Still, given the dominance of Facebook’s app, the likely result of ad-blocking on the mobile web is a further consolidation of the company’s power. If Google struggles to deliver ads, that money will flow to platforms whose ads can’t be blocked—like Facebook.
Media companies are, in effect, watching two business models crumble at once: their traditional business, and whatever business they were able to cobble together on the desktop. Many publishers are still struggling to meet revenue goals in the shift from print to desktop, to say nothing of the shift from desktop to mobile. The latest earnings report from The New York Times shows revenue from digital advertising made up about one-third of overall advertising revenue; $48.3 million out of $148.6 million total. The “digital first” movement that emerged among print-media companies in response to the Internet has been replaced with a “mobile first” attitude. But that maxim still falls apart on the business side. For many legacy companies, print advertising revenue still dwarfs revenue from desktop and mobile ads. Throw ad blockers into the mix, and the picture is further complicated.
To Andrew Moore, a former vice president at Google and now the dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, the rise of apps over the mobile web makes the question of ad-blocking almost moot.
“I actually do not think this is going to be an important issue for much longer,” he said. “It is moving so much from the browser to devices that the really big disruptor—and the thing people are freaking out about on business models for devices—[is] you cannot have the same ad-supported revenue models as you did when you had a browser,” he said.
In other words, for many companies, apps were already destroying the online-advertising revenue stream. The question that emerges for Moore, he said, is what comes next. The businesses that end up surviving won’t give up advertising but may stop serving up ads that can be obviously blocked, he said. This will come in the form of sponsored articles designed to look like editorial, and search results paid for by companies who want to rank first on Google—only the lines will, Moore believes, become increasingly blurry.
“Users will be incredibly offended if they ask a question like, ‘Where’s the best Caribbean restaurant in Pittsburgh?’ and the question-and-answer system answers in favor of the restaurant that's paying… But that's what you're going to see,” Moore said. “There will still be a lot of controversy in this area but it will be about how the content is not purely advertising and not purely organic. It will merge into this mysterious combination.”
In the short term, ad blockers will make web pages cleaner, faster, and more mobile-friendly. “I still believe that ad blockers are necessary today,” Arment wrote. Maybe so. But they won’t be a lasting buffer against advertising. Depending on what they target, ad blockers encourage a more pervasive form of advertising—a kind that’s harder to avoid, harder to identify, and impossible to shut out.