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Ad blocking: No, we haven’t won

About a year ago, Josh Benton of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab asked me how concerned I was about ad blocking on a scale of 1-10. I answered “eight or nine.” And one year later, the situation has not improved: As of today it’s still a nine.

In the spirit of transparency, I thought the time was right to look at where we are in terms of ad blocking, if for no other reason than I don’t want my silence on the topic to suggest that the issue is less dire than it was during the flurry of discussion around it in 2015. Since then, DCN has conducted research on the ad blocking ecosystem – some of which has been released only to our member companies. We have also posed many questions about Google, the ad tech ecosystem and the actual flow of the monies.

The state of ad blocking today

Unfortunately, the ecosystem remains every bit as murky. The ambitions and fate of those profiting and suffering from ad blocking (including Google) have not yet been fully revealed. But one thing is crystal clear: The companies that create original content are being hurt the most by ad blocking because it prevents them from monetizing the audiences they attract. And the two companies, now known as the “duopoly” are likely hurt the least.

As predicted, the adoption of ad blockers continues to grow linearly according to PageFair’s latest Ad Block Report. While the sky is not falling, the U.S. desktop penetration did grow from 15% to 18% last year and this number matters … a lot. Despite this growth, the IAB oddly recently claimed victory over ad blockers “rendering them toothless” and suggesting the risk of “network-level ad-blocking has virtually disappeared.” This kind of thinking is where things get dangerous.

We have won neither the battle nor the war. In fact, PageFair’s report-which we have every reason to believe-clearly points to the contrary. Frankly, it’s for this reason that I’m writing now in parallel to our continued participation and support with other organizations on the new Coalition for Better Ads.

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