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Why the Big Enemy of Online Ads Is Launching Its Own Ad Platform

More than 100 million people use the Adblock Plus extension in their browsers to make sure they don’t see annoying advertising. So it may come as a surprise to many that Adblock Plus is launching its own ad platform.

Yet, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. This is a logical extension of the company’s “acceptable ads” scheme and a new way in which Adblock Plus can make money from that program—a useful move for the company due to a recent court ruling in its home country of Germany.

It has long been the case that Adblock Plus allows certain ads through its filters, meaning “acceptable” ads that don’t auto-play video, pop out, or do otherwise annoying things. Users of the Adblock Plus browser extension can choose to see no ads at all. But for many, it’s an acceptable compromise to see ads that aren’t too bothersome.

Controversially, Adblock Plus tries to make money by charging big publishers and ad networks for letting their acceptable ads through the net. Here, we’re talking players whose ads show up in front of users’ eyeballs more than 10 million times a month.

In June, a German court ruled that ad-blocking was fine in itself, but Adblock Plus could not try to charge publishing giant Axel Springer (AXELF) for unblocking the ads on its websites.

On Tuesday, Adblock Plus launched a beta version of its own ad platform, called the Acceptable Ads Platform. This is what’s known in the ad industry as a supply-side platform or SSP, an intermediary that has publishers as its clients and fills the ad spaces on their websites with ads coming from big exchanges such as AppNexus and Google’s (GOOG) DoubleClick Ad Exchange.

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Essentially, the Acceptable Ads Platform gives publishers an easier way to make sure they can still show ads to people who use Adblock Plus.

Before, the publishers had to go through a whitelisting process that could take weeks, as Adblock Plus checked their sites and worked out if their ads were acceptable or not. Now, all they need to do is add a single line of code to their webpages, and Adblock Plus will supply the “acceptable” ads itself.

What’s more, publishers that use the Acceptable Ads Platform will still be able to show regular ads to users that don’t have the ad-blocker installed in their browser, in the same position on the page. According to Adblock Plus spokesman Ben Williams, this “fallback” mechanism was already available to large publishers, but was a pain for smaller publishers to implement. Now, it’s all automated.

Adblock Plus is pitching this as a great package for publishers that know a lot of their readers are likely to be using ad-blockers—gaming sites, tech sites, and so on.

“There are two ecosystems of online consumers out there right now: the one composed of people who block intrusive ads and the other where people do not. The Acceptable Ads Platform lets publishers reach the former group without changing anything about how they’re reaching the latter,” said co-founder Till Faida in a statement.

However, the payment structure for the new platform also happens to bypass Adblock Plus’s legal restrictions in Germany.

Under the old way of doing things, publishers of a sufficient size would pay Adblock Plus directly to get their ads unblocked. With the Acceptable Ads Platform, the publishers deal with the big exchanges as usual—they get their 80% cut of ad revenue from Google or AppNexus, and Adblock Plus collects its cut of the remaining 20%.

More precisely, Adblock Plus and its partner in this endeavor, ad-tech firm ComboTag, take a combined 30% cut of that 20%. As Williams noted, this is “frankly a little less than it used to be,” but “better suited for your medium-sized publishers.”

As for the big players like Google and Amazon, which pay Adblock Plus a large and unspecified amount of money for unblocking their ads, nothing’s changed.

This isn’t the only way in which Adblock Plus is trying to win over publishers. Together with micropayments service Flattr, it is also trying to develop a way for publishers to collect money directly from readers, rather than relying on the ad business to stay afloat.

Of course, Adblock Plus is hardly the publishers’ favorite company. It makes it easy for people to deny the publishers their main source of funding, and when it unblocks the pipe it makes sure to take a cut of those ad dollars.

But that said, ad blocking is a widespread reality these days and—ethical arguments aside—Adblock Plus says it is making it easier to reach the people who have adopted its tools.

Either way, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the industry’s trade body, is not impressed.

“No matter how Adblock Plus tries to justify their form of extortion, or make it seem harmless, it is a practice that will continue to erode the value exchange that powers the free and open Internet,” said IAB public policy chief Dave Grimaldi in a statement.

This article was updated to include the IAB’s statement.