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ISBA Adblocking Digital Advertising

Financial Times plots website overhaul to uphold the user experience


By Ronan Shields | Digital Editor

March 9, 2016 | 4 min read

The Financial Times (FT) is planning an overhaul of its website with an emphasis on an enhanced user experience in a project called ‘Next FT’, after the title found that up to 20 per cent of the ads served on its site are blocked.

The update was revealed today (9 March) on stage at the annual ISBA Conference where Dominic Good, the publisher's global advertising, sales and strategy director, participated in a panel session on ad-blocking.

Good stated that the publisher was currently implementing a redesign of the website with the purpose of the overhaul geared towards improving page load times, and placing a stronger emphasis on valuing its readers’ privacy, in an attempt to offset the issue.

He also revealed that the FT has just implemented an ‘anti ad-locker’, after research had showed that up to 20 per cent of the ads it serves are blocked (typically such activity "peaks at the weekends").

“It’s not a problem yet, but if it carries on it will be a problem,” he told attendees, noting that ad revenues were supplementary to its subscription revenues.

Good went on to note that it was a “tiny, tiny fraction” of the FT’s readers that were using ad blocking software, an agreed with fellow panellist Rotem Dar, international account director at AdBlock Plus, that the status quo of ad serving had to change.

However, he did cite a grievance that the FT currently “don’t have a say” over AdBlock Plus’ controversial whitelisting policy, which it calls its Acceptable Ads Policy, whereby it lets some advertisements and then asks the parties behind it for funding. “Ad-blockers are another intermediary,” he told attendees.

AdBlock Plus’ Dar went on to cite research of its user base, noting that 90 per cent of them will tolerate being served ads, which can diminute the experience by slowing down page load times and getting in the way of editorial content, as long as they were not overly intrusive.

Meanwhile, Dr Johnny Ryan, a fellow panellist from anti ad-blocking outfit PageFair, claimed that it had seen at notable upsurge in the instalment of ad-blockers in the last 12 months. In order to address this problem, he suggested that advertisers, publishers, and consumer groups agree a legitimate standard for the future of advertising (similar to the approach advocated by the John Whittingdale, MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport speaking at the conference earlier in the day).

Also on the panel was The Post Office’s marketing head Peter Markey, who gave his assessment of the current state of affairs in the ad-blocking debate.

“Do I got to bed at night worrying about it? No,” he said.

“I don’t see it as a worry at the minute, it’s part of the natural evolution and shakeup of things,” added Markey, comparing ad blocking to time-shifting TV, which lets users to fast-forward content (including ads).

Meanwhile, on a separate conference panel discussing transparency in the programmatic advertising sector, ComScore VP of advertising Jodi McDermott, relayed how her company was working with certain advertisers over “custom viewability” whereby the client stipulates precise KPI’s (and not accepting the industry standard definition of viewability) before it pays for a campaign.

Also participating on this panel was the UK MD of TubeMogul, a demand-side platform (DSP) specialising in video, where he emphasised that advertisers be fully aware of who bills them, and for what exactly they are paying for.

“I think it’s important that software is independent of media,” he added.

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