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Ad Blocking Q&A with Dr Johnny Ryan from PageFair


Company information:



Founded in 2012

20+ employees

Client list is confidential


What is your approach to the challenge of ad blocking? Why?


Publishers need freedom to experiment. PageFair provides the ability to switch between multiple approaches, including: messaging, restricting access to content, and “toughening” ad serving to prevent adblocking companies from meddling with publishers’ ad systems.


Our clients’ experience over half a decade has taught us that protecting display and video ads from adblock tampering is the best solution for nearly all publishers. We protect 2 billion+ ads per month for publishers. Our technology has matured to the point where CPMs are considerable. For example, a client in entertainment and news publishing sees an average $5.50 CPM.


Facebook has followed the same approach, and its earnings reports show that it will make three quarters of a billion dollars extra revenue as a result. David Wehner, Facebook’s CFO, confirmed for fourth quarter in a row that this approach is yielding a major (22% of Facebook’s desktop revenue) income boost in a recent earnings call.


Should more publishers take action to combat ad blocking? Why?


Rising levels of adblock may begin to threaten core revenue if publishers take no action. In addition there is a unique opportunity to build a new premium audience.


PageFair’s 2017 report shows that global adblock use has climbed past 615 million devices. It will continue to grow, and UK publishers should plan for the prospect that adblocking penetration will reach at least the same rate as in neighbouring Ireland (39%). Unless publishers have already implemented tamper-proof ad serving, adblock will start to eat into publishers’ core revenue, because they will be unable to deliver their premium, direct advertising sales.


But publishers can convert their adblocking audience from a revenue threat to a new advertising segment. PageFair can enable publishers to automatically convert their normal ads into IAB LEAN / Coalition for Better Ads compliant formats that address user concerns about advertising. Then publishers can work with PageFair to serve their advertising in a way that adblocking companies can not hack.


Marketers now realise the value of this audience: adblock users are not banner blind, because they see few ads everyday; and they are 100% human, because adfraud bots do not install adblockers that would prevent them from committing adfraud.


The adblock audience also happens to have a demographic value beyond the norm: surveying 4,626 Internet users in 2017 revealed that adblock users are also 1.5 times more likely to have a university degree than the average audience, which suggests that they are a lucrative segment.


A study with 2,300 participants was conducted by ISBA (UK advertisers’ representative body), PageFair, and the Advertising Research Foundation, to understand how adblock users react when publishers use PageFair tamper-proof ad serving. The results showed that this audience is unique and “brand safe”. Adblock users and regular users have identical levels of satisfaction with the websites tested, and marginally more favourable responses to the advertised brands.


Mark Finney, Director of Media & Advertising at ISBA, said “so long as advertisers abide by Coalition for Better Ad standards, they can engage respectfully with these customers without fear of brand damage”.


What’s your elevator pitch to a publisher?


PageFair is the global authority on adblock and the industry leader in publisher adblock and data protection solutions. It offers a suite of solutions that cover all publisher requirements: analytics, messaging, display-ad recovery, video-ad recovery, content access control, GDPR data leakage prevention.


Thousands of publishers have used PageFair’s free analytics tools to learn about how adblocking affects their sites. PageFair protects over 2 billion ads per month from adblocking. PageFair converts ads to IAB LEAN / Coalition for Better Ads formats that address users’ concerns about security, user experience, and data protection.


Publisher Merriam-Webster says “PageFair has been a great partner for Britannica and Merriam-Webster over the last twelve months, allowing us to recapture some of the lost revenue from ad blockers. The integration was straight-forward, and the team at PageFair has been incredibly responsive to our requests, as well as the ever-changing ad blocking techniques in the industry”.


What can you tell us about the methods you have used and the results you have achieved?


Responding to adblocking is PageFair’s core business. We believe that publishers need to be able to experiment and test out many different approaches to find the right fit for their audiences.


Over the past five years we have experimented with every solution, and concluded that messaging and restricting access to content for adblock users has produced good results for major TV networks, but is a risky strategy for non-TV publishers. Non-TV network publishers achieve good results from tamper-proof ad serving.


Tamper-proof ad serving (good results for non-TV ad networks)

PageFair has invested years of R&D work to provide an efficient “server-side rendering” technology that transforms how ads are served. This gives publishers full control over their ad serving, in a way that adblock companies are not able to hack. It also gives publishers complete control over third party data access through the ad creative, preparing them in advance for the GDPR.


Every month PageFair protects over two billion ads for publishers. We work with publishers’ existing direct campaigns, and automatically re-render these ads as IAB LEAN (Coalition for Better Ads compliant) formats to improve UX and security. The product also supports programmatic demand, and is constantly adding more programmatic integrations to maximise revenue recovery. Programmatic CPMs vary by publisher, and in some cases are surpassing $5.


Publishers who work with PageFair can be confident that that they will be paid, whereas publishers working with our competitors have experienced advertisers who refuse to pay. Unlike many of our competitors, PageFair works transparently with programmatic partners on the basis of official agreements.


Messaging and restricting access (good results for TV networks)

TV networks are uniquely positioned to succeed with this strategy. They appear to have the right level of exclusive video content that users will turn off their adblocker for.


The CW Television Network is a major TV network in the United States, that is owned by CBS and Time Warner. It caters to a young audience, people who are typically the heaviest users of adblock. In October 2016 The CW started to use PageFair technology to detect adblock users and restrict access to its premium video content. Within a single month The CW’s adblock rate fell by half, from 15% to 7.9%. A year later, with PageFair’s technology operating on the site, only a 3.4% of The CW’s visitors are using adblock.

Zach Mannon, Vice President, Product, CW Digital at The CW Television Network, says “We partnered with PageFair to support our outreach to users to switch off adblock. PageFair has years of experience helping hundreds of publishers address adblocking, and working with them has given us ironclad adblock detection & messaging”. [Note: is only fully accessible from IP addresses in the United States].


Why messaging and restricting access doesn’t work for everyone.

This approach does not work for non-TV publishers. First, non-TV publishers lose users when they restrict access to their content. Users “bounce” from a site that presents them with an ultimatum, unless that site is in the rare position that it is the sole channel through which premium TV content can be viewed online. As evidence of this consider PageFair’s survey of 4,626 Internet users in the United States in 2016, which found that 74% of adblock users said they left websites when they were presented with a message and denial of access.

Second, although some adblock users are willing to switch off their adblocker on sites other than TV networks, this has been found to be only a temporary effect and has little real impact on publishers’ adblock rates. In 2016 French publishers ran the most comprehensive study of messaging and limitations of access to date, across 90% of the market. Only 18% of users deactivated their adblockers, and within just a few days 76% had already reactivated them.


Denying adblock users access to a website prevents the site from monetizing a unique, 100% human audience that advertisers would have been eager to bid for. We recommend that non-TV network publishers monetize their adblocking audience, as Facebook has done.


What are the key industry developments that are driving the ad blocking challenge now and future?


Adblock continues to grow. PageFair’s 2017 State of the Blocked Web report reported that the global number of desktop and mobile devices that block ads grew by 142 million YoY to reach 615 million devices Dec 2015 - Dec 2016. Currently the overwhelming majority of mobile adblocking is in Asia-Pacific, but we anticipate that mobile adblocking will grow in Europe. In the United Kingdom, only 1% of users blocked ads on mobile at the start of 2017, whereas 16% were blocking on desktop.

As adblock use grows, the online giants, Google and Facebook, have both clearly concluded that showing ads is the right way to monetize this audience. Google is displaying Search ads to adblock users, and Facebook has now implemented tamper-proof ad serving technology. Adblock Plus has attempted at various times to introduce hacks to break this system. Facebook has, nonetheless, netted three quarters of a billion dollars of extra revenue from its decision to show ads to ad blockers.

Publishers will also experience a new form of “regulatory adblocking”, in the form of GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation, new European regulations on the use of personal data. PageFair helps publishers adapt to the GDPR. Its unique server-side ad rendering technology lets publishers neutralize data leakage across the entire ad supply chain in a marketing campaign. It automatically converts ad formats that pose risk of data leakage into non-leaking formats, and manages 3rd party access to webpages to prevent unwarranted data acquisition. This privacy-by-design approach enables today’s programmatic advertising system to comply with the new standards of the GDPR. This protects users, publishers, brands, and adtech services.


How should publishers respond?


Most publishers should follow Facebook’s example by showing ads to their adblock users with tamper-proof ad serving. Publishers can protect their advertising from hacking by adblock companies by using PageFair tamper-proof ad serving.

Adblock users have legitimate grievances with advertising (privacy, UX, security, and bandwidth). But these can be fixed by using PageFair to automatically render ads in IAB LEAN standard display formats that comply with the Coalition for Better Ads standard.


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