds. However, a quick test from a few of us around the Mnet office in the last couple of days has not revealed a noticeable difference, and in our experience, the ad blocking apps could decrease battery life due to constant monitoring and script blocking.

What’s happening in the market?

In only a couple of days, there have been a number of ad-blocking apps including (but not limited to) Peace, Purify and Crystal. On Sept 18 however, the developer of Australia’s most popular paid ad-blocker ‘Peace’ actually pulled the product, citing concerns that the tool could hurt independent web publishers. In a blog post published on Saturday titled “Just doesn’t feel good”, Marco Arment, of New York, wrote that he was pulling his “Peace” app because he didn’t feel that it was his role to decide what content is blocked – and Apple are now issuing refunds to anyone who downloaded the app.

Who would we expect to adopt iOS ad blocking technology?

We expect two main groups, both to be relatively tech savvy and adopting for different reasons: 1. The higher-income, early adopter crowd is a prime candidate, as they are more likely hear about the benefits amongst peers, purchase and take the time to implement them; and 2. To a lesser extent, those with low data caps could see this as a way to extend their data usage on their phones because the ad/content blockers have the ability to reduce the data transfer of a page load.

Potential winners?

The bigger tech companies (especially social networks) could benefit, as they can deliver ads with sufficient targeting without relying on ad network trackers. For example: Facebook’s Instant Articles and the new Apple News Apps (which is yet to launch in Australia).

Potential losers?

Publishers who rely on ad revenue are likely to feel the biggest losses. Many feel that users will now be “stealing” their content if ad blockers are employed. This could either make some publishers’ existence a challenge or possibly force them into a pay-wall direction.

What’s the real impact of mobile advertising in Australia?

Ad blocking software is not new, however the inclusion by iOS is making it more accessible for users. Ad blockers have been available on desktop and Android devices for years. According to Kantor worldpanel data, iOS market share in Australia is approximately 35%. Adobe’s latest estimates are that up to 18% of internet users in Australia have used some form of ad blocking software in the past 12 months. Looking at these stats, we estimate that less than 5% of the Australian population is likely to use ad blocking software on iOS. Considering <20% of users’ time spent on mobile media is through mobile apps, we do not believe that there will be a significant impact on mobile audiences and advertisers.

What’s the practical outcome?

There is a lot of discussion online about this new feature in iOS9 and we expect that Ad Blocking apps will continue to gain popularity amongst tech savvy users. However the large majority of the population won’t utilise ad blocking tech, nor will it hinder advertisers ability to connect with users on mobile devices. It also doesn’t mean that people who download the ad blocker app, will actually use it to its full capacity, or use it at all for that matter. (This goes back to the argument of how many people actually use the apps that they download.)

Mnet’s recommendations for advertisers:

  • Agencies and advertisers need to be smarter than ever to ensure that mobile ads are more sophisticated, eye-catching and engaging (rather than annoying and disruptive) than other digital ads. The new HTML5 specs encourage highly creative ads to be built with fast page loading in mind to ensure the best user experience.
  • If ads are relevant, targeted, contextual and engaging to users, most users actually don’t mind them
  • Work with ‘non-intrusive’ ad formats, so we don’t drive users to seek out an ad-blocking alternative
  • Continue to focus on in-app advertising which is unaffected by this technology and provides good returns for advertisers
  • Don’t panic and ‘just’ run in-app campaigns only. We optimise Mobile web inventory accordingly as required. We have a dedicated AdOps team monitoring campaign performance and can proactively advise on a solution if we believe there are any issues.
  • Look for more ways to integrate native advertising into plans; this can provide a great opportunity to connect with users in a truly immersive way with ‘real’ native integration in apps
  • Be rigorous with testing and serving highly targeted ads at the right time and with the right message on the mobile web