Ad-blocking, data allowances, iOS9

In June, Apple announced a new class of “content-blocking extensions” for iOS 9 and OS X that would allow developers to create extensions for Safari that “block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content,” like scripts for ad networks, before they even load. While ad-blocking extensions have been around for desktop browsers for well over a decade, it was a tiny declaration of a new era in the mobile internet. The response to one early content blocker in development for iOS 9, called Crystal, has been borderline rapturous, especially since the developer, Dean Murphy, revealed benchmarks showing that it makes pages load, on average, nearly four times faster using half as much bandwidth, all while blocking third-party scripts that would compromise privacy. The verdict on how mobile ad-blocking will affect publishing and advertising has been nearunanimous: “A reckoning is coming.”

Great article reporting on ad-blocking features on TheAwl, of particular relevance as most likely iOS9, Apple's latest version of software for the iPhone and iPad will be released this week.


If you're going to read that, it's also well worth reading what is forcing this issue to come to a head from the author of what looks like will be the first ad blocker for iOS9:

With no content blocked, there are 38 3rd party scripts  (scripts not hosted on the host domain) running when the homepage is opened, which takes a total of 11 seconds. Some of these scripts are hosted by companies I know, Google, Amazon, Twitter and lots from companies I don't know. Most of which I assume are used to display adverts or track my activity, as the network activity was still active after a minute of leaving the page dormant. I decided to turn them all off all 3rd party scripts and see what would happen. 
After turning off all 3rd party scripts, the homepage took 2 seconds to load, down from 11 seconds. Also, the network activity stopped as soon as the page loaded so it should be less strain on the battery. 


The most important issue is that many websites just can't support their operational costs off subscription alone - enough people aren't just willing to pay for content. I'm lucky enough with this site that I don't have high bills on it (although it is a three-figure annual fee to maintain) but if you're something like the New York Times.........

In 2014, the total operating cost of the New York Times Company was around 1.48 billion dollars (it is on track to shrink slightly this year), roughly three hundred million dollars of which goes toward “news gathering.” The Times Company is supported by a mix of revenue streams, of which “circulation” is the largest, followed by advertising. It recently hit a milestone of one million digital subscribers—at which it has “plateaued”—in addition to its roughly six hundred and twenty-five thousand print subscribers. Even though the Times has been on a forceful subscription drive, advertising still provides roughly forty percent of its revenue, according to its most recent quarterly earnings report. Unsurprisingly, given that it now reaches a hundred million unique visitors a month, digital advertising—particularly on mobile—is a growing percentage of that mix, but overall, in the quarter, advertising revenues are down 5.5 percent percent year-over-year, while circulation revenues are up less than one percent (breaking a multi-year slide, as you can see above); the end result is a net revenue decline of 1.5 percent. In other words, even the most important and widely respected newspaper in the world is nowhere close to being healthily monetized, especially not by the small number of people who pay for it.


From DaringFireball:

It’s not just the download size, long initial page load time, and the ads that cover valuable screen real estate as fixed elements. The fact that these JavaScript trackers hit the network for a full-minute after the page has completely loaded is downright criminal. Advertising should have minimal effect on page load times and device battery life. Advertising should be respectful of the user’s time, attention, and battery life. The industry has gluttonously gone the other way.


For mobile operators, it's an opportunity to reduce the amount of potential data across networks - less ads means less data. For the user, it means quicker loading times, potentially better battery life, less data usage, less clutter on the screen. For those who provide the content, it's a loss of one of the main revenue sources. Nothing in life is free, and as we all spend significant time online nowadays, some method to pay for all the content we access has to be developed.

It just may not be by banner and auto-playing video adverts.

Neal McQuaid