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Mobile Ad Blockers Have Already Become the App Store's Top Downloads

Global marketers wary of the fast-growing trend

Apple's U.S. App Store currently has three ad blockers in its Top 5 paid app downloads. Photos: Getty Images, Apple

COLOGNE, Germany—Apple's support of ad-blocking in its iOS9 software has caused plenty of hand-wringing for U.S. publishers and ad-tech companies, and it appears they had good reason to worry.

As of today, three of the Apple App Store's top paid apps in the U.S. are ad blockers, including the No. 1 download, called Peace.

At this week's Dmexco conference in Germany, global industry leaders said ad blocker adoption is even higher across Europe.

During a publishing panel on Thursday afternoon, PubMatic CEO Rajeev Goel said that about 40 percent of Germans use ad blockers, a significant spike from the estimated 10 percent of Americans who block ads. As with the U.S., Germany also has three ad-block apps in its Top 5 paid downloads in the App Store.

Recent data from PageFair similarly highlights how big a problem ad blocking is for advertisers in Europe compared to the rest of the world. That study found that 25.3 percent of German residents turn on ad blocking, which increased 17 percent in the past year. Even bigger, 36 percent of consumers in Greece use blockers. To compare, Oregon has the highest percentage of blockers in the U.S. at 16.4 percent.

"Consumers are seeing that the mobile experience leaves something to be desired compared to the desktop experience," Goel told Adweek. "One of the ways to improve that experience is to cut out the ads."

People who use ad blockers are thought to be some of the savviest Internet users since they take the extra step of finding and downloading a piece of software. Europe is particularly known for its hostility toward advertising. The continent also includes some of the strictest anti-trust practices against tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Ad blocking isn't a new challenge—people have downloaded Web plugins for years that wipe out ads—but mobile is accelerating the problem since ads squeezed into mobile phones often take over the screen and are hard to navigate around.

Goel also pointed out that there's more momentum behind mobile ad blockers than desktop versions because smartphones have less processing power and slower bandwidth than laptops. Wiping out ads speeds up the load time on Web pages.

"The conversation in the U.S. has reached a fever pitch because of iOS9 coming out, but the big question is to what extent will consumers go forward and download an app?" Goel said.

Whether or not the initial boost in app downloads will amount to any kind of long-term damage for publishers is unclear, but Ben Barokas, founder and CEO of Sourcepoint, argued that ad blocking is here to stay.

He pitched his company as a way for publishers to work around ad blocking by asking readers to either opt-in to relevant ads or pay for content. For example, a publisher may ask someone to watch a 60-second commercial before reading ad-free articles.

"Publishers need to engage with their user base to say, 'How would you like to compensate us?'" Barokas said. "If we give you choice, we will try to provide you with an advertising experience that is good for the user, is revenue-producing for the publisher and provides the audience that the advertiser needs."

Still, asking consumers to pay for content hasn't panned out well for the music and media industries in the past.

"Will people still steal content? Sure," Barokas said. "People still download music and movies, but most people are happy to pay Spotify or Netflix in order to consume the majority of their content."

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