Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

ITV deserves credit for not bowing to self-appointed arbiters of online ads

One of the biggest problems with advertising on Facebook, according to Lord Rothermere, the svelte chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust, is that he only ever sees ads about how to tone his abs.

Rothermere’s solution is to forward them to the Mail’s managing director and seasoned luncher, Guy Zitter.

But not everyone has such a client-entertaining maestro on hand to provide relief – and unsolicited, untargeted ads online can be annoying. But help is on hand. There’s a new sheriff in town when it comes to online ads, in the form of Adblock Plus (ABP).

Having been downloaded more than 200 million times, it is the most popular browser extension in existence right now, and is able to block all ads, including banners and pre-rolls, depending on the filters applied.

The success of the software plug-in is said to be indicative. More than eight out of ten Brits (85 per cent) believe that catch-up TV services feature too many ads, according to a study of more than 2,000 ABP respondents. And 67 per cent would like the option of a paid-for premium service that doesn’t include ads – an option that ABP’s German co-founder Till Faida supports.

ABP first caught my attention back in February, when it was singled out by Google and neutered in an Android software update. Since the stand-off, Google is reported to have paid the company to feature on its "acceptable ads" whitelist filter. Emboldened by its position as an online enforcer, ABP has now turned its attention to Twitter ahead of next month’s IPO.

'Make no mistake, this is like a shakedown. Agencies I talked to have all applauded ITV for taking a stance'

In an open letter, the company has said it would like to "partner" with Twitter to help "engineer acceptable, non-intrusive advertising". Our self-appointed preserver of online order is presumably hoping that Twitter will pay to make it on to its whitelist.

Make no mistake, this is like a shakedown. First, ABP blocks your ads, and then asks for money from the media owners to unblock them. Whether these apparent acts of coercion are by design, or whether they are the unfortunate distortion of an "honourable mission", is now a moot point.

Agencies I have talked to this week have all applauded ITV for openly taking a stance. ITV has "begun communicating" with users with such ad-blocking software that they will be prevented from using its ITV Player service, reminding them that "advertising revenue is one of the key ways we fund the programmes".

All content producers who like the idea of being in control of their own business models should follow suit.