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Minister declares war on ad-blocking ‘protection racket’

John WhittingdaleThe minister who oversees the media industry has launched a bid to curb the use of ad-blocking software, warning it could kill journalism.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale told a media conference that if publishers cannot fund content through advertising, the content will “no longer exist.”

Mr Whittingdale, left, told the Oxford Media Convention that ad-blocking companies are “depriving many websites and platforms of legitimate revenue.”

Use of the software in the UK grew by 82pc last year and the top three ad-blockers on the App Store were downloaded nearly 175,000 times within one week of going on sale.

Regional publisher Newsquest is currently trialling a system whereby visitors to some of its websites cannot view stories if they are using ad blockers.

Trinity Mirror is also reported to have looked into ways of stopping online readers from using the software, although the company has not confirmed this.

Mr Whittingdale told the conference that ad-blocking now potentially posed a similar threat to that faced by the music and film industries 10 years ago as a result of online copyright infringement and illegal file-sharing.

He said mobile phone manufacturers were now integrating ad-blocking features into their browsers and some internet service browsers were beginning to do the same.

“Some of the ad-blocking companies are drawing up their own rules of acceptable advertising or offering to list providers in return for payment,” the Culture Secretary added.

“Many see such practices as akin to a modern day protection racket.”

Mr Whittingdale went on: “It is having an impact across the value chain, and it presents a challenge that has to be overcome.

“Because – quite simply – if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist. And that’s as true for the latest piece of journalism as it is for the new album from Muse.”

“The newspaper, music, film and games industry are all having to adapt to a world in which consumers are no longer as willing to pay as their parents were.”

“I am not suggesting that we should ban ad-blockers but I do share the concern about their impact. I plan to host a roundtable with representatives from all sides of the argument to discuss this in the coming weeks.”

The Newsquest trial means people using the software, which removes advertising links from web pages, are unable to view individual stories on some of its websites.

Instead, readers are confronted with a message explaining that the revenue from advertising funds local journalism and a guide to removing ad blockers.

The trial is being conducted on several Newsquest-owned websites, including those of the Croydon Guardian and Warrington Guardian.

National daily The Times claimed last year that Trinity Mirror was also exploring plans to prevent readers of its websites from using ad-blocking software although the company declined to comment on the reports.


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  • March 3, 2016 at 9:39 am

    I sometimes wonder if I inhabit a different planet from these people.
    It’s NOT about websites having ads on them, almost everyone who tunes into HTFP is working or works for an organisation that pays the bills by selling ad space in its papers and websites.

    What would make me look at ad blocking is the intrusive, in-your-face, shouty, ads that pop up three times in a four par rta report, the video for hair shampoo you have to endure before watching five seconds of a burning warehouse and the hover horrors which appear just because your mouse pointer strayed a nanometre off the scrolling bar and a full screen ad for heavens know what appears!

    That is what puts me off from visiting a news site – and I’m in the news and information business for ******s sake! It is also why I don’t watch live ITV so much these days but prefer to catch up and wiz through the interminable and ever lengthening ad breaks.

    Sorry Mr Whittingdale but you are just plain wrong to lump me and countless others with movie and music pirates!

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  • March 3, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Can’t wait to see how this story develops. There will only be one winner – and it won’t be the newspapers. It seemed to take the developers of the ad blocker I use about two hours to get around the Telegraph’s recent attempt to deny access to their site to those using ad blockers.

    Watch this space – not ad filled – I hope.

    If they block my ad-blocker, I’ll stop visiting their sites – and I won’t be the only one. I just can’t believe these clever newspaper internet gurus never saw this coming.

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  • March 3, 2016 at 11:29 am

    But Whittingdale is right about the protection racket where software firms demand money to let certain ads through. Sounds nasty.
    Still, we don’t get these problems in the world of print journalism.
    Proper newspapers 1-0 Digital clowns

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  • March 3, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    As with a printed paper or magazine, I tolerate advertising because the business model relies on it. As Confused rightly says, the ever-increasing intrusive methods of forcing advertising views on web visitors making more and more sites unusable. I’m assuming the perpetrators do it because it means they can present better viewing figures to advertisers, but when, for example, my local JP newspaper website won’t load properly on mobile because the page is delivering a full page popup ad, which has to be clicked to close, so I just go elsewhere but presumably the figures will deliver my ‘view’ as a unique visitor. Even Google say that they downrank websites that do this so what are these idiots thinking of?!

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  • March 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I agree with Sutler and Confused on the whole, the one objectionable thing that I think Ad-Blocker companies do is when they whitelist companies who pay so they can bypass the Ad-Block protection.

    I think this really affects their whole argument that they are protecting customers and giving them choice – and does make them look like a big protection racket and I don’t think anyone would be upset if action was taken over that.

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  • March 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Clueless response by mr whittingdale who clearly doesn’t understand the issue.
    The difference between news sites and the music industry is that music files and films are not put on line to be downloaded and copied, news is on there to be read and is not charged for, that’s funded by paid for adverts in specific places ( or not as revenue figures would indicate) there’s no similarity.

    Maybe if he understood the way online revenues worked via banner ads Mpus etc he wouldn’t confuse them with pop ups and intrusive ads that fully justify being blocked.
    I suggest he holds his round table asap and includes web users,businesses and not just representatives of the RP and hopefully learns something before jumping on a passing bandwagon and making himself look stupid and out of touch,then he might get a more balanced view of the cause and effect of online adverts that cause people to block them

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  • March 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    ‘Protection racket’
    Is this guy for real
    When he properly understands the difference between paid for / site funding banner and skybox ads and intrusive pop up spam ads we wil listen to his views, until then I suggest he busies himself with more pressing matters and leave the uk regional press to sort itself out.
    I also suggest the minister speaks to his ‘advisors ‘ who clearly have not fully briefed him on this matter or who also dont understand the differences themselves.

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  • March 4, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Newspapers rely on advertising to try to help their sites pay. But the adverts should be at the side or bottom of stories NOT in the middle so you accidentally click on them while you are trying to read a story.
    In a printed newspaper you can avoid looking at the adverts if you choose – the same principle should apply to websites.
    That is why I use ad blocking software – and I’m not a pirate!

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  • March 4, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Ads on newspaper sites need to be limited to two or three formats. TV has one format, radio has one format, newspapers have several and Facebook has a few.

    The news industry needs some sort of ‘website standards’ for online advertising, so that the users come to expect certain behaviours from them. For example, we all know there will be a TV ad break half way through a 30-minute TV show on most channels. Some will still try to get around it, but most won’t.

    Autoplay videos, full-page pop-ups, and a plethora of other intrusive in-page adverts on news websites have all brought about the surge in the use of ad blocking software.

    Regional publishers have been pushing this sort of online ‘protection racket’ for years at the expense of customer experience. They are now reaping what then have sown.

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  • March 8, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Its self defeating and not in the publishers interest to allow pop ups and all other ad junk to appear on their sites ( if allow they do?)as whenever i find it hard to access a site due to having to click off unwanted ads,many of which then direct me to their own sites ,i give up and walk away.
    In my view,a site thats easy to read,and has 1 or 2 adverts in unobtrusive positions( top/side etc) will always get my attention,those that continually throw ads at me simply force me to close the site down.
    The sooner the site managers accept or reaise this is wholly counterproductive,the better,having said that i still dont click on the ads on the easier to read sites as its not what i am on there for

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