Overall ad traffic in Canada has declined by 30% in the past two years, and according to IAB Canada, the most likely cause is ad blocking.
The IAB shared its findings Thursday as part of its annual Canadian Media Usage Trends (CMUST) study, compiled by PHD Canada and presented by Rob Young, the media agency’s senior vice-president planning services.
Young said according to ComScore Ad Metrix, the total number of desktop display ads served in Canada has declined by 30% between August 2013 and August 2015, even though Canadians’ overall desktop usage has remained flat.
He said the research committee concluded that a significant part of this decline came from the growth in usage of ad blocking, after eliminating several other likely explanations. The decline is not due to the migration of users to mobile devices, since mobile has contributed to overall growth in internet usage rather than detracting from desktop. It’s also not likely due to improved viewability screening by advertisers, since the average viewability rate of served ads has improved only slightly (from 44% to 48%, per ComScore).
Ad blocking, however, has been on the rise. Young cited two different studies showing the penetration of ad blockers in Canada has risen to between 16% (ComScore/Sourcepoint) and 20% (Adobe/PageFair) of online users. He showed Google search trend data indicating a steady rise in searches for the term “ad blocking” over the same period.
“In effect it is creating a commercial free environment — it would be as if TV stations suddenly had 20% more commercial-free inventory,” Young said. “It doesn’t necessarily impact campaign ad delivery, it just means there is more commercial-free inventory out there from the consumer’s point of view.”
According to PageFair, the number of people using ad blockers globally rose 41% in the past year (growth numbers specific to Canada were not available). However as one IAB audience member noted, PageFair provides technology to assist publishers in circumventing ad blocking and may not be the most objective source.
Ad blocking reduces the overall pool of ad inventory by preventing ads from being served to some users. Though advertisers don’t pay for blocked ads, many have become concerned that widespread ad blocking may be affecting their ability to reach online audiences, particularly in the male 18-34 demo where ad blocking is much more prevalent. The issue has become especially pressing in mobile, since the most recent version of Apple’s iOS launched with native support for ad blocking in its Safari browser.
The US IAB (which is independent of IAB Canada) has launched an initiative called LEAN, designed to help advertisers create ads that are more secure, load faster and provide a better user experience, in the hopes users will be less inclined to block ads.
IAB director of research Steve Rosenblum said similar initiatives would be even more important in Canada, where publishers have smaller audiences and are more vulnerable to revenue loss from ad blocking.
“There is a danger to Canadian homegrown content,” he said. “This is a global challenge that all of the IABs are taking up together, through the IAB Tech Lab in New York, and we’re all looking into next steps.”