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Ad-blocking set for sharp rise towards 'epidemic' in the UK

An estimated 14.7 million will be using ad-blockers in the UK by 2017

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 3:26pm

More than a quarter of U.K. internet users will be using ad-blocking software by the end of next year, a new report suggested on Wednesday, heading towards a potential "epidemic".

An estimated 14.7 million people will be using ad-blockers in the U.K. in 2017 or 27 percent of internet users, according to eMarketer's study - a sharp rise from the 5 million in 2014, 7.3 million in 2015 and expected 10.9 million this year.

Ad-blocking software strips adverts from websites and its use has been on the rise, much to the consternation of advertisers and publishers who rely on ad revenue.

Some of the most common reasons people are using ad-blockers include the intrusiveness of adverts, the lack of relevancy and specifically on mobile, the fact that loading of adverts slows down web pages and uses data.

"It is crystalising to consumers just how sub-optimal the app experience is in digital," Bill Fisher, a senior analyst at eMarketer says.

"What we have seen with TV advertising, the value exchange has always been good. For half an hour of good quality content I get one interruption in the middle of that. I move into digital and I am getting bombarded with a lot of ads, they are getting in the way, there are lots of them and not very relevant to me. I think what consumers are now realising is that they are being able to voice their concerns, saying this industry, this ad-supported free internet actually this value exchange isn't so good."

The rise of ad-blocking has sparked fierce debate between companies providing the software, advertisers and publishers. Earlier this year, Roi Carthy, the CMO of Israeli ad-blocking firm Shine, said his product is "the single biggest threat in the history of advertising". Google and Yahoo both hit back calling the software a "blunt" solution that punishes users and good advertisers.

And publishers have been trying to fight back. The New York Times recently started testing ways to stop people using ad-blockers from accessing their site. And last month, a number of French newspapers took the same action.

Despite this, in the U.K. advertisers spent a record £8.61 billion (US$12.35 billion) on digital advertising in 2015, up 16.4 per cent from the year before with mobile accounting for the majority of the growth, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau.

But it's unclear what kind of impact ad-blockers are having on the revenues of publishers and companies that rely heavily on advertisements. Fisher said that there is certainly a threat posed.

"I would say it is still noise, but it has the potential to reach a crescendo," Fisher said.