Sweden’s publishers are joining forces to simultaneously block ad-block users

Fed up with the accelerating growth in ad blockers, 90 percent of Sweden’s publishers (about 20) plan to collectively block the ad blockers during the month of August. The IAB Sweden, which is spearheading the effort, is also trying to improve advertising by standardizing formats.

The IAB started thinking about the initiative more than a year ago, when 20 percent of people blocked ads, said Charlotte Thür, CEO of the IAB Sweden. Now, that share has risen to more than 30 percent. “We thought it was a problem then,” she said. “Now we have to do something more powerful.”

During the test, people with blockers installed won’t be able to view content unless they disable their ad blocker. They’ll also be given the choice of paying small one-off payments to access the content (each publisher will set its own rate) or viewing the content at lower quality. Video content will run at fewer frames per second, and articles won’t be seen in their entirety, for example.

Unlike publishers in other countries, Swedish publishers are uninterested in taking legal action against ad blocking companies or paying to be whitelisted.

“We don’t believe in a cat-and-mouse game,” said Fredrik Strauss, head of programmatic at MittMedia, a leading news publisher in Sweden with 25 sites. About 20 percent of its readers block ads on desktop, dropping to 5 percent on mobile.

After the test, the IAB will share the results for other countries to learn from. But culture and size differences make it unlikely Sweden’s experiment could easily be replicated elsewhere. It’s a small market, and the publishers all know each other, which makes it easy for them to organize. “These types of initiatives tend to work better in Sweden, Norway, or Denmark than the U.K., France or Italy,” said Eleni Marouli, analyst at IHS Technology.

“Sweden has a strong socialist culture concerned with fairness, that’s not to say we don’t in Britain, but it’s stronger in Sweden” agreed Steve Chester, director of data and industry programs at the IAB U.K., pointing out that several years ago a Swedish company Magine was able to unite broadcasters so that TV content could be streamed on any device. “It will be a massive challenge for companies that compete fiercely for readership to unify,” he said.

Others say the initiative doesn’t take into account the reasons people block ads. “The initiative is not very user-centric, and it really feels like a short-term approach,” said Jeremy Noya, manager of digital trading at Dutch publisher Voetbal. “From a user point of view, ad blockers are the easiest way to keep out malware. What message are you sending as a publisher when that’s the main reason for using ad blockers?”

“Collectively frustrating your consumers who are clearly demonstrating there is a problem in the ecosystem doesn’t seem like a smart way out of this mess,” agreed Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next.

Thür remains convinced the IAB’s initiative will help educate consumers, though. “We’ll upset that core 10 percent group, who will undoubtedly find new technical solutions,” she said. “But if we can tackle that 20 percent, then that’s fantastic. We need to make people understand this is a democratic issue.”