Ad blocking is every publisher's problem now

The conventional wisdom around ad blocking was that it was a problem exclusively for sites covering topics like technology and video games, or those in European markets. Think again. Ad blocking is quickly becoming a widespread and difficult-to-solve problem across global publishing.

The global ad-blocking user base has ballooned to 144 million monthly active users, according to a recent report from Adobe and PageFair, which measures ad-blocking rates. That number more than doubled in 2013 alone. Along with that expansion in the user base, the types of sites hit hard are also metastasizing. While ad-blocking rates are highest among video game (30-50 percent) and technology (25 percent) sites, the rates among publishers in business news (15-20 percent), entertainment (15 percent) and sports news (10-15 percent) are also on the rise, according to PageFair.

Consider CBS Interactive, whose portfolio of sites across technology, sports and general interest make it a bellwether for the larger trends facing the industry. While ad-blocking rates hover around 5 percent on CBS Sports, they reach as high as 30 percent on some of its gaming sites, according to CBS Interactive chief revenue officer David Morris. “Whether it’s 5 or 30 percent, we’re still losing those impressions. Even the small losses add up,” he said.

There’s another factor driving the rise: millennials. The largest generation is also the most digital-savvy, which has created a perfect storm for publishers, particularly those targeting young men.

“These readers are our future, so once they get used to using ad blockers, it’s going to become a larger issue, not a smaller one,” Morris said.

Even more worrying, the difficult economics of the publishing industry means the problem is likely to get even worse. Many publishers have opted to forgo user experience in favor of short-term monetization. Look no further than how many sites have chosen “welcome ads” to interrupt visitors from social media clicks, or the new vogue for autoplay video within content.

“You can anecdotally survey people in the 15-25 year-old range to get an immediate sense of how aware they are of ad block,” said PageFair CEO Sean Blanchfield. He said that the combination of word-of-mouth endorsements and the ease of installing ad-blocking software in browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox is fueling the rise in usage.

To be sure, ad-blocking is the biggest problem for sites like video game publishers, whose audiences are dominated by highly technical readers more likely to be enraged by advertising. Video game site Destructoid, for example, said in 2013 that half its readers were running ad-blocking software.

The problem is more pronounced in Europe, where publishers in Austria and Germany see ad-blocking rates top 20 percent. Many publishers, including U.K.’s ITV and Channel 4, have fought back by blocking ad-block users from watching their videos.

One solution is to lean more heavily on a sponsor-content model that will see native ad placements blocked but not the content itself. Of course, that means advertisers need to create content people opt to consume.

“Ad blocking is up because millennials are patently rejecting interruptive advertising,” said Mic CEO Chris Altchek. That’s why we partner with advertisers to create meaningful stories that users seek out instead of go out of their way to block.”