As this column has noted before, worries over ad blocking are over-done and almost certainly louder and more extreme than the damage this innovation will actually do to media companies and advertisers.
For a moment, though, let’s imagine that ad blocking makes a meaningful impact. If that happens, there’s an unlikely beneficiary: Microsoft.
Here’s how this scenario might play out.
Ad blockers remove most if not all ads from an increasing number of media websites as consumers adopt the software. In the UK, over 20 percent of people already employ this technology.
In response, website publishers migrate more resources to building apps, which are immune to ad blocking and perform faster than websites.
Apps, which already dominate mobile media time, compared to websites, increasingly make their way onto other types of devices, mainly laptops and desktops.
Consumers, well accustomed to downloading and using apps on mobile devices, adopt the same behavior on these devices.
Advertisers cede the fight for consumers on websites to the ad blockers and instead spend on apps, which offer native formats and richer data to enable more relevance and effective targeting.
If website publishers, consumers and advertisers migrate en masse to apps for laptops and desktops, Microsoft stands to become the big winner.
That’s because Windows 10 is the operating system that’s ready today to accommodate such a shift. It works across a range of devices, from PCs to phones. Developers looking to build just once and deploy to all these form factors can’t do that on Apple, which has its iOS platform for phones and tablets and OS X for computers, or Google, which runs Android for phones and tablets and Chrome for PCs.
Last week, Facebook pledged its support for these universal applications. Windows 10 users soon will get its eponymous app, as well as Messenger and Instagram. Microsoft probably isn’t concerned about ad blocking in any case. It recently sold its display business to Aol, making Bing its primary ad-driven property.
A Windows 10 ecosystem flush with apps would eliminate one of the biggest objections consumers have had about Microsoft’s Lumia phones. The company probably wouldn’t double its paltry market share right away, but removing this barrier would enable Microsoft to focus on areas of differentiation that might distinguish its devices from very formidable competition.
If it eventually could command 10 percent market share for smartphones, consumers, investors, developers, and operators would value Microsoft a lot more highly.
Clearly, this scenario contains a lot of “if’s” that would need to break a certain way to benefit Microsoft. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, though, which is why the biggest fans of ad blocking might dwell in Redmond.