Scandinavian Ad-Block Wars

Norwegians Enable Ad-Blocking, While Swedes Organise a Fightback

There appears to be an ad-blocking cold war going on in the Nordics. As Swedish media companies prepare to battle the blocking trend, Norway’s Opera is making ad avoidance easier than ever.

The Swedish chapter of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a group representing 90 percent of the country’s major publishers, has said it is working to get a message across to readers who are using ad-blocking software and the developers of such software. The consortium has agreed not to pay white-listing fees, which would allow some ads to get through blockers. Instead publishers will offer only limited content to users of ad-blockers and provide them with an opportunity to pay a small access fee to see more.

IAB Sweden said it originally conceived the initiative more than a year ago when it was revealed that 20 percent of Swedish Internet users had installed ad-blockers. The group believes the number has now risen to 30 percent.

There’s an irony here that software company Opera, based next door in Norway, last week released a preview version of its eponymous browser that includes built-in ad-blocking. The first desktop browser to integrate ad-blocking will add fuel to the controversy. Opera claims that its new version accelerates page load times by as much as 90 percent.

Opera is a minnow in the browser market, currently ranking fifth behind popular browsers from Microsoft, Google, Mozilla and Apple. Its rivals rely on browser plugins to block ads, but Opera’s integrated feature could be a game changer. Opera allows users to maintain white lists and lets users compare load times with the ad blocker turned on and off, and shows a running counter of the number of ads blocked.

Advertising has been an important enabler for Internet business models, supporting content and applications. Ads have allowed the Web to develop, giving people cost-free access to millions of worthy sites. But ads have also developed into a major annoyance, both for desktop users and those on cellular connections, who pay to download them. And not only have ads become heavier, absorbing more bandwidth, the use of click-baiting, tracking and other intrusive, deceptive and sometimes nefarious practices is giving audiences a legitimate reason to be wary of ads.

If Opera’s native ad-blocking feature inspires a larger competitor such as Mozilla, changes could be in store for a wide swathe of Internet users. At the same time, a growing number of sites have been detecting the presence of ad-blocking plugins and have been asking users to turn them off or simply refusing to serve content.

IAB Sweden plans to test its game-of-chicken system this coming summer as the ad-block arms race heats up. The Nordics are making for an interesting microcosm of the future of the Web.