Shine, the Israeli mobile ad blocking company that works with mobile carriers to block ads at a network level, has announced Jamaica-based operator Digicel as its first official customer.
While Digicel is a small company, the move is potentially seismic: For the first time, an ad-blocking company will be switching off all ads on the mobile web and in apps, for all customers.
For web publishers in Jamaica, the ad-block-alypse just arrived. If the rollout is successful—from the carriers' point of view—it could spur other, larger companies to start blocking ads worldwide.
Digicel will first deploy the technology to customers in Jamaica, before rolling the "ad control" service out to other markets in the Caribbean and the South Pacific. In total it has 13.6 million subscribers across 31 markets. The system blocks display and video ads in both mobile browsers and apps. The apps part is significant, because the mobile ad blockers in the market right now can only block ads on the mobile web.
Perhaps controversially, ad blocking for Digicel customers will roll out as standard. It won't be an optional add-on, although the company says it may offer customers the ability to switch off the facility. The only sites that won't see their ads blocked will be "certain local news sites," a Digicel spokeswoman told Business Insider.
That's unless media owners enter a partnership with the carrier. Digicel is calling on the biggest advertising companies including Google, Yahoo, and Facebook to enter into a revenue-share deal. Its argument is that ads use up as much as 10 percent of a customer's data plan allowance, and those companies are not fairly compensating Digicel for use of its bandwidth. Digicel says it will reinvest that money back into its infrastructure.
If a company like Google, for example, wanted to a serve an ad to a customer on the Digicel network, Google would have to sign up to a code of conduct and share some of the associated ad revenue it from ads served with Digicel. If Google chose not to, then the ad would be blocked by Shine's technology.
While it might sound like an unreasonable proposal, companies like Google and Amazon already pay significant sums to Eyeo, the owner of popular ad blocker Adblock Plus, for their ads to appear on its "Acceptable Ads List" and pass through the blocker's filters.
We asked whether it seemed likely that many advertising vendors will sign up, considering each individual company will need to form a separate partnership with Digicel. The spokeswoman responded: "Yes, but we don't see this as a barrier. Most of the ads served come through a small number of companies mentioned in the press release...there is a precedent in the market for this business model."
Digicel also told Business Insider it doesn't plan to promote ad blocking through marketing—the service will just be switched on.
Denis O'Brien, chairman of the Digicel Group, said in the press release: "This is about giving customers the best experience and about getting access to broadband to the unconnected and allowing them to benefit from the opportunities it affords. Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook talk a great game and take a lot of credit when it comes to pushing the idea of broadband for all–but they put no money in. Instead they unashamedly trade off the efforts and investments of network operators like Digicel to make money for themselves. That’s unacceptable, and we as a network operator, are taking a stand against them to force them to put their hands in their pockets and play a real role in improving the opportunities for economic empowerment for the global population.”
O'Brien was recently described by The Guardian as the "Irish media tycoon who is rarely out of the headlines." Alongside Digicel, he also owns companies including European media holding company Communicorp, which operates a number of radio stations, and he owns a major stake in Independent News & Media, which controls the Irish Independent, The Belfast Telegraph, and Irish Daily Star. He is Ireland's richest man, having amassed a fortune worth £5 billion ($7.6 billion.)
O'Brien is known for taking on the status quo. In June, he launched legal action against the Irish state and parliament over comments made about his banking affairs by a politician under parliamentary privilege, The Guardian reported. The billionaire had previously taken out a high court injunction to prevent the Irish media reporting on his finances.
Shine, meanwhile, counts Li Ka-shing, the billionaire chairman of of Hutchinson Whampoa, as one of its investors. It originally started its life as a company devoted to creating mobile-anti virus software before pivoting recently to focus on ad blocking. While Digicel is Shine's first customer announcement, it is understood it won't be its last. Other carriers may be waiting to see the outcome of Digicel's rollout before launching their own ad blocking initiatives.
Shine's stance on ad blocking is that it is a consumer right, and the company is unrepentant about the money that publishers may lose in advertising revenue as a result.
Roi Carthy, Shine's chief marketing officer, previously told Business Insider: "We believe ad blocking is a right, full-stop. If the consumer decides to use it, we believe that it should be their right, and they should be able to do it with full integrity ... nobody [in business] has a god-given right to exist. If you own a trucking business, and gas prices rise, and you can't afford to pay your bills because you were not able to manage your business, you go out of business. There will be causalities, absolutely, but I know I'm not losing any sleep knowing remnant inventory ad networks will disappear."
Mobile ad blocking was a rare behavior until this month when Apple launched its latest software update, iOS 9, which introduced ad blocking apps to iPhones and iPads for the first time. Ad blocking apps soared to the top of the paid-for app charts on day one.
A recent report published by comScore and Sourcepoint, an ad blocker blocker, claimed one in 10 people in the US and UK block ads on their desktop computers.
Earlier this week Scott Cunningham, SVP of US trade body the Interactive Advertising Bureau, compared ad blocking to "highway robbery," Adweek reported. He also announced that the IAB has released a piece of code designed to help small publishers detect ad blocker users and serve them messages to encourage them to turn their blockers off.
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