Publishers Voice Cautious Optimism On Google's Ad-Blocking Browser

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Google may indeed be working on a browser with ad-blocking capabilities built in, as the Wall Street Journal reported today. In a series of interviews, publishers reported being cautiously optimistic about the idea. However they issued a warning: If Google oversteps, it could lead them to rethink buying its ad technology. Beyond that, they said, the move could raise antitrust concerns.

The search giant is working on an ad filter that would be built into its Chrome web browser, people familiar with the plans confirmed. The browser would have an option for users to stop ads from loading on sites that Google blacklists for having poor ad experiences, such as videos that play automatically with the sound on and other annoying formats, according to multiple people familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Google has discussed its ad-block browser option for months with publishers. It has also been floating other components of the strategy: Helping publishers collect payments from people who employ ad blockers when visiting their sites -- a program being called "Funding Choices," according to one person familiar with the initiative.

Funding Choices is a new take on Google Contributor, which had been in the works for years as a way to get people to pay for web content.

Google also is working on scoring websites for their ad experiences, and would blacklist sites that fail, meaning the site would then be prevented from showing ads, a publishing source said.

"If they blacklist you because of bad creative, Chrome will block all the ads on the site," said one publishing exec, not authorized to discuss the offering. "Google becomes the judge, jury and executioner. Next thing you know, you're making zero money."

Still, most publishers were cautiously optimistic, because Google would likely take care not to alienate its top ad tech customers. Many publishers use Google's DoubleClick to sell ads on their sites and use its analytics to track data on their sites.

Google may be all powerful, but it is not suicidal.

As such, many publishers see Google's ad-block plans as a way to clean up the web: Currently 29% of impressions are blocked in the U.S., according to Frédéric Montagnon, CEO of Secret Media, a company that works with publishers on ad blocking.

"Building an ad blocker into Chrome is a way to tell the market it needs to clean up," Montagnon said. "They are communicating that this is not a sustainable way web pages can be monetized."

Secret Media has seen the effect of ad blocking--the more people block, the worse ads get. Some publishers are stuffing videos with up to three pre-roll ads at a time to make up for lost impressions from ad blockers.

The average page has 20% more ads on it compared to a year ago, Montagnon said.

Google did not respond to requests for a comment.

If successful, premium publishers and advertisers could benefit from a flight to quality websites and enforcing a whitelist of acceptable domains. Some voiced concerns that well-meaning sites might get caught in the filter as Google works out its ad-blocking tech.

And if it were used to aggressively punish publishers, or promote Google's sites, then the ad blocking function could raise the suspicions of antitrust regulators, who already keep a close watch on the company: Google's Chrome accounts for almost 60% of the browser market, according to Net Market Share.

Google's ad quality conversations have coincided with the work of the Coalition for Better Ads, of which a number of brands and publishers are a part.

The coalition has extensively studied what ads consumers find acceptable online, and Google's Chrome ad filter could help drive that vision, according to Michael Smith, senior VP-revenue and platform operations at Hearst Magazines Digital Media.

"It is awesome. It's a move that is going to clean up digital advertising," Smith said. "This is the best way to respond to the ad blocking phenomenon that developed over the past two years."

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