After a panel about ad blocking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, the makers of Adblock Plus say they will release an app that rewards good ad content.
By "good" they mean ads that aren't disruptive, fit within a set of technical guidelines, and offer useful information for consumers. Ben Williams, spokesman for Eyeo—the company that created AdBlock Plus—participated in the panel, but didn't offer many details about the new version of the app, which he said will come out next summer.
In an interview with Campaign after the session, Williams said the new app will encourage marketers to make money from non-ad content. "In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to just advertise to monetize your content, he said. "There would be a suite of possibilities to monetize good content, and advertising would just be one of those."
Eyeo has stirred up a fierce debate about the ethics and legality of blocking mobile browser ads.
The issue took center stage last June when Apple announced that its iOS 9 mobile operating system would allow mobile ad-blocker apps on iPhones. AdBlock Plus offers a program called "Acceptable Ads" in which advertisers can pay to be whitelisted by Eyeo so their ads aren't blocked. The advertisers are also provided with information on how to make their ads aesthetically pleasing and less disruptive.
It was that controversial program that caused some heated exchanges on the panel today. Lewis DVorkin, chief product officer at Forbes Media, told Williams that many in the ad business believe the Acceptable Ads program is little more than "blackmail."
The Interactive Advertising Bureau's CEO, Randall Rothenberg, last year said this about ad blocker apps: "As abetted by for-profit technology companies, ad blocking is robbery, plain and simple—an extortionist scheme that exploits consumer disaffection and risks distorting the economics of democratic capitalism."
Mobile ads have become a high-stakes game with the rise of the smartphone, and AdBlock Plus has found itself in a gatekeeper position, deciding which ads appear (and which ones don't) for millions of mobile users.
And many, many mobile consumers do want to block the ads. Adblock Plus had well over 200 million users by the end of 2015. Ad blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months, according to a study by PageFair.