#OPSPOV: Ad Blockers at the Gates – The Chrome Pause

Ad Blockers at the Gates – the Chrome Pause

I joked on a recent panel that one by one, verification, viewability and bot traffic became digital media panics; so what long-lingering issue is going to evolve into the next bit of ad tech hysteria?

Our packed session at OPS cemented by opinion that ad blockers it, and people in the media world are freaking out about two recent developments: an opening for ad blocking on iOS and Google Chrome’s new ability to “intelligently” stop Flash animations, which is effectively ad blocking.

Let’s be crazy and talk about the latter first. With the supposed goals of saving laptop computer batteries (really?) and presumably creating a better experience for browsing, Chrome will detect and stop any site content running that it deems unimportant to the main content of the page. So pretty much any ad using Flash. Users do have the ability to switch the feature on and off, but unless it’s really buggy from the get-go, I doubt many will look for the off button.

It’s a big deal because Chrome has 26% share of desktop browsers (Yes, IE still has a hard-to-believe 55% share according to NetMarketShare), and the other major browsers (Firefox and Safari) are likely to follow suit. As an Internet user, you may immediately think, “Great! No more weird hidden videos on auto-play that scare me when their volume comes on at full blast out of nowhere!” As an ops person, you’re probably thinking, “Dammit, that’s going to play havoc with my campaigns.”

Not just display ads using Flash – likely some pre-roll in instream video is going to have trouble. It’s also a bit of a slap to outstream video services (those video ads that pop up in your content feed) that might utilize Flash, but I believe most are HTML5-enabled. Autoplay video has become more accepted (thank you, Facebook?) and an easy way to draw attention to that neglected content-adjacent space – pausing Flash will effectively kill their effect (for better or worse). Users can still click to play Flash videos in ads, but really who is going to do that? (Seriously, who is? I’m very worried about such a person.)

While we can rail off Google conspiracy theories (“It’s a play to drive more revenue to AdSense!”), it seems like the “Chrome pause” is the fire under the ass the digital advertising community has needed to give up Flash and completely embrace HTML5. Although it seems like Flash has been on its deathbed for years now, it lingers on because it’s a well-known and relatively easy-to-use tool. The shortcuts and toolboxes to facilitate the inclusion of Flash are plentiful.

HTML5? Not so much. From what publishers have told me, those handy toolkits and shortcuts have yet to be developed. Why bother to make them (or pay a third-party for them) when you can just do similar things in Flash? Oh, it doesn’t work on mobile? Big deal, serve a static unit to that itty-bit spot, or maybe a video interstitial instead. Yuck.

However, as publishers have adopted responsive design sets, they’ve come out the other end with valuable HTML5 know-how. In addition, design companies are helping publishers develop ad-building tool kits in HTML5 – Code and Theory shared a great case study from Bloomberg on this at our OPS conference. If I read the tarot cards right, it’s been agencies that have been very slow to jump on the HTML5 train, and various service providers and publishers have been filling the gap with creative options.

In the end, this is a painful but necessary prod a long time coming. I’m not saying you should hate Google today and thank them later, but weaning the industry off Flash benefits all parties… Well, maybe not Adobe, but you have to wonder if the developers over there aren’t dead sick of patching up Flash vulnerabilities every month or so…

Steve Jobs wounded Flash, but it looks like Google Chrome might have delivered the final blow. I’ll be discussing the more worrisome news – mobile Safari’s open door to ad blocking – and its grand implications later this week.