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Government Could Step In To Stop Ad Blocking

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Culture Secretary offers support for the battle against ad blocking and pledges to bring forward requirement for licence fee to watch iPlayer

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has suggested the government could be prepared to help content creators and publishers in their battle against ad blockers.

Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, Whittingdale expressed concern about the increasing popularity of such software, which is becoming increasingly available on mobile phones and is taking effect even at a network level by some mobile operators.

He said that not only commercial television and publishers relied on advertising revenues as consumers shy away from purchasing content, but so did new types of service like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and even Candy Crush Saga.

Ad blocking fears

John Whittingdale 1“I completely understand the concern that a lot of people have expressed to me about the expansion of ad-blockers,” he said, claiming ad blockers were as threatening to these modern services as illegal file sharing and piracy was to the music, movie and television industries a decade ago.

“This practice is depriving many websites and platforms of legitimate revenue. It is having an impact across the value chain, and it presents a challenge that has to be overcome. Because – quite simply – if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist.”

Many use ad blockers because they find ads intrusive while others believe some creatives slow down system performance, use excessive amounts of data and reduce battery life, while others hold security fears. A number of advertising networks have been used to launch malvertising attacks in recent times.

Collaborative solution

Research from the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB UK) suggests one in five British adults use ad blocking, but would be less likely to do so if adverts didn’t interfere with what they were doing. However nearly two thirds claimed they prefer free, ad-supported content to a subscription-based model.

Whittingdale said more should be done to educate consumers about how free content is funded so they disable ad blockers and agreed advertising materials could be less intrusive.

“I am not suggesting that we should ban ad-blockers but I do share the concern about their impact,” he continued. “And I plan to host a round table with representatives from all sides of the argument to discuss this in the coming weeks.

“My natural political instinct is that self-regulation and co-operation is the key to resolving these challenges, and I know the digital sector prides itself on doing just that. But Government stands ready to help in any way we can – as long as this does not erode consumer choice.”

Future of the BBC

BBC iPlayer 2Whittingdale also discussed the future of the BBC and the charter renewal process. He said he would review a number of consultations and reports about the future direction of the broadcaster, in particular Sir David Clementi’s report into Governance and Regulation, which has recommended governance of the corporation should be transferred from the BBC Trust to Ofcom.

As part of negotiations, the BBC has agreed to fund free TV licences for over-75s, while some in government want non-payment of the fee to be decriminalised. In exchange, Whittingdale had promised to close a ‘loophole’ which means on demand content via BBC iPlayer does not require a licence. This measure is to be brought forward to protect the BBC’s income.

“The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong,” said Whittingdale.

“So, having discussed this with the BBC and the BBC Trust, I will be bringing forward, as soon as practicable, secondary legislation which will extend the current TV licensing regime not only to cover those watching the BBC live, but also those watching the BBC on catch-up through the iPlayer.”

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