Are Apple & Google Creating A Mobile Ad Network Duopoly?

Apple, loving ads on their Apple News app. Not so much on the open mobile web

With the annual Apple product launch event taking place this week, all anyone seems to be talking about are the new iPhones, iPads and Apple TV that will be thrown into the Autumn pipeline. But something else equally important to the state of the media landscape is also bubbling under the surface in the form of some interesting additions to the new iOS 9 software update.

Apple announced earlier this year that they are introducing an Ad-Blocker extension baked directly into iOS 9. This will allow iOS users to effectively opt-out of seeing ads on many third-party sites around the web. It has the potential to drastically impact online media publishers that make their money from hosting display ads on their site, and could put many of them in serious danger of going out of business.

Ad-blocking on mobile and the web is a hot topic at the moment, but regardless of the challenges that this poses to countless online publishers, when it comes to pushing ads on Apple’s own apps it’s a different story. They announced this week that ad-blocking will not be enabled on their new Apple News service, the app that aggregates content from a number of top publishers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Rolling Stone etc. While the revenue split looks favorable to the early adopter publishers, Apple News has the potential to grow into a huge hub for all major online publications very quickly. In this scenario, Apple own all the eyeballs, not only hijacking them from their original source, but also blocking the ads that appear to viewers that manage to slip through the net and get the content directly from the publisher’s site itself.

While blocking third-party ads on the open mobile web and promoting ads inside a particular mobile application (in this case, their own) is not exactly the same thing, the general attitude is the same: Hosting ads on your own site = Bad. Hosting ads on an Apple app = Good.

One rule for them. Another rule for the rest of us. They own the landscape I guess so everyone else just has to play by their rules.

Boromir Meme

Google champion In-App ads on Android but penalize mobile-web ads

Similarly, last week Google announced their new full-screen In-App advertisements. These ‘interstitials’ are full screen App-Install ads that will appear in Android apps to promote other apps to users. They look pretty nice and offer a much needed solution for advertisers that want to get exposure for their apps, but once again, there’s a potential conflict of interest.

Offering in-app advertising solutions on your own platform is fine, but when it comes to the mobile web, they want to crack down on publishers promoting their own apps on their own mobile sites. Google announced this week that they will start to penalize publishers in mobile search results that put up app-install banners (similar to the ones that Google just launched). A little contradictory no? Promote your apps through our in-app ad network, but don’t you dare try and do it on your own mobile site.


What next for publishers?

As the world goes increasing mobile, it’s not a question of distinguishing apps and the mobile web from the ‘real’ internet we all grew up with on the desktop, but about catering to the mobile experience first and foremost.

It’s time to invert that mental model – there is not the ‘mobile internet’ and the internet. Rather, if anything, it’s the internet and the ‘desktop internet’

Source: Benedict Evans

And this is where the problem is. In this mobile-first landscape, as Apple and Google exert more and more control over how ads are served on mobile devices, they’ll start to take a bigger and bigger slice of the pie. Both companies have been relatively happy to just facilitate the unprecedented growth of mobile usage over the last few years, but it looks like they are finally starting to really take advantage of the fact that they wrote the rule book. Duopoly much?

The rise in ad-blocking in general has been huge over the last 12 months and Apple & Google are throwing fuel on the fire all under the guise of ‘enhancing user experience’ on mobile. This is fine in theory, but pretty hypocritical when you champion your own ad platforms all while blocking out others. Publishers should think about this very carefully. In this new ad-blocking mobile age,  it might be a good time to stop and re-evaluate your strategy.