Adblocking became a real problem for advertisers last spring as the number of users installing such software rose to over 200 hundred million users across the planet (see article here). Early in the summer, I thought that this problem might matter for the long tail of content providers, largely sparing the big ad platforms (Google, Facebook, etc.). Not withstanding problems related to net neutrality, I thought that by and large the digital advertising market will remain the same as it is already concentrated in the hands of the large ad platforms.
Today, when infrastructure providers also consider adopting adbloking technology, it is clear that I couldn't have been more wrong. It is precisely the large ad platforms that might be hurt the most. Two particular events raise concerns. First, Digicel, a large mobile service operator decided to block ads on mobile phones. If other infrastucture providers follow a bitter negotiation can emerge, not unlike the one we saw emerging from time to time between cable operators and content providers (Comcast vs. Netflix or CBS vs. TWC). Such fights and the resulting settlements usually leave consumers worse off by introducing inefficieny in the market leading to high prices. The second event consists in Apple's large scale adoption of adblocking apps, some of which even block ads running within apps (e.g. Facebook's ads). Again, if a large platform like Apple blocks similarly large ad-based paltforms like Facebook and Google, then a lot of inefficiency can creep into the system.
There aren't only negative effects associated with these developments. The average quality of ads will rise partly due to the weeding out of really bad ads but also due to advertisers increased investment in ads that are relevant and impactful. Pages will load faster, a major concern for users that is driving in part the ad blocking trend. Still, adblocking may have just opened the next huge battle between large Internet platforms (just when we thought that patent wars might taper off as a result of a few reasonable settlements).