Opinion: Ad blocking + telecoms = a match made at the bank

Stephan Beringer is CEO of Publicis-owned VivaKi.

The battle for free, high-quality Internet content just got even more heated. It’s being waged under the banner of “a better consumer experience,” on mobile devices, but I believe the debate is less about the consumer and much more about the money. Specifically, who’s going to make more of it.

Here’s what happened. On Friday, Feb. 19, mobile carrier Three Group became the second wireless service provider to integrate ad blocking at the network level, courtesy of Israel-based ad blocking company, Shine. The press release talks a lot about protecting consumers but very little about the downside to ad blocking, and even less about the business model or the revenue this decision might divert into the accounts of the ad blocking companies and telcos.

It’s very clear that ads served by the Googles and Facebooks of the world are going to be blocked in this scenario, and most likely they will be asked to pay a toll to by-pass the ad blockers. Some call this extortion. Everyone calls it lucrative. Either way, Google and Facebook are not going to relish the shakedown or the idea of providing services without revenue. Imagine what happens to those share prices on the day those ad tolls take effect.

The telcos believe they have leverage, and it’s true that people love their mobile phones. But they are also mighty passionate about having access to Google and Facebook on those mobile devices. So the outcome pivots on how much people will remain committed to their carrier if that access is in anyway diminished.

What if the media giants opt to not pay the tax? Who’s going to fund the content so coveted on Google and Facebook? The Three Group network customers? I think not.

This is an important question, because truly great content costs money – it requires investments for creation, publishing, hosting. Without ad revenue (or premium subscription payments from Web users), it can only wither. That’s what makes ad blocking so hypocritical. It waves the flag of “a greater consumer experience,” while in fact it drives its users to the poorest Web experience of all. There is no alternative to this logic as we’ve seen with TV. You watch ads. Or you pay for ad-free programming. Or you turn off your TV set.

While the battles and the debates wage on, we will be thoughtfully tending to our data. Heeding the voice of the consumer, and creating an increasingly powerful value exchange with the people we engage. If we optimise the consumer experience with great content and messages that matter, ad blockers will be a moot point of discussion.

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