With Ad-Blockers Coming To iPhone, Ad Industry Poised For A Fight

According to one estimate, some $22 billion in online ad revenue was lost last year because so many people use ad-blocking plugins on their web browsers. And that number is set to soar with an upcoming tweak to Apple iOS that will allow ad-blocking on the iPhone and iPad’s Safari browser. The ad industry is looking at a number of ways to stem this tide, including the legal route.

AdAge reports that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) — a trade group whose members are responsible for nearly 9-in-10 of the ads you see online in the U.S.– to discuss the implications of the impending iOS change and what could be done about the increasing popularity of ad-blocking technology.

There were the let’s-play-nice ideas like “give consumers better ads to look at and they won’t want to block them,” and the more hard-nosed suggestion that the top websites should block editorial content for anyone blocking ads.

Then there’s the legal option. Supporters of this tactic contend that ad-blockers may be illegally interfering with someone else’s content. Just because an ad isn’t a news story or a photo gallery doesn’t mean it’s not part of the editorial makeup of the web page, they claim.

It’s not that different from the case that broadcasters have tried to make against DirecTV’s Autohop service that automatically removed all the ads from users’ recordings of prime-time network shows. But while that battle was initially waged in the courtrooms, it appears to have ultimately been decided in boardrooms, with Dish making various tweaks to appease networks.

Without any definitive legal precedent on ad-blocking, the various IAB member companies have their legal teams mulling things over, reports AdAge.

“We’re keeping a good temperature gauge around finding out what could be done,” says the group’s senior VP in charge of the IAB Technology Lab, while admitting that any decision about litigation is far away.

“To say the IAB is going to mount a legal challenge at this time is not true because there’s not been enough work done to assess whether that’s a viable option,” says the chairman of the IAB Tech Lab’s board of directors.

The industry hasn’t given up on the more congenial options that won’t result in expensive and potentially unpopular litigation.

If IAB can make online ads load more efficiently so that they don’t bog down pages as they load, maybe fewer consumers will seek out ad-blockers in the hope that they will speed up load times. But will that do anything to win back people who have already started using blockers?

The other option is to just keep playing being the mole in the whack-a-mole game played by ad-blockers. The industry knows that most blocking tech all looks for the same type of code to determine if something is an ad or if it’s legitimate content. So if you switch that up, the ads could — at least temporarily — avoid being blocked.

This is one of the reasons that a growing number of content producers and ad agencies have jumped on the “native advertising” bandwagon with “sponsored” content that looks nearly identical to editorial content.

While there are plugins that try to detect this advertorial content, these ads-in-editorial-clothing don’t get caught by traditional ad-blocking tech. And if blockers were able to block these not-exactly-stories from loading, the websites and advertisers might have a viable copyright claim if they chose to go the legal route.