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Event Transcript – Locking the Door – An Open and Honest Conversation about Ad Blocking, Content Walls and Subscriptions – 09/03/2020

Brian Blondy, October 1, 2020

Ben Erdos: Firstly, a very warm welcome to everybody for our fourth virtual event. To introduce myself, I’m Ben Erdos from Total Media. We are a Google Certified Partner on both publishing and advertising technologies, where clients navigate and connect to the digital and programmatic media ecosystem. The idea of the event is to build a community of publishers and professionals interested in digital media and give them a place for insightful content and a forum for questions.

So, today, as the title suggests, we will be discussing ad blocking. it has been a part of the digital ecosystem for a long, long time, and may even seem like a topic from another era. But as you will see from the discussions, how ad blocking rates are ranked amongst publishers’ concerns may surprise people. And we are excited to be joined by three guests from two different perspectives in the industry. Ad blocking really needs no introduction. As I said, it has been around in the ecosystem for a long time. It comes in kind of two flavors. One is third party browser plugins, which the user can download, and then customized or default browser settings, which they can also then play around with.

And with that, I would like to introduce our three guests. We are joined today by Lucinda Southern, who is a senior reporter at Digiday. And we are also joined by Job Plas and Ben Williams, who head up respectively Industry Relations and Advocacy at Eyeo. So the format is going to be a one to one interview with Lucinda and then we will bring on the gentlemen from EyeO to kind of go through their forethoughts. So, we will try and cover your questions as they come, but if we do not manage to cover them at the end, please reach out to the team and I am sure they will be happy to answer any questions. So I like to bring up Lucinda, thank you. First of all, thank you very much for joining. Lucinda is the UK Media Editor for Digiday in the UK.

Ben Erdos: She has covered extensively ad blocking in the past. So firstly, thank you very much Lucinda. It is great to have you here.

Lucinda Southern: Thank you, really appreciate you having me. Thank you.

Ben Erdos: So I guess let us start with obviously having covered ad blocking in the past, what is your insight in terms of ad blocking as it stands in the ecosystem today?

Lucinda Southern: Well, when I speak with publishers in the UK in Europe, they usually say that it has been something that was maybe a top three priority back in 2015, 2016 to, now it has like a top ten priority. So it is still there, but there have been so many other problems and issues that publishers have to deal with that it has kind of shunted down the priority list. And so, it stabilized. I’ve heard that most people I’m hearing, the global publishers, desktop around 25% of blocked impressions. And that on mobile, it is sub 5%. And people, publishers to me seemed pretty happy about that. They’re keeping an eye on the numbers and have a sort of internal thresholds that they are keeping an eye on because things could change tomorrow and like mobile rate could go straight up. And the growth there seems to be driven by mobile, driven by markets in Asia as well. So really depends on the type of publisher and where you are focused on and who your core audience is, how much the problem is for them at the moment.

Ben Erdos: Interesting. So do you think a drop in priority has been down to obviously the shift in mobile traffic? And obviously the less adoption of ad blocking in mobile?

Lucinda Southern: Yes, yeah, it has been more desktop, even though it has higher yield for ads, traffic is mostly on mobile. But then also, ads have improved, experiences improved. Things like the Coalition For Better Ads has meant that publishers have got better, much better at policing their own user experiences. GDPR has been a big help with that as well in making sure people are, the publishers are a bit more aware of the data that they’re collecting with people. And then the  publishers are just getting better at communicating and have done enough like, have gone through enough painful years of testing and like trying to understand users. And yeah, they seem to have gotten to a way where they can communicate the value proposition. And people understand the value proposition and the importance of funding journalism as well. So you know, that you just can’t really underestimate that goodwill there for people wanting to continue funding for it.

Ben Erdos: And do you feel that ad blocking has been a driver for those positive changes or you think it has been other things?

Lucinda Southern: It would be hard to say. It has just been a number of different factors that have led to it, so really isolating it and pinning it on one thing, particularly ad blocking, could be difficult. And I think most publishers would say that it will be a combination of things. I guess there has been, you know, it has evolved, hasn’t it? The types of people who are ad blocking have changed. The ways of blocking ads have changed. How we are measuring it is changing as well. I think the acceptance is that when it peaked, when it became quite mainstream, and then the rates went down, where the original cohorts of people who were always going to be blocking, always going to be against tracking, people who are gamers or engineers or who are really tech savvy, the ones who have always been blocking, it is going to be hard to get those people to actually stop. And that sort of acceptance feels to be quite, to me, that’s where publishers are at.

Ben Erdos: And from the publishers that you speak to, they have had success in converting those profiles that are more susceptible to using ad blockers, they have converted those to subscriptions or other sort of revenue streams?

Lucinda Southern: Yeah, well, I think diversifying revenue streams is a key important part of how severe a publisher would find the threat of ad blocking. Back a couple years ago, it was what prompted future publishing to explore ecommerce and other revenue streams. There is other publishers that you know, that the media, like selling media on a click is not really the, I don’t want to be speaking for all publishers there, but there is a lot more than just selling the click of as media. So there are lots of content partnerships and video ads as well and other diversified revenue streams. But I mean, it seems like the main way to respect people’s choices, well the main way is just to communicate with people, offer them as many different choices as possible. And again, going back to Future, they had success in bringing down the rate of ad blocking by just offering as many different options as they could in their ad block messages, whether it runs to whitelist the site or turn off the ad blocker or to view a video ads or to become a member or, and the other different types of actions that they wanted to do. And that seems to be one of the best solutions.

Ben Erdos: Sure, and I think Future is a good example that have already anyway a very engaged user base and readership that are able to play off and have those multiple different conversations and to play around with several different options. Do you have any kind of advice or tips you would give to those slightly smaller mid-range publishers, or smaller publishers and might be suffering from ad blocking that don’t necessarily have that high engagement in terms of repeat users and people that understand that brand of publishing but would also want to be trying similar things?

Lucinda Southern: Sounds like just a lot of testing. And it has not, that is, you know, that’s easy, but hard, isn’t it? Like you know what you have to do, but it is just doing that grind all the time is not an easy thing to do. So yeah, I can see that people want to keep, or publishers want to keep their content open. They don’t want to throttle their reach by putting up subscriptions or lockers or paywalls. So just continuing to test the different ad units on their sites, maybe doing more native ads, more video ads, and really looking at the viewability scores for their different ad units, removing the ones that aren’t going to be as favorable. Even though people, publishers have a knack for removing inventory, but it is really drilling down into the numbers to make sure that it is going to end up being in net positive.

Ben Erdos: And if you see for your recent talks with publishers, any sort of change in terms of ad blocking numbers due to the pandemic?

Lucinda Southern: I have not actually, I’ve not asked if that’s made a difference. I wonder if there are a few, there is less mobile traffic, if people are commuting less, but it has not come up in any conversations that I’ve had. The only thing that has come up is just before the pandemic really was around different subscription publishers offering a different or lower tiered version of anti ad and anti tracking access for a smaller monthly fee. And as the different browsers are going to be cracking down on cross site tracking as those ecosystems close up, and that seems to be those multiple walled gardens within it. I mean, perhaps it is not really in the spirit of the open web, but it is going to be quite a few publishers that are going to go down that route.

Ben Erdos: Yeah, I think so. Especially when you factor in the stuff that publishers are trying to build up their own kind of value with first party data, and the smaller ones will need to kind of partner with other outlets to be able to kind of build up that data and what they have on users to be able to trade off that programmatically and direct.

Lucinda Southern: Yeah, I agree. For the smaller ones, it will be more of a case of partnering with the right people and collectives and coalitions and alliances. I’m sure there is going to be many more of those coming up.

Ben Erdos: For sure. And the question is really in terms of when you get to the consent and all of these different options that you are presenting to the user, it becomes quite a complex thing for a publisher to navigate all of those different messages that potentially on that first wave of entering a site that the user is going to be offered to with the ad blocking with consent for data and then potentially with subscriptions and that kind of stuff. It is a very noisy environment that the user might be offered.

Lucinda Southern: Yeah, definitely. We have heard a lot of publishers that were tying in their ad blocking messages with their consent management platform messages, the GDPR, and bring it as another way. Even though you want so much choice, I guess you don’t want the extensive choice that GDPR can get within those opt in messages. But yeah, it is a bit of a balancing act.

Ben Erdos: For sure. And you know any publishers that you have recently seen that kind of got that balancing act right?

Lucinda Southern: Well, I use that for research purposes. Yeah, there are loads that are doing. I do think Teacher does a great job, Dennis does a great job, and Spiegel as well. Axel Springer. Germany has had it particularly tough where a high percentage of their internet users are blocking ads. So they have learned. Seems to be the first ones who are on there switching. So we are going to hear more from guys Adblock Plus about that.

Ben Erdos: For sure. And then really, I guess in terms of, do you think that any recommendations for publishers in terms of what you think drive value with users and helping engagement?

Lucinda Southern: Well one is testing lots, offering different choices, different versions. And then, depending, you know, showing a bit of personality has gone down well in the past as well. Publishers being able to use a bit of humor, using something that’s really clearly part of their tone of voice. Those things have gone down well in the past, but you know, there is still potential for more testing around that for sure.

Ben Erdos: So, I think it is really relevant making that whatever that message is, is on the same sort of similar theme as the general content and keeping it as authentic as possible to the user base.

Lucinda Southern: And being able to explain that value proposition in a succinct way. One that appeals to consumers. Publishers are just always getting better at trying to understand the audience after having a period where they were just so disconnected from them. And it is not a surprise that people were blocking ads. There were some really horrendous experiences. So it is the natural progression and evolution of the ad ecosystem, digital ad industry that’s coming through and growing up.

Ben Erdos: And what do you think kind of was the reason for that disconnect? Because I think I definitely agree with you that there was a disconnect in terms of how publishers were treating their users. But do you have any kind of insight in terms of what caused that disconnect in the past?

Lucinda Southern: Well, people say, I mean, the common argument would be programmatic advertising and having devastated print revenues and circulation, everything moving to online and not really understood like, you know, the infinitesy of the internet and being able to put advertising everywhere and having to drive revenue as much as possible when it was sinking elsewhere. And so there was just, it was just a wild west. There weren’t really any rules or regulations at that time. And yeah, there was a lot of eggs that were broken along the way, but publishers are paying for those missteps.

Ben Erdos: Yeah, I think so. I think that coupled with obviously, people were just trying to find that feat with the new tech landscape and programmatic and that had a bit coming in. This also kind of lather rinse and repeat of testing and seeing what works from a revenue perspective. And from a user experience perspective, and that kind of stuff, always kind of created that vacuum of opportunity where they kind of lost their way in terms of, okay, what’s that core in terms of that content and how they engage with their readership.

Lucinda Southern: Yep. I couldn’t agree more.

Ben Erdos: And then if we can kind of tie things up, but if you just got kind of, can kind of give us any sort of insight of where you think the future is going with regards to ad blocking and data and that kind of stuff.

Lucinda Southern: It is hard to say because things, people, publishers they feel braced for something changing very quickly or for mobile to expose. The ones that I speak to. Anyway. But again, akin not to get into that arms race is keen to respect that people might want to still block ads. And, again, we are going to have more walled gardens within the open web, created by publishers who are keeping their own first policy data in check and who are finding it increasingly hard to track users outside of their own properties. And I think with things like that, offering the different variations of tracking lists or add light at a lower price point will be able to satisfy the appetites of those like AdBlock Curious. At the moment, it has been decreasing for, or like holding steady or decreasing for a while now long enough for people to feel a little bit more at ease. So, the problem is still there, but the hysteria has quieted, as more things have become important.

Ben Erdos: Fair enough. No, that totally makes sense. Well, thank you very much for joining us. And thank you for your great insight and good conversation. And let’s bring up the guys from eyeo now.

So hi, guys. I am going to formally introduce Job and Ben from eyeo. So Job heads up Industry Relations at EyeO, and Ben is the Director of Advocacy there. And so just to kind of put some context, but I will let them kind of formally introduce the company. They work for eyeo who are probably best known as the creators of AdBlock Plus, but much deeper than that. So welcome, guys, and thank you for joining us.

Job Plas: Thanks Ben.

Ben Williams: Thank you for bringing us.

Ben Erdos: Yes. So why don’t you just kind of introduce to the audience what EyeO actually do and are involved in?

Ben Williams: Yes. So EyeO has been around since around 2011. And you are right, it really started with Adblock Plus, and both Job and I have actually been there. We are about 230 people now and Job and I were among the first 10 who joined. We came on 2012, 2013 and really saw ad blocking just take off at that time. Doc Ceros, the famous privacy researcher at Harvard called it the greatest boycott in human history. And I’ll tell you, those were some days. It was exciting back in those days because you were really, as an ad block, you were really disrupting things. I think the thing that we have seen over the last couple of years and the thing that eyeo started, that’s now become more of an independent open thing is Acceptable Ads, which is another option that publishers have to reclaim some of that lost revenue. And just basically, short introduction to that I’m sure most of the people on the call probably know what it is by now, but basically Acceptable Ads is just that if ads basically work against criteria that are established by an independent committee, then those ads can apply to get sort of let through. And it is not just Adblock Plus and Ad Blockers Associated with EyeO but most ad blockers these days. And that really began the process of ad blocking becoming ad filtering. You recently brought up the Coalition for Better Ads and the great work that they do when you factor in what they are doing, what you are seeing now is hundreds of millions of users out there. Whether they are just a normal Chrome user getting the Better Ads experience to the Coalition For Better Ads, or whether they are using a number of different ad blockers and getting Acceptable Ads, it has sort of given publishers more options about what they can do, and also giving users the ability to see some ads or block them all. And the good news for publishers is most people liked Acceptable Ads, and very few people opt out of it.

Ben Erdos: That is good to hear. So obviously, Acceptable Ads is a standard that publishers can adhere to, and that users basically get by default when using adblock products or ad filtering products and that kind of stuff, but is there any sort of talk within the standard to make it like a branding thing and a go to market thing for publishers that they can have a certification and put it on their site as like a stamp of approval like tag does?

Job Plas: Yeah, so that is absolutely one of the topics that is being discussed in the Acceptable Ads Committee. It is going to work a little bit more on the transparency around like Acceptable Ads, and the thing that the Acceptable Ads standard tries and is trying to accomplish. And I think that is a very interesting topic for them to actually look into because one of the things that I personally liked a lot about the Acceptable Ads Committee is that it is a mostly user driven initiative. So in contrast to other industry initiatives that we have seen, like Coalition for Better Ads or stuff that the IIB does over the last years, it never has actual user representation on it. And this is one of the things that the Dexa Plas committee sells support. So there is equal representation to the online advertise supply chain, and with the user focus there. So yeah, that is absolutely one of the things that they are looking into.

Ben Erdos: So that is really interesting. So in terms of the user voice, how many users are actually part of that coalition?

Job Plas: So on the user side of the committee, especially, there are four seats in that group. Three are taken by digital rights organizations because you will find Consumer Acts from the US in there. But there is also like one seat being taken by an actual ad blocking user that has been using ad blockers for a long time and actually working on maintaining his own ad blocker too. So that is really the idea that that person is then also doing the outreach to more and more ad blocking users to bring that perspective to the table, because it should not only be the industry to decide what is good enough for users or what is not. There should be actually a user there to provide that perspective on it.

Ben Erdos: That is good. Obviously, you talked about Acceptable Ads and the Coalition for Better Ads. Are you able to kind of just highlight to the publishers on the call what the differences are in that case. It’s the new ones, they may not necessarily understand the impact of how each one behaves.

Job Plas: Yeah, so good question. So there is, of course, a lot of overlap. I think both organizations try to work on standards that are making online advertising better for the users. So that is definitely the thing that they share in common. But I think the big difference is that we kind of like to see the open web in an 80/20 split, if you will. 80% of the web, I always use my parents as the example there. They are not that bothered by blinking ads and video ads etc. So the traditional advertising formats set by the Coalition For Better Ads, they work for them. That is good enough for them. What we are talking with the Acceptable Ads Committee about is topic is really that 20%. The 20% roughly of the open web that is browsing the web with an ad blocker. And usually they just don’t respond to traditional ad formats. That is also why they have not sold an ad blocker. So the Acceptable Ads Committee is really deciding on the standard for that 20% kind of like the typical tech savvy, the geeky, the higher educated user base that is installing ad blockers.

Ben Erdos: Which is also the kind of user base that advertisers are really looking to tap into anyway, because they tend to have a higher net worth and a higher disposable income and also spend a lot more online and that kind of stuff. So it is an important audience. How do you see that audience kind of developing and adapting with millennials and younger age users?

Job Plas: Yeah, so I think it still very much holds true for a lot of the user base that is installing ad blockers, that they do tend to skew a very much younger segment, the millennial segment, Gen Z segment, especially on desktop. Of course, one of the things is a difference is that that generation is maybe less of an avid user of the web. They tend to be spending more time within the walled gardens of iOS, Android or within apps. So of course, there is less of a technical opportunity to also provide ad blocking services there.

Ben Erdos: If we circle back to the ad blocking product, are you able to give the audience a little bit of update in terms of numbers and percentage ads blocked or percentage of installs and users and that kind of stuff?

Ben Williams: Sure. At Adblock Plus, basically we have around 100 million users. We have been seeking steady around that, even as desktop numbers have been correctly reported and a lot of places have kind of leveled off. But the more important number I think to keep in mind is the amount of users who are taking on or using Acceptable Ads, and that is somewhere around 200 million users right now. So what has come out of that is this ecosystem in a lot of ways it mirrors the, as Job was saying, the 80%. This ecosystem mirrors that ecosystem very much because you have advertisers, of course on there, you have publishers, and then you have a growing list of ad tech providers who help the advertisers get the ads to the publishers. But it is just within the bounds of this ecosystem, and also within the strictures defined by the Acceptable Ads Committee, that is the standard making body.

Ben Erdos: That makes sense. Are you able to talk to us in terms of how the standards are developing and evolving?

Ben Williams: Yeah.

Job Plas: Yes. So I can take that over. So I think, since the Acceptable Ads Committee took over in 2017, what they started focusing on for instance crafting criteria and a standard for mobile ads. So this was really the first kind of big milestone that they have reached, I think back in 2018. Right now, they commissioned research into looking into video ads and to kind of see whether there are video ads that are good enough for ad blocking users. And if so, how they should look like. As it looks like right now, this is going to be finished in Q3. So probably in Q4, you will hear what the decision is from the committee, whether video ads are going to be considered acceptable or not.

Ben Erdos: And that is just a frame that adds video ads across all the spectrum both in banners video and also in-stream?

Job Plas: Yeah, so they focus mostly on pre-rolls as the lowest common denominator initially and to present those video formats video ad formats to ad blocking users to gauge what their perspective and their perception on that. So that’s how they do. They first wanted to start with the pre-rolls.

Ben Erdos: That makes sense totally. So are you able to go into some sort of your guidelines for publishers in terms of how they should treat ad blocking users and engage with them and potentially offer them different services and what you feel has worked with publishers that might be on the Acceptable Ads board and that kind of stuff.

Ben Williams: Yeah. It is different for every publisher. And I think Lucinda laid out a lot of the things that publishers are doing. And just go for instance to The Washington Post and go to The Guardian, and you see that they, well if you have an ad blocker installed, and you see that they deal with that in a very different way. And so they know their audience best and know what is going to work for that audience the best and they test that obsessively. And for some of them, it is a very nice nudge to perhaps support their site. And as we know, basically since 2016, there was a selection in place from the “don’t live anymore.” And people started to pay a lot more attention to the news and try to get actual real news about what was going on in the world. So, you see other factors of course that are driving subscriptions, I think. But then when you come back to squarely the ad blocking issue, again the publisher knows best. But what we found is that there are 56% or so of the ComScore top 100 publishers have used Acceptable Ads. So that has seemed to be a robust solution for a lot of publishers out there. Others have gone in different ways. Sometimes you can work with vendors out there that offer you either a subscription model or watching a video, or going on with an Ad Lite experience with Acceptable Ads. So, I think testing and knowing your audience, those are the two most important things.

Ben Erdos: It definitely makes sense. And I think something that all publishers are trying to deal with is getting that, as Lucinda said, getting that balance right, especially in today’s world where we have got all sorts of conversations going on in terms of data and privacy and lots of other different things that  publishers are trying to engage their user on. As well as there are content. So it definitely is a challenge. How many publishers do you have on the council for Acceptable Ads?

Job Plas: Acceptable Ads Committee.

Ben Erdos: Can’t get it right.

Job Plas: There are so many industry initiatives out there, so it is just fine. So from the top of my head, there are five publishers on there. And it is spearheaded by Nick Flood, Global Commercial Operations Director, Future Publishing Ltd., that is basically leading that group of publishers and to really bring that agenda to the table. And yeah, he has been absolutely fantastic to really represent publishers within that consolation to help educate everybody around the table. You know, what their problems are, where their pain points are, and to really find that compromise with everybody around the table, including the ad blocking usage digital rights organizations, etc.

Ben Erdos: So we have got obviously a number of different questions in terms of the Adblock Plus product and ad blocking in general, so user will download it, install it and usually utilize it because of bad user experience on a particular website and not necessarily play with the settings in terms of whitelisting sites, and that kind of stuff. And then obviously other publishers are impacted by that, that will get obviously the Acceptable Ads. But is there any thinking in terms of giving publishers back control in terms of being able to have a much more nuanced approach with premium publishers that not necessarily that site that was impacting in order to gain back their relationship with the user other than them having to identify somebody using an ad blocker and reaching with a message?

Ben Williams: Yeah, you can always go with that approach of messaging your users and sort of making them aware of the value exchange that is inherently there. Well, we found, in just speaking to a lot of our users, is that most users are very much aware of it. It’s like, “Yeah, I know. I’m giving my attention to these ads in order to get the content for free.” But I think that has been the big change from say 2013 until now, is that publishers have a wide variety of things that they can use in order to get those readers to either look at all the ads that they have, or maybe to take an Ad Lite experience through Acceptable Ads, or to take another sort of Ad Lite experience. It has definitely changed a lot. I mean, in between, in that time, there were a lot of other solutions that did not prove to be that successful. And maybe it is more interesting to focus on those sometimes. But there was an attempt for a while to just circumvent the ad blockers through technical means. So essentially, they are blocking these ads, so you fill in those ads with other ones. And that was a back and forth, not with us, but with the open source community that sort of makes ad blocking work. And you know most, I will say far thinking publishers, they are the publishers who are looking at it a little bit more long in the tooth. They said, “You know, we got into this problem in the first place by overpopulating our site with ads, and it just does not work to force the ads on the people.” And so I think the lesson that people learned in all of that, and it is the exact same lesson that has been taught through GDPR and browsers, basically getting rid eventually by 2022 of third party cookies, is that you have to listen to the users’ wishes. If you listen to their wishes, they are willing to engage in that value exchange, but they want to do it on their own terms. And I think that is the lesson that we basically have, I think, learned at this point with ad blocking, and therefore you have all those options. And it is just my hope and actually think it will be this way, that with the death of the third party cookie, not to change subject, we are going to see a parallel situation. And I think that from all the efforts I have seen from the industry, that is exactly the lesson that they are taking to heart.

Ben Erdos: That is good that they are actually learning from those kind of lessons. Are you doing any any work with consent management platforms to kind of unify that messaging piece and to help them in terms of, “Okay, we have to as a publisher, as an industry,consent for users for different things,” and to roll in that kind of the ad blocking piece into like Content Management notifications, so that the users are not bombarded on that first hit onto the website with a cookie toast and a privacy toast and an ad blocking toast if they are using ad blocking as well? Because I think everybody has been on those websites where the first time you go on to a specific page or a specific user on that session, you are bombarded with all these different kind of messages that kind of stop you getting to the content.

Ben Williams: Yeah, we have of course informal talks with people, and we have spoken with the publishers just basically when they asked, “Well, how was it with ad blocking?” But I feel like most of the publishers know how it was up there. And again, you may have a different view on this one, but for me, it has not, we have not quite reached the perfect equilibrium with the cookie notifications quite yet. But I do think we will get there. It is just that right now, it is that sort of experimental phase. But yeah.

Ben Erdos: That kind of goes into, I think it ties in too very nicely in terms of the settings that you have in terms of non-personalized ads and non-targeted ads. Do you see a lot of people opting into that?

Job Plas: With that feature, it is not too popular. Users are looking at settings and some of them are disabling the Acceptable Ads for this for example, that used to hover around like 8% of the user base of AdBlock Plus at least. And we have seen this actually decline a little bit over time. So it is even less than before. But there are other features that users do opt into. So for example, this additional privacy protection that we offer within the product. So another blocking list, that is absolutely some list that is pretty popular, and is being used by roughly 10% to 20% of our user base.

Ben Erdos: Now that makes sense. And do you have any data that you are able to share in terms of how Acceptable Ads impacts RPMs on pages for those that are using it?

Ben Williams: Do you mean just basically like the RPMs that Acceptable Ads gets?

Ben Erdos: Yeah. Exactly. So, basically, obviously, a user that is using a AdBlock Plus product will go into a website and it restricts creatives and impressions on that particular page. So, obviously, it has an impact on that publisher’s revenue for that particular page in that particular user. Do you have any kind of data that you are able to share in terms of what the percentage difference is between that and a user that is not necessarily using an Acceptable Ads product?

Ben Williams: Unfortunately, no real data. Publishers, as you know, are generally not too forthcoming about stuff like that. But what we have seen with Acceptable Ads is over the years, one of the parts of the chain that really was not paying as much attention to ad blocking as the supply side was just the demand. When you go to the DSP and back to the agency all the way back to the advertiser, this was not always a first level concern on their side. But then what we have been able to do partly is sort of evangelize that idea of how, Ben you brought it up before, how valuable this audience is. They are young, they are tech savvy. They actually spend. In studies we have done, they literally spend more money online than your non-Adblock user. And other ones backed up by, like Global Web Index. And so it has just been sort of getting them to know that, “Hey, this is a valuable audience and you really need to talk to your agencies and your DSPs about buying on this, within this ecosystem.” And that is an ongoing process. So we have seen that those RPMs have increased over the years as you get more premium advertisers, just to know that they can reach that audience out there again.

Ben Erdos: And from your conversation with those advertisers, do you actually see that targeting them to Acceptable Ads, and they are actually performing for those campaigns that are running to that user base?

Ben Williams: Oh, for sure. It comes down to like simple arithmetic. I mean, you have ads that are worth more money, and they come through and you have a user base that is highly valued. And they are going to fetch higher CPM. So it is definitely a change we have seen happening. But it is all things in ad tech, you know, it does take some time. And so, that is an evolving process. And we definitely look forward, as one of the players in this system, of having more advertisers sort of take advantage of that huge opportunity.

Ben Erdos: And that makes sense. And are you able to give some insight in terms of the trends that you are seeing and where you see things are going in the next 12-24 months?

Ben Williams: Yeah. Obviously, we have already seen this trend from ad blocking data filtering. That has happened over the last several years. And so, I am going to sort of repeat myself here, but I think that the main trend that we have been seeing start is that you just find more value of advertisers who are realizing the tremendous reach that is available. Considering the entire open web, 200 million is not everything but it is a very big number. And it is an audience that is certainly worth looking into. So I think we will see a lot more of that. And then just the switch to mobile. As we have seen desktop level off, and as Joe was pointing out, you see younger users are more tied to their phones than their desktops. And there was a report back in February about ad blocking numbers, and it confirmed basically that. Desktop is leveling out, but we have seen more mobile browsers sort of take on ad blocking and Acceptable Ads in particular as a default feature. And this just makes our product more interesting. So yeah, we have seen it definitely switch over to mobile. I will expect that to continue.

Ben Erdos: That makes sense. In terms of that, it is a very interesting thing. Obviously there is value in the user base, in the audience that are using Acceptable Ads. Do you see that as something that the tech players that are part of it want to add in as a value to their users in terms of giving buyers on DSP seats the ability to target those users?

Job Plas: Yeah, that is absolutely something that we have seen. We have seen just a lot more interest coming from actually some of the brands that have a natural overlap between like the Ad Block user base and their own customer base. And they just actually go out and ask for the demand partners to actually set up the ad campaigns specifically targeted at those ad blocking users. And yeah, that is something we are hopefully going to see more.

Ben Erdos: That is interesting. So we have got a question from one of our… This is in terms of… How do you actually study the purchasing habits of the adblock users? Is it data that you buy in? Or is it stuff that you do your own research on?

Ben Williams: Definitely stuff that we have done our own research on. One thing about Adblock Plus from its open source days before it came on with EyeO is that we were not allowed to have any information about our users. We have a very strict privacy policy. Well, I will tell you, it is tough hiring marketers if you do that. So, we know nothing about our users. It is wonderful, really. But in all seriousness, no, we do not do that. And it is a point of principle for us. And it is really hard to… That is one of the things, I think it was an article in Digiday actually Lucinda, it was Lies, Statistics and Ad Blocking Numbers. It is really hard to get any sort of real data on Ad Block users because of the privacy baked into it. What I can say is that we have done extensive research with our users voluntarily. And we also have looked to places like Global Web Index, who have statistics that they add to every quarter. And what they do is they basically just separate ad blocking users into those who are purely ad blocking users and ad filtering users. And then they do ask them about their buying habits. And that is where we are able to do, sort of glean insights into buying habits, and demographics and things like that.

Job Plas: And to add to that, that is similar to how the AdPlus Committee is doing it. That is always the one question they always post to the vendors is, “Do you have enough people in your database that you can actually filter out, actually the ad blocking users?” So it is really going back to that 80/20 split again. So we always tend to focus on that 20% because that is really the segment that we are responsible for.

Ben Erdos: It really makes sense. And I think it is a good thing. Okay, so we have one more question from the guys, they really want to know who would win in arm wrestle between Ben and Joe?

Ben Williams: Oh, definitely you.

Job Plas: I agree. I agree.

Ben Williams: You can not see this, but the guy is like 6’4’’. I am 5’9’’ inch in high heels. So you know, definitely you.

Ben Erdos: Really? I did not know that you have your heels on for the call, but that is good to know.

Ben Williams: I have got a foot cam but I do not think Zoom supports that unfortunately. I wanted to show them off.

Ben Erdos: Fair enough. Maybe next time we will save that for something for the follow up in 2021. But thank you very much for the conversation. I think we have not, we have got more questions?

Team member: No questions. YouTube video coming up, follow up.

Ben Erdos: So yeah, essentially we will post the video on YouTube and our social channels and we will also transcribe it and post it on our blog as well so people can have access to it afterwards. So if anybody missed parts of it, they can come back for it. But thank you very much for our guests. Lucinda, Job and Ben. It has been a great conversation. I think everybody find it very insightful and entertaining as well. And if anybody has guests or ideas for guests or content, please feel free to reach out to the team and we would love to hear what you want to hear in upcoming sessions. But thank you very much everybody for the time and enjoy the weekend.

Job Plas: Cool. Thanks for having us, it was a lot of fun.

Ben Erdos: Cheers.

Ben Williams: Thanks Ben, thanks everybody.

Ben Erdos: Bye bye.

  Ben Erdos: Firstly, a very warm welcome to everybody for our fourth virtual event. To introduce myself, I’m Ben Erdos from Total Media. We are a Google Certified Partner on both publishing and advertising technologies, where clients navigate and connect to the digital and programmatic media ecosystem. The idea of the event is to build a community of publishers and professionals interested in digital media and give them a place for insightful content and a forum for questions. So, today, as the title suggests, we will be discussing ad blocking. it has been a part of the digital ecosystem for a long, long time, and may even seem like a topic from another era. But as you will see from the discussions, how ad blocking rates are ranked amongst publishers’ concerns may surprise people. And we are excited to be joined by three guests from two different perspectives in the industry. Ad blocking really needs no introduction. As I said, it has been around in the ecosystem for a long time. It comes in kind of two flavors. One is third party browser plugins, which the user can download, and then customized or default browser settings, which they can also then play around with. And with that, I would like to introduce our three guests. We are joined today by Lucinda Southern, who is a senior reporter at Digiday. And we are also joined by Job Plas and Ben Williams, who head up respectively Industry Relations and Advocacy at Eyeo. So the format is going to be a one to one interview with Lucinda and then we will bring on the gentlemen from EyeO to kind of go through their forethoughts. So, we will try and cover your questions as they come, but if we do not manage to cover them at the end, please reach out to the team and I am sure they will be happy to answer any questions. So I like to bring up Lucinda, thank you. First of all, thank you very much for joining. Lucinda is the UK Media Editor for Digiday in the UK.   Ben Erdos: She has covered extensively ad blocking in the past. So firstly, thank you very much Lucinda. It is great to have you here.   Lucinda Southern: Thank you, really appreciate you having me. Thank you.   Ben Erdos: So I guess let us start with obviously having covered ad blocking in the past, what is your insight in terms of ad blocking as it stands in the ecosystem today?   Lucinda Southern: Well, when I speak with publishers in the UK in Europe, they usually say that it has been something that was maybe a top three priority back in 2015, 2016 to, now it has like a top ten priority. So it is still there, but there have been so many other problems and issues that publishers have to deal with that it has kind of shunted down the priority list. And so, it stabilized. I’ve heard that most people I’m hearing, the global publishers, desktop around 25% of blocked impressions. And that on mobile, it is sub 5%. And people, publishers to me seemed pretty happy about that. They’re keeping an eye on the numbers and have a sort of internal thresholds that they are keeping an eye on because things could change tomorrow and like mobile rate could go straight up. And the growth there seems to be driven by mobile, driven by markets in Asia as well. So really depends on the type of publisher and where you are focused on and who your core audience is, how much the problem is for them at the moment.   Ben Erdos: Interesting. So do you think a drop in priority has been down to obviously the shift in mobile traffic? And obviously the less adoption of ad blocking in mobile?   Lucinda Southern: Yes, yeah, it has been more desktop, even though it has higher yield for ads, traffic is mostly on mobile. But then also, ads have improved, experiences improved. Things like the Coalition For Better Ads has meant that publishers have got better, much better at policing their own user experiences. GDPR has been a big help with that as well in making sure people are, the publishers are a bit more aware of the data that they’re collecting with people. And then the  publishers are just getting better at communicating and have done enough like, have gone through enough painful years of testing and like trying to understand users. And yeah, they seem to have gotten to a way where they can communicate the value proposition. And people understand the value proposition and the importance of funding journalism as well. So you know, that you just can’t really underestimate that goodwill there for people wanting to continue funding for it.   Ben Erdos: And do you feel that ad blocking has been a driver for those positive changes or you think it has been other things?   Lucinda Southern: It would be hard to say. It has just been a number of different factors that have led to it, so really isolating it and pinning it on one thing, particularly ad blocking, could be difficult. And I think most publishers would say that it will be a combination of things. I guess there has been, you know, it has evolved, hasn’t it? The types of people who are ad blocking have changed. The ways of blocking ads have changed. How we are measuring it is changing as well. I think the acceptance is that when it peaked, when it became quite mainstream, and then the rates went down, where the original cohorts of people who were always going to be blocking, always going to be against tracking, people who are gamers or engineers or who are really tech savvy, the ones who have always been blocking, it is going to be hard to get those people to actually stop. And that sort of acceptance feels to be quite, to me, that’s where publishers are at.   Ben Erdos: And from the publishers that you speak to, they have had success in converting those profiles that are more susceptible to using ad blockers, they have converted those to subscriptions or other sort of revenue streams?   Lucinda Southern: Yeah, well, I think diversifying revenue streams is a key important part of how severe a publisher would find the threat of ad blocking. Back a couple years ago, it was what prompted future publishing to explore ecommerce and other revenue streams. There is other publishers that you know, that the media, like selling media on a click is not really the, I don’t want to be speaking for all publishers there, but there is a lot more than just selling the click of as media. So there are lots of content partnerships and video ads as well and other diversified revenue streams. But I mean, it seems like the main way to respect people’s choices, well the main way is just to communicate with people, offer them as many different choices as possible. And again, going back to Future, they had success in bringing down the rate of ad blocking by just offering as many different options as they could in their ad block messages, whether it runs to whitelist the site or turn off the ad blocker or to view a video ads or to become a member or, and the other different types of actions that they wanted to do. And that seems to be one of the best solutions.   Ben Erdos: Sure, and I think Future is a good example that have already anyway a very engaged user base and readership that are able to play off and have those multiple different conversations and to play around with several different options. Do you have any kind of advice or tips you would give to those slightly smaller mid-range publishers, or smaller publishers and might be suffering from ad blocking that don’t necessarily have that high engagement in terms of repeat users and people that understand that brand of publishing but would also want to be trying similar things?   Lucinda Southern: Sounds like just a lot of testing. And it has not, that is, you know, that’s easy, but hard, isn’t it? Like you know what you have to do, but it is just doing that grind all the time is not an easy thing to do. So yeah, I can see that people want to keep, or publishers want to keep their content open. They don’t want to throttle their reach by putting up subscriptions or lockers or paywalls. So just continuing to test the different ad units on their sites, maybe doing more native ads, more video ads, and really looking at the viewability scores for their different ad units, removing the ones that aren’t going to be as favorable. Even though people, publishers have a knack for removing inventory, but it is really drilling down into the numbers to make sure that it is going to end up being in net positive.   Ben Erdos: And if you see for your recent talks with publishers, any sort of change in terms of ad blocking numbers due to the pandemic?   Lucinda Southern: I have not actually, I’ve not asked if that’s made a difference. I wonder if there are a few, there is less mobile traffic, if people are commuting less, but it has not come up in any conversations that I’ve had. The only thing that has come up is just before the pandemic really was around different subscription publishers offering a different or lower tiered version of anti ad and anti tracking access for a smaller monthly fee. And as the different browsers are going to be cracking down on cross site tracking as those ecosystems close up, and that seems to be those multiple walled gardens within it. I mean, perhaps it is not really in the spirit of the open web, but it is going to be quite a few publishers that are going to go down that route.   Ben Erdos: Yeah, I think so. Especially when you factor in the stuff that publishers are trying to build up their own kind of value with first party data, and the smaller ones will need to kind of partner with other outlets to be able to kind of build up that data and what they have on users to be able to trade off that programmatically and direct.   Lucinda Southern: Yeah, I agree. For the smaller ones, it will be more of a case of partnering with the right people and collectives and coalitions and alliances. I’m sure there is going to be many more of those coming up.   Ben Erdos: For sure. And the question is really in terms of when you get to the consent and all of these different options that you are presenting to the user, it becomes quite a complex thing for a publisher to navigate all of those different messages that potentially on that first wave of entering a site that the user is going to be offered to with the ad blocking with consent for data and then potentially with subscriptions and that kind of stuff. It is a very noisy environment that the user might be offered.   Lucinda Southern: Yeah, definitely. We have heard a lot of publishers that were tying in their ad blocking messages with their consent management platform messages, the GDPR, and bring it as another way. Even though you want so much choice, I guess you don’t want the extensive choice that GDPR can get within those opt in messages. But yeah, it is a bit of a balancing act.   Ben Erdos: For sure. And you know any publishers that you have recently seen that kind of got that balancing act right?   Lucinda Southern: Well, I use that for research purposes. Yeah, there are loads that are doing. I do think Teacher does a great job, Dennis does a great job, and Spiegel as well. Axel Springer. Germany has had it particularly tough where a high percentage of their internet users are blocking ads. So they have learned. Seems to be the first ones who are on there switching. So we are going to hear more from guys Adblock Plus about that.     Ben Erdos: For sure. And then really, I guess in terms of, do you think that any recommendations for publishers in terms of what you think drive value with users and helping engagement?   Lucinda Southern: Well one is testing lots, offering different choices, different versions. And then, depending, you know, showing a bit of personality has gone down well in the past as well. Publishers being able to use a bit of humor, using something that’s really clearly part of their tone of voice. Those things have gone down well in the past, but you know, there is still potential for more testing around that for sure.   Ben Erdos: So, I think it is really relevant making that whatever that message is, is on the same sort of similar theme as the general content and keeping it as authentic as possible to the user base.   Lucinda Southern: And being able to explain that value proposition in a succinct way. One that appeals to consumers. Publishers are just always getting better at trying to understand the audience after having a period where they were just so disconnected from them. And it is not a surprise that people were blocking ads. There were some really horrendous experiences. So it is the natural progression and evolution of the ad ecosystem, digital ad industry that’s coming through and growing up.   Ben Erdos: And what do you think kind of was the reason for that disconnect? Because I think I definitely agree with you that there was a disconnect in terms of how publishers were treating their users. But do you have any kind of insight in terms of what caused that disconnect in the past?   Lucinda Southern: Well, people say, I mean, the common argument would be programmatic advertising and having devastated print revenues and circulation, everything moving to online and not really understood like, you know, the infinitesy of the internet and being able to put advertising everywhere and having to drive revenue as much as possible when it was sinking elsewhere. And so there was just, it was just a wild west. There weren’t really any rules or regulations at that time. And yeah, there was a lot of eggs that were broken along the way, but publishers are paying for those missteps.   Ben Erdos: Yeah, I think so. I think that coupled with obviously, people were just trying to find that feat with the new tech landscape and programmatic and that had a bit coming in. This also kind of lather rinse and repeat of testing and seeing what works from a revenue perspective. And from a user experience perspective, and that kind of stuff, always kind of created that vacuum of opportunity where they kind of lost their way in terms of, okay, what’s that core in terms of that content and how they engage with their readership.   Lucinda Southern: Yep. I couldn’t agree more.   Ben Erdos: And then if we can kind of tie things up, but if you just got kind of, can kind of give us any sort of insight of where you think the future is going with regards to ad blocking and data and that kind of stuff.   Lucinda Southern: It is hard to say because things, people, publishers they feel braced for something changing very quickly or for mobile to expose. The ones that I speak to. Anyway. But again, akin not to get into that arms race is keen to respect that people might want to still block ads. And, again, we are going to have more walled gardens within the open web, created by publishers who are keeping their own first policy data in check and who are finding it increasingly hard to track users outside of their own properties. And I think with things like that, offering the different variations of tracking lists or add light at a lower price point will be able to satisfy the appetites of those like AdBlock Curious. At the moment, it has been decreasing for, or like holding steady or decreasing for a while now long enough for people to feel a little bit more at ease. So, the problem is still there, but the hysteria has quieted, as more things have become important.   Ben Erdos: Fair enough. No, that totally makes sense. Well, thank you very much for joining us. And thank you for your great insight and good conversation. And let’s bring up the guys from eyeo now. So hi, guys. I am going to formally introduce Job and Ben from eyeo. So Job heads up Industry Relations at EyeO, and Ben is the Director of Advocacy there. And so just to kind of put some context, but I will let them kind of formally introduce the company. They work for eyeo who are probably best known as the creators of AdBlock Plus, but much deeper than that. So welcome, guys, and thank you for joining us.   Job Plas: Thanks Ben.   Ben Williams: Thank you for bringing us.   Ben Erdos: Yes. So why don’t you just kind of introduce to the audience what EyeO actually do and are involved in?   Ben Williams: Yes. So EyeO has been around since around 2011. And you are right, it really started with Adblock Plus, and both Job and I have actually been there. We are about 230 people now and Job and I were among the first 10 who joined. We came on 2012, 2013 and really saw ad blocking just take off at that time. Doc Ceros, the famous privacy researcher at Harvard called it the greatest boycott in human history. And I’ll tell you, those were some days. It was exciting back in those days because you were really, as an ad block, you were really disrupting things. I think the thing that we have seen over the last couple of years and the thing that eyeo started, that’s now become more of an independent open thing is Acceptable Ads, which is another option that publishers have to reclaim some of that lost revenue. And just basically, short introduction to that I’m sure most of the people on the call probably know what it is by now, but basically Acceptable Ads is just that if ads basically work against criteria that are established by an independent committee, then those ads can apply to get sort of let through. And it is not just Adblock Plus and Ad Blockers Associated with EyeO but most ad blockers these days. And that really began the process of ad blocking becoming ad filtering. You recently brought up the Coalition for Better Ads and the great work that they do when you factor in what they are doing, what you are seeing now is hundreds of millions of users out there. Whether they are just a normal Chrome user getting the Better Ads experience to the Coalition For Better Ads, or whether they are using a number of different ad blockers and getting Acceptable Ads, it has sort of given publishers more options about what they can do, and also giving users the ability to see some ads or block them all. And the good news for publishers is most people liked Acceptable Ads, and very few people opt out of it.   Ben Erdos: That is good to hear. So obviously, Acceptable Ads is a standard that publishers can adhere to, and that users basically get by default when using adblock products or ad filtering products and that kind of stuff, but is there any sort of talk within the standard to make it like a branding thing and a go to market thing for publishers that they can have a certification and put it on their site as like a stamp of approval like tag does?   Job Plas: Yeah, so that is absolutely one of the topics that is being discussed in the Acceptable Ads Committee. It is going to work a little bit more on the transparency around like Acceptable Ads, and the thing that the Acceptable Ads standard tries and is trying to accomplish. And I think that is a very interesting topic for them to actually look into because one of the things that I personally liked a lot about the Acceptable Ads Committee is that it is a mostly user driven initiative. So in contrast to other industry initiatives that we have seen, like Coalition for Better Ads or stuff that the IIB does over the last years, it never has actual user representation on it. And this is one of the things that the Dexa Plas committee sells support. So there is equal representation to the online advertise supply chain, and with the user focus there. So yeah, that is absolutely one of the things that they are looking into.   Ben Erdos: So that is really interesting. So in terms of the user voice, how many users are actually part of that coalition?   Job Plas: So on the user side of the committee, especially, there are four seats in that group. Three are taken by digital rights organizations because you will find Consumer Acts from the US in there. But there is also like one seat being taken by an actual ad blocking user that has been using ad blockers for a long time and actually working on maintaining his own ad blocker too. So that is really the idea that that person is then also doing the outreach to more and more ad blocking users to bring that perspective to the table, because it should not only be the industry to decide what is good enough for users or what is not. There should be actually a user there to provide that perspective on it.   Ben Erdos: That is good. Obviously, you talked about Acceptable Ads and the Coalition for Better Ads. Are you able to kind of just highlight to the publishers on the call what the differences are in that case. It’s the new ones, they may not necessarily understand the impact of how each one behaves.   Job Plas: Yeah, so good question. So there is, of course, a lot of overlap. I think both organizations try to work on standards that are making online advertising better for the users. So that is definitely the thing that they share in common. But I think the big difference is that we kind of like to see the open web in an 80/20 split, if you will. 80% of the web, I always use my parents as the example there. They are not that bothered by blinking ads and video ads etc. So the traditional advertising formats set by the Coalition For Better Ads, they work for them. That is good enough for them. What we are talking with the Acceptable Ads Committee about is topic is really that 20%. The 20% roughly of the open web that is browsing the web with an ad blocker. And usually they just don’t respond to traditional ad formats. That is also why they have not sold an ad blocker. So the Acceptable Ads Committee is really deciding on the standard for that 20% kind of like the typical tech savvy, the geeky, the higher educated user base that is installing ad blockers.   Ben Erdos: Which is also the kind of user base that advertisers are really looking to tap into anyway, because they tend to have a higher net worth and a higher disposable income and also spend a lot more online and that kind of stuff. So it is an important audience. How do you see that audience kind of developing and adapting with millennials and younger age users?   Job Plas: Yeah, so I think it still very much holds true for a lot of the user base that is installing ad blockers, that they do tend to skew a very much younger segment, the millennial segment, Gen Z segment, especially on desktop. Of course, one of the things is a difference is that that generation is maybe less of an avid user of the web. They tend to be spending more time within the walled gardens of iOS, Android or within apps. So of course, there is less of a technical opportunity to also provide ad blocking services there.   Ben Erdos: If we circle back to the ad blocking product, are you able to give the audience a little bit of update in terms of numbers and percentage ads blocked or percentage of installs and users and that kind of stuff?   Ben Williams: Sure. At Adblock Plus, basically we have around 100 million users. We have been seeking steady around that, even as desktop numbers have been correctly reported and a lot of places have kind of leveled off. But the more important number I think to keep in mind is the amount of users who are taking on or using Acceptable Ads, and that is somewhere around 200 million users right now. So what has come out of that is this ecosystem in a lot of ways it mirrors the, as Job was saying, the 80%. This ecosystem mirrors that ecosystem very much because you have advertisers, of course on there, you have publishers, and then you have a growing list of ad tech providers who help the advertisers get the ads to the publishers. But it is just within the bounds of this ecosystem, and also within the strictures defined by the Acceptable Ads Committee, that is the standard making body.   Ben Erdos: That makes sense. Are you able to talk to us in terms of how the standards are developing and evolving?   Ben Williams: Yeah.   Job Plas: Yes. So I can take that over. So I think, since the Acceptable Ads Committee took over in 2017, what they started focusing on for instance crafting criteria and a standard for mobile ads. So this was really the first kind of big milestone that they have reached, I think back in 2018. Right now, they commissioned research into looking into video ads and to kind of see whether there are video ads that are good enough for ad blocking users. And if so, how they should look like. As it looks like right now, this is going to be finished in Q3. So probably in Q4, you will hear what the decision is from the committee, whether video ads are going to be considered acceptable or not.   Ben Erdos: And that is just a frame that adds video ads across all the spectrum both in banners video and also in-stream?   Job Plas: Yeah, so they focus mostly on pre-rolls as the lowest common denominator initially and to present those video formats video ad formats to ad blocking users to gauge what their perspective and their perception on that. So that’s how they do. They first wanted to start with the pre-rolls.   Ben Erdos: That makes sense totally. So are you able to go into some sort of your guidelines for publishers in terms of how they should treat ad blocking users and engage with them and potentially offer them different services and what you feel has worked with publishers that might be on the Acceptable Ads board and that kind of stuff.   Ben Williams: Yeah. It is different for every publisher. And I think Lucinda laid out a lot of the things that publishers are doing. And just go for instance to The Washington Post and go to The Guardian, and you see that they, well if you have an ad blocker installed, and you see that they deal with that in a very different way. And so they know their audience best and know what is going to work for that audience the best and they test that obsessively. And for some of them, it is a very nice nudge to perhaps support their site. And as we know, basically since 2016, there was a selection in place from the “don’t live anymore.” And people started to pay a lot more attention to the news and try to get actual real news about what was going on in the world. So, you see other factors of course that are driving subscriptions, I think. But then when you come back to squarely the ad blocking issue, again the publisher knows best. But what we found is that there are 56% or so of the ComScore top 100 publishers have used Acceptable Ads. So that has seemed to be a robust solution for a lot of publishers out there. Others have gone in different ways. Sometimes you can work with vendors out there that offer you either a subscription model or watching a video, or going on with an Ad Lite experience with Acceptable Ads. So, I think testing and knowing your audience, those are the two most important things.   Ben Erdos: It definitely makes sense. And I think something that all publishers are trying to deal with is getting that, as Lucinda said, getting that balance right, especially in today’s world where we have got all sorts of conversations going on in terms of data and privacy and lots of other different things that  publishers are trying to engage their user on. As well as there are content. So it definitely is a challenge. How many publishers do you have on the council for Acceptable Ads?   Job Plas: Acceptable Ads Committee.   Ben Erdos: Can’t get it right.   Job Plas: There are so many industry initiatives out there, so it is just fine. So from the top of my head, there are five publishers on there. And it is spearheaded by Nick Flood, Global Commercial Operations Director, Future Publishing Ltd., that is basically leading that group of publishers and to really bring that agenda to the table. And yeah, he has been absolutely fantastic to really represent publishers within that consolation to help educate everybody around the table. You know, what their problems are, where their pain points are, and to really find that compromise with everybody around the table, including the ad blocking usage digital rights organizations, etc.   Ben Erdos: So we have got obviously a number of different questions in terms of the Adblock Plus product and ad blocking in general, so user will download it, install it and usually utilize it because of bad user experience on a particular website and not necessarily play with the settings in terms of whitelisting sites, and that kind of stuff. And then obviously other publishers are impacted by that, that will get obviously the Acceptable Ads. But is there any thinking in terms of giving publishers back control in terms of being able to have a much more nuanced approach with premium publishers that not necessarily that site that was impacting in order to gain back their relationship with the user other than them having to identify somebody using an ad blocker and reaching with a message?   Ben Williams: Yeah, you can always go with that approach of messaging your users and sort of making them aware of the value exchange that is inherently there. Well, we found, in just speaking to a lot of our users, is that most users are very much aware of it. It’s like, “Yeah, I know. I’m giving my attention to these ads in order to get the content for free.” But I think that has been the big change from say 2013 until now, is that publishers have a wide variety of things that they can use in order to get those readers to either look at all the ads that they have, or maybe to take an Ad Lite experience through Acceptable Ads, or to take another sort of Ad Lite experience. It has definitely changed a lot. I mean, in between, in that time, there were a lot of other solutions that did not prove to be that successful. And maybe it is more interesting to focus on those sometimes. But there was an attempt for a while to just circumvent the ad blockers through technical means. So essentially, they are blocking these ads, so you fill in those ads with other ones. And that was a back and forth, not with us, but with the open source community that sort of makes ad blocking work. And you know most, I will say far thinking publishers, they are the publishers who are looking at it a little bit more long in the tooth. They said, “You know, we got into this problem in the first place by overpopulating our site with ads, and it just does not work to force the ads on the people.” And so I think the lesson that people learned in all of that, and it is the exact same lesson that has been taught through GDPR and browsers, basically getting rid eventually by 2022 of third party cookies, is that you have to listen to the users’ wishes. If you listen to their wishes, they are willing to engage in that value exchange, but they want to do it on their own terms. And I think that is the lesson that we basically have, I think, learned at this point with ad blocking, and therefore you have all those options. And it is just my hope and actually think it will be this way, that with the death of the third party cookie, not to change subject, we are going to see a parallel situation. And I think that from all the efforts I have seen from the industry, that is exactly the lesson that they are taking to heart.   Ben Erdos: That is good that they are actually learning from those kind of lessons. Are you doing any any work with consent management platforms to kind of unify that messaging piece and to help them in terms of, “Okay, we have to as a publisher, as an industry,consent for users for different things,” and to roll in that kind of the ad blocking piece into like Content Management notifications, so that the users are not bombarded on that first hit onto the website with a cookie toast and a privacy toast and an ad blocking toast if they are using ad blocking as well? Because I think everybody has been on those websites where the first time you go on to a specific page or a specific user on that session, you are bombarded with all these different kind of messages that kind of stop you getting to the content.   Ben Williams: Yeah, we have of course informal talks with people, and we have spoken with the publishers just basically when they asked, “Well, how was it with ad blocking?” But I feel like most of the publishers know how it was up there. And again, you may have a different view on this one, but for me, it has not, we have not quite reached the perfect equilibrium with the cookie notifications quite yet. But I do think we will get there. It is just that right now, it is that sort of experimental phase. But yeah.   Ben Erdos: That kind of goes into, I think it ties in too very nicely in terms of the settings that you have in terms of non-personalized ads and non-targeted ads. Do you see a lot of people opting into that?   Job Plas: With that feature, it is not too popular. Users are looking at settings and some of them are disabling the Acceptable Ads for this for example, that used to hover around like 8% of the user base of AdBlock Plus at least. And we have seen this actually decline a little bit over time. So it is even less than before. But there are other features that users do opt into. So for example, this additional privacy protection that we offer within the product. So another blocking list, that is absolutely some list that is pretty popular, and is being used by roughly 10% to 20% of our user base.   Ben Erdos: Now that makes sense. And do you have any data that you are able to share in terms of how Acceptable Ads impacts RPMs on pages for those that are using it?   Ben Williams: Do you mean just basically like the RPMs that Acceptable Ads gets?   Ben Erdos: Yeah. Exactly. So, basically, obviously, a user that is using a AdBlock Plus product will go into a website and it restricts creatives and impressions on that particular page. So, obviously, it has an impact on that publisher’s revenue for that particular page in that particular user. Do you have any kind of data that you are able to share in terms of what the percentage difference is between that and a user that is not necessarily using an Acceptable Ads product?   Ben Williams: Unfortunately, no real data. Publishers, as you know, are generally not too forthcoming about stuff like that. But what we have seen with Acceptable Ads is over the years, one of the parts of the chain that really was not paying as much attention to ad blocking as the supply side was just the demand. When you go to the DSP and back to the agency all the way back to the advertiser, this was not always a first level concern on their side. But then what we have been able to do partly is sort of evangelize that idea of how, Ben you brought it up before, how valuable this audience is. They are young, they are tech savvy. They actually spend. In studies we have done, they literally spend more money online than your non-Adblock user. And other ones backed up by, like Global Web Index. And so it has just been sort of getting them to know that, “Hey, this is a valuable audience and you really need to talk to your agencies and your DSPs about buying on this, within this ecosystem.” And that is an ongoing process. So we have seen that those RPMs have increased over the years as you get more premium advertisers, just to know that they can reach that audience out there again.   Ben Erdos: And from your conversation with those advertisers, do you actually see that targeting them to Acceptable Ads, and they are actually performing for those campaigns that are running to that user base?   Ben Williams: Oh, for sure. It comes down to like simple arithmetic. I mean, you have ads that are worth more money, and they come through and you have a user base that is highly valued. And they are going to fetch higher CPM. So it is definitely a change we have seen happening. But it is all things in ad tech, you know, it does take some time. And so, that is an evolving process. And we definitely look forward, as one of the players in this system, of having more advertisers sort of take advantage of that huge opportunity.   Ben Erdos: And that makes sense. And are you able to give some insight in terms of the trends that you are seeing and where you see things are going in the next 12-24 months?   Ben Williams: Yeah. Obviously, we have already seen this trend from ad blocking data filtering. That has happened over the last several years. And so, I am going to sort of repeat myself here, but I think that the main trend that we have been seeing start is that you just find more value of advertisers who are realizing the tremendous reach that is available. Considering the entire open web, 200 million is not everything but it is a very big number. And it is an audience that is certainly worth looking into. So I think we will see a lot more of that. And then just the switch to mobile. As we have seen desktop level off, and as Joe was pointing out, you see younger users are more tied to their phones than their desktops. And there was a report back in February about ad blocking numbers, and it confirmed basically that. Desktop is leveling out, but we have seen more mobile browsers sort of take on ad blocking and Acceptable Ads in particular as a default feature. And this just makes our product more interesting. So yeah, we have seen it definitely switch over to mobile. I will expect that to continue.   Ben Erdos: That makes sense. In terms of that, it is a very interesting thing. Obviously there is value in the user base, in the audience that are using Acceptable Ads. Do you see that as something that the tech players that are part of it want to add in as a value to their users in terms of giving buyers on DSP seats the ability to target those users?   Job Plas: Yeah, that is absolutely something that we have seen. We have seen just a lot more interest coming from actually some of the brands that have a natural overlap between like the Ad Block user base and their own customer base. And they just actually go out and ask for the demand partners to actually set up the ad campaigns specifically targeted at those ad blocking users. And yeah, that is something we are hopefully going to see more.   Ben Erdos: That is interesting. So we have got a question from one of our… This is in terms of… How do you actually study the purchasing habits of the adblock users? Is it data that you buy in? Or is it stuff that you do your own research on?   Ben Williams: Definitely stuff that we have done our own research on. One thing about Adblock Plus from its open source days before it came on with EyeO is that we were not allowed to have any information about our users. We have a very strict privacy policy. Well, I will tell you, it is tough hiring marketers if you do that. So, we know nothing about our users. It is wonderful, really. But in all seriousness, no, we do not do that. And it is a point of principle for us. And it is really hard to… That is one of the things, I think it was an article in Digiday actually Lucinda, it was Lies, Statistics and Ad Blocking Numbers. It is really hard to get any sort of real data on Ad Block users because of the privacy baked into it. What I can say is that we have done extensive research with our users voluntarily. And we also have looked to places like Global Web Index, who have statistics that they add to every quarter. And what they do is they basically just separate ad blocking users into those who are purely ad blocking users and ad filtering users. And then they do ask them about their buying habits. And that is where we are able to do, sort of glean insights into buying habits, and demographics and things like that.   Job Plas: And to add to that, that is similar to how the AdPlus Committee is doing it. That is always the one question they always post to the vendors is, “Do you have enough people in your database that you can actually filter out, actually the ad blocking users?” So it is really going back to that 80/20 split again. So we always tend to focus on that 20% because that is really the segment that we are responsible for.   Ben Erdos: It really makes sense. And I think it is a good thing. Okay, so we have one more question from the guys, they really want to know who would win in arm wrestle between Ben and Joe?   Ben Williams: Oh, definitely you.   Job Plas: I agree. I agree.   Ben Williams: You can not see this, but the guy is like 6’4’’. I am 5’9’’ inch in high heels. So you know, definitely you.   Ben Erdos: Really? I did not know that you have your heels on for the call, but that is good to know.   Ben Williams: I have got a foot cam but I do not think Zoom supports that unfortunately. I wanted to show them off.   Ben Erdos: Fair enough. Maybe next time we will save that for something for the follow up in 2021. But thank you very much for the conversation. I think we have not, we have got more questions?   Team member: No questions. YouTube video coming up, follow up.   Ben Erdos: So yeah, essentially we will post the video on YouTube and our social channels and we will also transcribe it and post it on our blog as well so people can have access to it afterwards. So if anybody missed parts of it, they can come back for it. But thank you very much for our guests. Lucinda, Job and Ben. It has been a great conversation. I think everybody find it very insightful and entertaining as well. And if anybody has guests or ideas for guests or content, please feel free to reach out to the team and we would love to hear what you want to hear in upcoming sessions. But thank you very much everybody for the time and enjoy the weekend.   Job Plas: Cool. Thanks for having us, it was a lot of fun.   Ben Erdos: Cheers.   Ben Williams: Thanks Ben, thanks everybody.   Ben Erdos: Bye bye.