YouTube Red and the threat of ad blocking



You won’t have to wait five seconds for that “skip this ad” button anymore.

YouTube is rolling out a new subscription service that will give users access to its repertoire completely ad-free.

Some speculate that this new service with the somewhat unfortunate name of YouTube Red is in response to the advent of adblock plugins, which automatically block display ads and pre-roll ads on every webpage. It’s estimated that 200 million internet users worldwide use ad blocking programs, and that number is rapidly growing. And the recent integration of ad blocking in Apple’s iOS 9 update as well as the introduction of Google’s Mobile Accelerated Pages indicates that ad blocking capacities are here to stay.


To many advertisers, the fact that a major player like YouTube is adopting a subscription service is a cause for concern. Some are predicting that advertisers will turn to native advertising and sponsored content to circumvent the challenge of ad blockers. Sure enough, spending towards native advertising has increased. But many ad blockers block native advertising as well.

Bigger players in digital marketing are finding other ways to cut through the red tape. Large companies like Google and Amazon are now paying ad blockers like Adblock Plus to unblock their advertising material for a share of the ads’ profits.

All of this fuels the perception that digital ads are a bad thing. And the irony of it all is that many people blame YouTube’s lengthy pre-roll ads for creating the demand for ad blocking in the first place.

As a community, digital advertisers have recognized that they’ve messed up. In a recent statement by the IAB, the board’s SVP of technology Scott Cunningham said, “As technologists tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.”

To correct their mistakes, the IAB recently introduced new guidelines to rid the web of its slow, clunky advertisements. The program, called L.E.A.N., encourages the creation of “light, encrypted, ad choice, non-interruptive” advertisements. The hope is that both advertisers and publishers will push for the implementation of these standards.

“The ad blocking problem was created by advertisers,” says Azra Grudic, our agency lead for digital media. “If someone searched for detergent in the past thirty days, they don’t want to be targeted detergent ads while they’re reading about vacations.” As a result, poor targeting has caused consumer irritations and a want for blocking. She says, ad blocking has limited the scale of digital advertising, and in particular, programmatic advertising.

Despite the gloomy forecast, however, Azra sees this shift as an opportunity. “It’s forcing advertisers to be smarter about targeting and become better at tailoring content for each customer.”

For more on ad blocking, check out Azra’s blog post on the impact of ad blocking on display ads.