For IGN, a Tech-Savvy Audience Means a Big Hit From Ad Blockers

IGN's Ad-Block Rate Balloons to 40%

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Credit: IGN

In an effort to better understand IGN's audience, VP of Product Innovation Todd Northcutt installed ad blocking software on his browser for the first time last week. "The biggest difference to me is speed," he said. "It shouldn't have been a surprise to me; I know the load times for our pages, but man, a website that loads in 3 seconds versus 10 seconds has a difference of night and day."

Mr. Northcutt has been watching the website's audience use ad blocking software at an alarming rate. Last year, about 25% of IGN's audience were using ad blocking software. Today, that number has ballooned to 40%. He says the video game and entertainment news site suffers more from ad blockers than other publications because of its audience.

"They are definitely tech-savvy," Mr. Northcutt said. "We're not the reason that ad block is growing, but we are caught up in that net. I think it is more of a direct reaction as what ads are doing"

The video game and entertainment news site says it attracts about 80 million users each month, with the majority of them falling into the coveted 18-to-34-year-old category. IGN, which is owned by Ziff Davis, has been relentlessly expanding onto as many different devices -- from Xbox consoles to Roku devices -- to increase its reach.

"We don't have a lot of data on who an ad blocker is, but my guess is those are some of the most valuable people that advertisers want to reach the most," Mr. Northcutt said. "How do you appeal to your audience in ways where they are not explicitly telling you 'I don't want this?' I do wonder if they are objecting to display ads and pre rolls ads with ad blocker and if reaching them through another vehicle will be effective."

Yael Prough, senior VP of sales, marketing at IGN, said IGN does very little programmatic ad sales and that much of its sales are done traditionally. "We have definitely seen an increase from our clients on how we are addressing ad blocking," Ms. Prough said. "Our clients want to make sure ads are impactful, robust and video heavy as much as possible. But that can impact users, too, with heavy ad load times and heavy video ad units."

While the bulk of ad blocking exists on desktop, the issue isn't as prevalent on mobile, where the website only sees about 2% of its users running the anti advertising software, Ms. Prough added.

About half of IGN's traffic comes from people on mobile devices, "Mobile ad blocking is our new worry," she said.

Running ads that require a lot of bandwidth might turn a mobile reader with a limited data plan to ad blocking, Ms. Prough said. To help counter that, IGN will run fewer ads on its home page starting next year.

Publications with different audiences may be less exposed.

Penton, which publishes Aviation Week, Waste360 and Nation's Restaurant News, among others, does not monitor what percentage of its audience uses ad blockers, said Warren Bimblick, group president at Penton. "Most of our audience are known users," Mr. Bimblick said. "They are people who have signed up for a magazine the old fashioned way and gave us a lot of information about themselves. It's certainly a concern in our space, but it is not showing up in our numbers in any big way."

Purch has a portfolio that includes Tom's Hardware, Business News Daily, Space.com and Top 10 Reviews, among others. The media company says it has a combined reach of 100 million monthly users.

The company sees an ad block rate from 9% to 25% domestically across its portfolio, said Mike Kisseberth, chief revenue officer at Purch. "The more technically advanced the user, the more likely they are to block. We definitely see that," Mr. Kisseberth said. "Our block rates are higher on Tom's Hardware because those users are more tuned in and are more likely to jump at installing an ad blocker."

In Europe, ad block rates reach as high as 40% for Purch. "That's a foreshadowing clue of what's to come here in the U.S.," Mr. Kisseberth said. "I think it has been more talked about in Europe and people are taking advantage of it."

Ad block rates have remained flat year-over-year at Purch. Much of that is likely due to the fact consumers are reading content on mobile phones, where ad blocking is still in its infancy, Mr. Kisseberth said. That might change as consumer adoption grows.

"If you are in this business and you are not using ad blockers you're crazy," Mr. Kisseberth said regarding his recent install of ad blocking software on his browser. "It is a better experience and that's scary."

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