The end of the free web is nigh, according to some, and the release this week of Apple’s new iOS, with its new acceptance of adblocking software is an indication of the changing times. Within a day of the launch, two paid for adblocking apps have entered the top 20 most downloaded.
Why is this a threat to the web? Most free to use sites are paid for by advertising – and the ease with which ads are now avoided will drive down revenues, causing some providers to find new ways to keep the lights on and the content running. Perhaps most important is the predominance of adblocking software – with paid for apps among the most widely used, this internet work-around is no longer the preserve of the tech savvy, its mainstream.
The news is scary for digital advertisers, but in some way only a small advance on the previous dynamic, whereby users (mostly young men) could install adblockers on browsers (on desktops or laptops) via browser extensions. But consumer demand for ad free tech use is keeping pace with the speed of change. As the way we access the internet becomes predominantly mobile, consumers expect the same experience on their smartphone as they do on their laptop.
These developments are particularly interesting in light of comments this week by Sir Martin Sorrell, who has suggested that the importance of digital marketing has been over-emphasised in recent years, and that traditional media – print and TV – are still powerful and important channels. This is a point Sorrell has been making for some time – and in light of the continued struggles of digital advertising to find a sustainable, workable (and lucrative) model online, seem increasingly relevant.
Whatever the future of digital advertising, media content must be monetised in some way for providers to continue providing it. The increasing popularity of memberships and subscriptions for a variety of different kinds of content give some indication of the future direction of travel. Netflix and other VOD services provide unlimited video content, ad-free across devices, for a small monthly fee. The Guardian, resisting the paywalls that online newspapers are increasingly erecting are rolling out their membership scheme for its readers. Even established behemoths such as the BBC are forced to consider their current funding models in the light of new digital paradigms.
The future – online, offline, anywhere – will not be ad-free, but it will be very different. With every evolution of internet use, and with the increasing willingness of software providers to meet consumer demand for ad-free browsing, the foundations of the current model of the free web are eroded a little more.