Blog Post

What Would an Ad-Free Internet Be Like? [VIDEO & INFOGRAPHIC]

Advertising is everywhere on the internet. It's very likely that if you're not paying to access a website, it's using advertising in some way. Because advertising can be intrusive to users, many plugins and other pieces of software are developed to block ads to be displayed on websites you visit. If these methods of blocking ads become widely-used, how will websites that depend on advertising for their revenue support the services they offer? Watch our Daily Brown Bag to learn more about ad-blocking on the internet, how widespread it has really become, and what web-based services might do in response.


Hello, and welcome to the Daily Brown Bag. I’m Chad Hill, and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer, and today we’re going to be talking about an ad-free internet. What would it be like and will it ever happen? Adam, how are you doing?

Pretty good, Chad. Yeah, this is an interesting topic. We have some trending data we want to report here about this new concept of ad-blocking. So this is not something that I’ve seen discussed a lot, but I think it will be discussed a lot more. There’s an interesting study from a company called Page Fair. They did an interesting study of 220 websites over the past year and they found the average rate of ads being blocked as high as 22.7% across their sample. I’ve seen a couple other studies where these numbers vary, but the trend seems to be pretty consistent, which is that there is more and more technology emerging to pull the ads away from the site that you’re on and the technology you’re using.

So, you see this in plug-ins for browsers, you see hardware now on the market that can sit just inside your router in a home and will actually filter all the content as it comes through and pull out the ads. So this is a fascinating topic for discussion. I think our internet marketers, of course, will be very interested in it, and it sort of reminds me, Chad, of when TiVo first came out and you had the opportunity to fast-forward through the commercials which for decades had been the staple of how media was delivered and paid for. Now we see this debate starting to emerge in the internet space.

Yeah, absolutely, and I think that one of the points here, Adam, is that right now the reason that we can go to a lot of websites and read free content is because they are surrounded by ads, so there’s a bit of a give and a take here. People don’t like seeing the ads, but at the same time, right now those ads are the way people are monetizing or paying for the reporting and the content that’s being created.

Now, some publications have started moving away from that. You have the paywall that the New York Times has, and Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are playing with it. The idea here is ways to not be so dependent on advertising and banner ads and whatnot around it. But, I think the real thing that’s interesting here, Adam, is that the reason this is going up. More and more, we’re seeing in the news stories of how sophisticated some of the advertising is becoming. There certainly is the NSA and what’s going on there, but also I was recently reading a story [about technology] that’s able to determine which devices you actually often use, so not only is it just tracking you on your browser, but because of the data you’re looking at on your browser, it’s also able to figure out what mobile phone you might be using and start to get this cross-device advertising which gets a little bit scary. So what do we do here? What’s the give and take that we can look at?

Well, it’s a fascinating debate, and if you think about some of the younger generation who has grown up in this environment you’re describing where an ad-supported internet is all they know, to them, they feel like that’s kind of “free,” and everything should be free. You see these debates that start when people start to suggest that maybe Facebook should charge $5 or maybe $10 a year, and people go absolutely ballistic. So, this is going to come to a head at some point, and you’re right, Chad. The reason that such robust platforms such as the name brands we’re all used to like Google, Facebook, and now Twitter are available is because of advertising, and of course there are tens of thousands that never made it to that pinnacle that were trying to be advertising-supported and didn’t make it, so it’s not like this is a walk in the park from the business side.

But from the user side, you’re right, you’re seeing the boiling point kind of increase here because people are starting to get more and more concerned about the tactics they’re using, yet the real contradiction is when the discussion is, “Well, maybe we should just charge a flat fee,” which I think, as you said, is what the newspapers are going to, a lot of people push back. So, it sounds a little bit to me me like internet users want their cake and want to eat it, too, and that’s sort of what this technology is kind of promising here. “Yeah! So, get the ad-supported content and we’ll just strip out the ads.” So we’re right back with TiVo. What does this mean?

Well, just like the TiVo debate, it didn’t really end up there. TV advertising is still going strong, and you are seeing some disruptive technologies being introduced and trying to capitalize, but it hasn’t really turned that corner and it’s been ten years, plus. So, I think these things tend to move slower than we think. The other thought I had was that if this did become widespread and people started putting blockers in their house networks and on their routers or in their mobile devices, well we know Google who is the kingpin here, and they’re pretty good at detecting what is not displayed on your browser. How hard would it be for them, let’s just talk tech for a second, to put a little JavaScript into their ad-pack to actually know whether it got rendered or not? If they consistently saw an IP address where the ads are being blocked, and they’re not being rendered when the rest of the page was, wouldn’t they be within their rights to say, “No, we’re not serving you any more Google search results?” I’d be interested, Chad, on your opinion. Would that get people to stop using the ad blockers?

That’s a great point, Adam. Probably. That’s probably the way they could ultimately go is detecting whether or not [ads are rendering] and not display the content. Now, some of this technology would be tricky, right? It would be tricky to make that happen technically, especially as the ad’s getting stripped out as it’s passing through. But I guess you’re saying there would almost be like a token to say, “When I render this, see if there’s some other content on this page in order for this content to be unlocked.” It’s an interesting idea, and I think the thing with this whole process is that for every tactic and every process of blocking an ad, there’s someone out there coming up with a way to serve an ad better.

So, it’s a little bit like a legal defense team versus the plaintiff side. You need both sides, and there will probably continue to be an escalation of the tactics used to get better targeting while, at the same time, maintaining your privacy. So, if you’re interested in this topic and want to discuss it more, please comment on our forum here, and please be sure to join and subscribe to our videos.

Comments (12)

  • Jason G. Reply

    This is going to be interesting moving forward. For cable when you watch a show ON DEMAND you never had to deal with commercials. Now they have very short commercials woven into the program. Advertisers are some of the most inventive people out there and I have no doubts that they will find a way to advertise regardless. This should be fun to watch. Do you think this could be the event that changes the internet for good?

    10/08/13 at 02:37 PM
  • Nick Reply

    Ugh, the whole concept of ad-blocking drives me crazy. I've had many a discussion both through internet forums and online about the topic, and it seems that people just don't fully grasp that most "free" websites are supported by ads. But at the same time, most people will admit that a site charging for access on top of what you pay to your ISP would be unacceptable as well.

    10/08/13 at 02:37 PM
  • Chris T Reply

    I will be the first to admit that I use an adblocker, but it was not because of ads bordering sites or tracking; it was because of ads on youtube videos. A 30 second ad for a six second video was outrageous to me. I could calculate the hours a month I was wasting waiting for content. I'm not a person that believes content should be free, but the cost of my time was too much.

    Adblocker also helps protect you from pop ups and malicious ads that can slow down your browsing. If ads start to ruin the user experience, what do you expect your audience to do?

    10/08/13 at 02:40 PM
  • Jesse Reply

    Most people seem to forget the very first rule of economics: There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

    10/08/13 at 02:43 PM
  • Renee Reply

    There is a lot of debate out there about whether blocking ads is like stealing. You are "paying" for the content publishers are providing for free by having to view ads. If you don't want to see ads, you should have to pay. This is especially true for things like social media platforms.

    Super interesting discussion!

    10/08/13 at 02:50 PM
  • Matt Reply

    People want their cake and to eat it too. They want a free internet and no ads. The reality is that moresites will move behind a paywall as mentioned in this article if they cannot leverage ads

    10/08/13 at 03:00 PM
  • Jason G. Reply

    I personally have no problem with Ad's as long as they do not destroy the user experience. I agree with Chris, 30 second advertisement for a 6 second clip is crazy!

    10/08/13 at 03:20 PM
  • Aqeel Reply

    I'm totally cool with having ads on websites that I use for free. Tumblr started out generating revenue from putting up premium themes for users to use for their blogs and slowly went to advertising, which I respect. But there are services like Hulu, though, where if I subscribe to Hulu Plus and pay for a subscription, they still show me 3-4 ads every few minutes...

    10/08/13 at 04:08 PM
  • scottjcamp Reply

    This is a perfect example of how important it is to have a good advertising strategy online. Not everything should be an advertisement in the traditional sense, which is why content is so important for SEO.

    My DVR is set to record one of my favorite programs tonight (the final season, sadly), and I'm going to start it a half hour later just so I can skip through the same commercials they run on every break. I've seen them enough - they've done their job as advertisements, so I don't feel bad about not letting them inundate my experience.

    As far as ad blockers are concerned, I've never used one ...but I understand why someone would! Chris & Jason have it right - if it detracts from the user's experience, it's doing more harm than good.

    As advertisers get smarter about how they provide their advertisements, people will become less hostile to the advertisements ...and may even start to respond to them (PPC retargeting comes to mind)!

    10/08/13 at 05:09 PM
  • Chad F Reply

    Like many others have said most people fail to realize most free sites are free because of the money generated from those ads they hate.

    10/10/13 at 09:24 AM
  • Terrance Reply

    Ads can be annoying but as they say beggars can't be choosers. If you want to pay for the convenience then do so.

    10/10/13 at 01:18 PM
  • JingPing Reply

    I don't mind having ads on websites that I use for free because I pick up on things that are advertise to me, as long as those ads do not destroy user experience. These free websites are readily available for people for a reason because of the money they receive from ads on their sites.

    10/10/13 at 01:31 PM

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