Skift Take

The potential increased popularity of ad-blocking software doesn't spell doomsday for travel media sites. Quality sites will still be in demand and the publishing world will adapt. That is what change is all about.

With Apple’s release of iOS 9, which supports ad-blocking apps such as Purify and Crystal, travel media sites (and others) dependent on display and video ads for revenue could face new challenges.

In June 2015, some 16 percent of Firefox users on Android had already taken advantage of the ability to tweak their browser settings to configure ad blockers, according to PageFair, a Dublin-based company that offers solutions for publishers.

In its study of the issue, The Cost of Ad Blocking (embedded below), PageFair notes that Apple’s mobile Safari browser represents 52 percent of mobile browsing and 14 percent of total browsing, and forecasts that “ad blocking on mobile Safari to trend towards the level seen in the mobile version of Firefox.”

In other words,  perhaps up to one in five iOS 9 users could eventually opt for ad blockers.

In Asia, says Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem for PageFair, a large portion of the population can’t afford to pay for mobile data, with usage soaring because of advertisements, so there may be a greater readiness there to welcome ad blocking.

Even in affluent countries, rising data usage and slow page-load times are a sore point.

Two popular browsers in Asia, UC browser (owned by Alibaba) and Maxthon turned on ad blocking by default and they have 264 million and 120 million installations, respectively.

PageFair estimates that there are nearly 200 million installations of desktop ad blocking extensions, as well.

“If there are a quarter of a million browsers in Asia where ad blocking has been turned on by default then that’s a big deal, says Ryan, referring to Alibaba’s UC browser alone.

The rise of ad blockers, Ryan says, will be more of a problem for certain media sites and other publishers than for advertisers, who can find alternative platforms to get their messages across. As print media publications have waned, online publishers have become more dependent on advertising revenue while others place some or all of their content behind subscription paywalls.

In iOS 9, users seeking to block obtrusive ads, save on data costs and reduce page-load times, can download supported ad-blocking apps but they can also specify, or “whitelist,” websites that they would be willing to accept advertising from.

Separating Quality Websites From Substandard Sites

Loren Gray, vice president of digital strategy for Standing Dog Interactive and board member of HSMAI Americas, says if ad-blocking software gains traction then it will wean out travel and other media sites that only offer subpar content.

Travel and other media sites can choose to ask users to agree to submit to their advertisements in exchange for viewing their content and sites with marginal content will be disadvantaged, Gray says.

On the other hand, Ryan of PageFair, which admittedly offers a product to help publishers deal with consumers seeking to block ads and therefore isn’t necessarily a neutral observer, says fewer than one percent of users accept appeals from publishers to accept advertising because of their need for ad revenue to support their journalism.

Ryan says a PageFair survey of U.S. consumers found that they were much more willing to accept a site’s text and display ads than video advertisements that take up a lot of bandwidth and can’t be skipped.

Travel media sites will find ways to adapt to a rise in ad blocking — if it indeed becomes popular — but not all sites face equal risk. Sites such as our own Skift, for example, which emphasize native ads and sponsored content, and downplay banner ads, won’t likely be especially impacted. On the other hand, almost all of consumer travel media sites, such as those belonging to magazines like Conde Nast Travel and Travel+Leisure and others, have small traffic to begin with and whatever ad revenue they get online is bound to get affected.

Gray of Standing Dog Interactive says Google and Apple are poised to be potential winners in the ad-blocking sweepstakes. Gray cites the fact that Google is developing the ability for consumers to book hotels on Google without having to navigate to the hotel website, where ad blockers could come into play. On the other hand, Google’s business model is built on advertising.

Apple Pay, too, can attract consumers and their business without forcing them to navigate onward to publishers’ or retailers’ websites, Gray says.

Hilton is Nonchalant

From an advertiser’s perspective, Hilton Worldwide isn’t in panic mode about the potential that the popularity of ad blockers will increase, says Dustin Bomar, vice president of online demand generation.

Bomar, who is a member of the HSMAI Americas board, says Hilton Worldwide constantly tracks advertising performance, including its revenue and return on investment, and will know if ad blocking becomes impactful.

Hilton Worldwide would find alternatives, such as email marketing and its apps, which aren’t subject to ad-blocking software, if consumers indicate through ad blocker use that they won’t accept certain advertising types, Bomar says.

“When they go shop for a hotel, we will be there,” Bomar says.

Online Travel Agencies Might Have Similar Problems

The same sort of dynamic might follow for online travel agencies retargeting their site visitors with ads around the Web. If consumers get served Expedia or ads while reading The New York Times, the Washington Post or Facebook it is possible they will have to face the choice of agreeing to put up with the advertising or going without the editorial content.

If ad blocking starts to hamper the effectiveness of this online travel agencies’ advertising than they, like Hilton or other companies, would have to scurry to find alternate or more effective ways to reach potential customers.

Jim Banks, global head of biddable media at Cheapflights, thinks the ad-blocking initiative by Apple is a move by Apple to enhance its influence.

“Although it’s early days in the life of iOS 9, our view of this is that it’s a move by Apple to begin exerting some degree of control over advertising to their users with a long-term eye on building up the influence of their own iAds ecosystem,” Banks says. “As the technology improves and the next generation of mobile connectivity is introduced, arguments about improving loading times or maximising limited bandwidth will hold less water. Meanwhile, users will have long been locked in to a particular experience.”

Banks adds: “For a site like ours, which is ad-free for mobile users, as is our Cheapflights app, this development has limited impact. We’ll continue to monitor it, but as is always the case, the brands that get the mix of great user experience via relevant advertising and ancillary methods of monetisation will get the repeat visitors they deserve.”

Like other people we interviewed, Bomar of Hilton Worldwide says he doesn’t yet know how to gauge the impact of ad blocking from iOS 9 and elsewhere but he doesn’t seem particularly concerned.

Ultimately, Hilton Worldwide wants to provide value and would prefer if customers used its apps, Bomar says.  If they are already there, then Hilton doesn’t have to use advertising — or deal with ad blockers — to convert them into bookers, he adds.

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Tags: advertising, hilton, ios

Photo credit: When sites remind users to allow ads it could turn into another invitation to block them. Apple

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