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Ad-Blocking Report: Nearly 200 Million Users, $22 Billion In Lost Ad Revenue

Ad-blocking software, once thought to be a relatively small-scale phenomenon, is apparently rapidly going mainstream. According to a new report from Adobe and PageFair — an Irish company founded in 2012 that “measure[s] the cost of adblocking and display[s] alternative non-intrusive advertising to adblockers” — $21.8 billion in global ad revenues have been blocked/lost so far in 2015.

Ad blocking has grown from roughly 21 million users in 2009, according to the report, to 198 million active global users as of June 2015 (the chart below only reflects adoption through January 2015).

Globally, ad blocking saw 41 percent growth year over year. In the US, it grew 48 percent and now has 45 million active users. According to comScore, there are approximately 250 million PC internet users in the US. The Adobe-PageFair data argue that about 18 percent of the US internet population is blocking ads.

According to estimates in the report, there was $5.8 billion “in blocked revenue” in the US in 2014. The number is expected to reach $10.7 billion this year and $20.3 billion by 2016. The report projects $41.4 billion in potential ad revenue blocked next year on a global basis.

Chrome is the browser that has seen the greatest installation of ad-blocking plug-ins. However, Firefox and Safari are also seeing ad-blocking growth. The report asserts that ad blocking occurs most among the young, technically savvy and male audiences. Accordingly, sites that rely upon those audiences are seeing the most lost revenue from ad blocking; gaming and social networking are chief among them.

More than 98 percent of ad blocking now occurs on the PC. However, ad-blocking extensions currently exist for the mobile versions of Chrome and Firefox. In addition, iOS 9 will allow ad-blocking apps. All of this suggests that mobile ad blocking will grow in the future, especially as the online ad-blocking population becomes aware of these mobile tools.

A survey of 400 US users conducted for the report found that among those not using ad-blocking software today, potential reasons to start were: 1) misuse of data for ad personalization; and 2) increase in the quantity of ads.

Overall, these findings argue for more relevant ads, more privacy and data use transparency, better creative and overall ad quality. Publishers and agencies shouldn’t simply take it as given that consumers will be accepting of online ads. There is something worse than non-attention: active blocking. Indeed, if these numbers are accurate, ad blocking represents a major emerging problem for digital publishers and marketers.

A caveat about the report, however: it’s in PageFair’s interest to generate concern about the size and growth of ad blocking. I’m not suggesting any of the numbers are fabricated. I am suggesting the company has incentives to present the most aggressive version of the current state of ad blocking the facts allow.

Having said that, there’s probably no question that ad-blocking numbers are growing and that revenue is being lost accordingly. The full report is available for download here.

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About The Author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.