Episode 220 - InterrUpted
Published November 5, 2015
With the recent enabling of ad-blocking on Apple's iPhone/iPad devices, the Internet content industry is up in arms. But have they overstepped the bounds, of ethics, good taste, and common sense in their quest to advertise and track their audiences? In this episode, we take on ad-blocking and the overall noise level that "content" is introducing to the culture, as well as hitting our favorite topics like cord-cutting, ownership of media, and fan-culture. Recorded 11/1/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
iOS Ad Blockers: Why Advertisers Are Suddenly Going Diarrhea In Their Pants, by Joel Hladecek (The Interactivist, 10/20/2015)
Episode 11 - Cut The Cord, one of our first discussions of cord-cutting (12/11/2011)
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #220. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And today we thought we’d talk a little bit, there’s been a lot of coverage lately about iOS and Apple and the iPhone beginning to block ads, and one of my favorite blogs actually had a really good article about it that I thought we would use as sort of a jumping off point. We will put that particular blog entry in the shownotes. But I know when I read that one, I mentally was going, “Hell yeah!” the whole time. So to start, Matt, what did you think of the article?
MB: I thought it was good; I thought he brought up some really good points. We can get into this as the show goes on, but my only thing was I didn’t think he had enough solutions to counteract blocking all these ads. But overall, I thought it was good, I thought he brought up some really good points, and I enjoyed the articles. Ads are getting annoying. It gets to the point sometimes where I want to read an article, especially on the iPhone, and you can’t because there’s an ad basically blocking your view of the article and you can’t get past it. So, something obviously had to change. Yeah, I thought he brought up some really good points.
MJ: Yeah, a lot of the coverage of the whole iOS thing is bemoaning, “Oh, all these great publishers, now they won’t be able to make money.” So, the name of the blog is The Interactivist, and his whole take is that ads are an interruption, they always are. They never get it right as far as it being something you wanted, and since you didn’t ask for it, it’s always an interruption. I don’t know, I think philosophically that brings up a point about technology that, I don’t know about you, I found this really frustrating. His example of the FBI warning I thought was perfect. So, when he used that FBI warning of, your remote basically tells you you can hit buttons and things will happen, and you hit the FBI warning, and especially I think it started with DVDs really, but all of a sudden your remote, the button said it was going to fast forward and it doesn’t.
MB: Yeah, no, totally. To take it one step further, I have Comcast and Comcast allows you to watch shows that have already aired. You can go back if you missed them or didn’t DVR them, you can watch them. But they make you sit through all the ads on there, you can’t fast forward them, there’s not even an option to do it. So, these big companies, they do that a lot, where you’ve just got to sit through… And it got even worse on blu-rays, they wouldn’t even let you fast forward through the stupid previews, and that really pissed me off, because if I’m buying a blu-ray and I can’t fast forward through the previews, you’re crippling a product that I paid good money for, and that makes me mad.
MJ: Well especially if you go back and revisit a blu-ray… I mean it’s one thing, like, when it first comes out. But say it’s been six years since that movie came out. They’re showing you trailers for things that either you’ve seen and added to your collection or, you know what, you don’t care about those. So, it’s so shortsighted. And what really gets me—and again, what I thought about the The Interactivist article was it gets at this point of who’s in control of this stuff? Who’s making these decisions? I think that when it comes to ads in particular, they’ve just been acting as if, “Oh, we’re doing this for your own good.” And meanwhile, and this is I think a pretty key point: they’ve been building up this debt with their customers, that people are getting annoyed. And now finally that the customer can act against them and say, “Screw you, I’m not going to see your ads,” now they’re getting all hoity toity about, “Oh, you’re taking money away from us.” It really kind of chaps my ass. [laughs]
MB: [laughs] You may disagree with this, I don’t know: I never minded all that much if there was like a banner ad or something on an article that I was reading, or even a smaller ad on the one side of the article. That, to me, was never all that egregious, I never cared that much. It’s when I’m in the middle of trying to read something and something pops up, or I’ve seen those ones where the whole screen goes grey and you have to wait for some animation to go through. Those piss me off to the point where I actually actively…I’m like, “Alright, who’s advertising? I will never, ever buy that product ever just because they’re ruining my experience of what I’m trying to read or to look at.” So, I understand now why ad blockers are coming onto the scene. The advertisers and the content creators have only brought this on themselves by making the ads so obnoxious and so over the top and so ridiculous. I think if they had kept it to a small banner ad at the top or whatever, people wouldn’t care. But they’ve made these ads so intrusive and ruining your experience of the internet that you almost have no choice but to ramp up the ad blockers.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and I think that was sort of the point of the article. I mean, I’d be the first to admit that I’m somewhat an edge case. I mean, I did care a little bit, at least. You’re right, the banner ad or the small little thing, it didn’t really rise to the threshold of rage face or anything. But basic fact is I didn’t ask for it, I don’t want it, and I think that the problem that they have is that they’re trying to force you to look at it. As they’ve gotten more and more aggressive at that… To me, ad blockers are finally giving power back to the user. I’m perfectly fine with spending money on things. As we’ve talked about before, I buy blu-rays. But oh my god do I see red when it won’t let me skip the trailers or the FBI warning and that stuff. I’ve had enough of it. I just think that bill has finally come due and they’re crying about it, and you know what, if you weren’t so lousy at serving your customers, you wouldn’t have that bill.
MB: Yeah, the only partial argument I can see, especially with news content and some of these other things, is most people absolutely—and they’ve done studies and stuff—just refuse to pay for news on the internet. They’ll pay for music, they’ll pay for movies, but they won’t pay for news or articles or any of that kind of stuff. So then you get to, “Okay, we’ll provide the content, but we’ve got to pay for it somehow.” That’s, I thought, where the article was a little bit lagging, was, “Okay, how do you make up that?” If I’m creating something and people are absolutely refusing to pay for the content, because the New York Times and some of these newspapers have tried the pay wall and that just fails miserably, and you don’t want the advertisements, somebody’s got to get paid to get this content together and I think that’s the one argument…I can see where that argument comes in.
MJ: Well, see, I struggle with that, because why does someone have to pay for the content? I mean, if it can’t survive, then it should die. That happens all the time. Certainly I’ve been pissed off at shows that I liked getting cancelled. Really, this is a problem that’s somewhat caused by us but it’s also they enable it, I guess. I think that if you’re not paying for it…this comes up every time people talk about Facebook suddenly going to a paid model. The people that are, “Oh, I’m not going to pay for Facebook!” I mean, personally I think it would be ridiculous if Facebook ever did that because right now they’re getting all kinds of information from you that they’re turning around and selling. They do this stuff on the back-end, that basically they’ve taken away your ability to say, “Hey, wait a minute…” by giving you something for free. I think that those kinds of bargains, they’re really Faustian, basically is the word that I would use. I mean, I think we’ve been socialized to this model where, oh, it’s got to be paid for so that they need to go to these lengths. I don’t think that’s right. I mean, a lot of this stuff that they do is on the back-end where you’re not really seeing the full bill of what you’re paying.
MB: I understand that. Like I said, it took a while, but people are now paying for music because Apple came up with a model where you can buy individual songs; they made it simplified and everything. And now you’re starting to see it with TV shows and movies, where people will just rent a movie or watch it on Netflix or whatever it is. But with news, I want good news articles, and somebody’s going to have to write those news articles and provide them to me so that I can get my information. But if I’m refusing to pay for the news article AND I’m refusing to sit through the ads that pay for the news article, then that news goes away and nobody is going to create that content if there’s nobody to pay for it.
MJ: Yeah, but people create content all the time for free.
MB: No, I understand that, but I don’t know, they’re not professional…I mean, not that you need a professional journalist, but how am I going to get my information if nobody is getting paid to give out information? Does that make sense?
MJ: No, you’re right, I think it does make a certain amount of sense. The problem that I have with it is that a lot of that, “Oh, we’re not paid enough,” is these legacy industries, they’re not really about serving you information. There’s this whole structure behind it that we’re not even really looking at. I mean, look at the way the media is owned and the way it’s managed, and there’s tons of layers of executives and stuff like that. To me, the solution is get rid of those things. And yet they don’t. They keep trying to find a way to support those sort of big superstructures. I think you could find a way to finance good reporting if you just supported the reporters directly. But because we have this structure that’s grown up around them that is addicted to a certain level and they’re going to get that however they can, you get these behaviors, like the tracking, like the selling information and things like that, that, personally, I have huge issues with. So, that was the thing about the article, the tone of it, of kind of, “Ha-ha-ha, you’re reaping what you’ve sown” that really kind of appealed to me. And you’re right, there needs to be some kind of solution, but I think the easiest solution is, if you like stuff, pay the people that actually generate it and not the leechy middlemen that have grown up around that structure that don’t actually do anything.
MB: Yeah. Well, and like I said earlier, I think it’s to the point where if these content providers didn’t get so aggressive with the ads, I don’t even think we would really care about ad blockers. I know you don’t watch a lot of regular TV, but for people who do, you’ll notice now…it used to be there was the little logo in the bottom right-hand corner that would kind of tell you what channel you were on, and I never really cared because most people have 150-200 channels and it was kind of nice to see the little logo in the corner and no big deal. Now, those things, you’ll be watching a show and the logo expands into this huge…”Tomorrow night, on the new Batman show!” and it takes up half the screen while you’re trying to watch something, and half the time it cuts off something important on the show that you’re trying to watch just so they can advertise to you while you’re watching! But then there’s still commercials and everything else, so you’re forced to sit through…I mean, eliminate one or the other: either you eliminate the big huge-ass thing on the screen that’s taking up half the screen of the show that I’m trying to watch, or you get rid of the ads in between so there are no commercial breaks. Do something, but don’t try and advertise to me while I’m watching a show and ruin the entire show by putting a huge graphic in the middle of the screen that wrecks everything.
MJ: No, no, I agree with you completely. Those things are part of the reason that I kind of went to more of a cord-cutting model, because when I buy my shows on iTunes, I get the show, it doesn’t have those things. But I’ve got to admit, they’ve now—FX has been kind of aggressive about it, they put their promos for their other shows in the show that you bought. So now I’ve paid for your show AND you’re giving me ads. I’ve got to admit, that makes me see red, that I paid you for the show, that’s what I wanted, I want it commercial free, I’m willing to do that, and you have the gall to put a promo for a show. Not only do I not care about your show, I actively now hate it.
MB: Yeah. Well, and I think it was a couple weeks ago, Hulu came out with a thing where you can pay a couple of extra bucks a month for Hulu and get all of the shows ad-free, which, to me, I think we should be going more towards that model. I think if you had it so that people were given a choice, “You know what? Give us a couple of bucks and you can see everything ad-free.” And they do that with cell phone apps all the time. You get the free version, which has ads and it’s kind of annoying, or you could pay the extra 99 cents or whatever and get the full version with no ads. I’d like to see content I guess move a little bit more towards that model.
MJ: Oh, hands down, I’m with you on that. The only problem I have with that whole model is that when they decide they’re not making enough revenue on the side where you’re paying for it, they start to squeeze in the ads anyway, or if they decide to boost the level of ads on the free version… They have their revenue targets and they’re constantly going up, and so there’s always that temptation to start including them. Personally, I’m more and more trying to cut out ads. Just in the last day or so, I actually signed up for Youtube Red, which, it’s really pricey, and that’s the thing about a lot of these things: they price them high. And I just decided, you know what, I’m sick to death of Youtube ads, they hit me at a point where, you know, one of those, “You’ve got to watch this ad first before the video you wanted,” and I finally snapped and was like, you know what, screw this, take my money and I’m not watching ads. “Just go to hell,” basically. Admittedly I’m an edge case. I think, though, they run the risk that more people are going to hit their threshold. I mean, I think they’ve gotten away with this stuff because it’s sort of been like that whole parable of the frog in the water, where you turn the water heat up slowly. I think they’ve hit the point where we’re past boiling now. That frog has boiled and people are trying to get out of the pot.
MB: Yeah, the Youtube Red thing, I agree, it’s a little bit pricey. And the other thing that I thought was a little bit not-cool is Youtube is forcing some of its users into Youtube Red so that they can build up worthwhile content on Youtube Red, and if Youtube Red doesn’t take off, then you’ve got a bunch of people who are getting absolutely no views. So, it’s…I don’t know, I hate watching the little ad at the beginning of my Youtube videos, but the problem is you have all of these things that are…alright, so, if I’m a cord cutter, I save X amount of dollars a month but then Hulu is one price, Youtube Red is one price, you know? You get back quickly to what you were paying before, you’re paying almost the same amount, you’re just shifting, you’re not paying Comcast anymore or whoever, you’re paying several other little people.
MJ: Yeah. Well, I think that’s the problem with the whole model of exclusive content. Exclusive content has always pissed me off. Like, for example, right now I do have Netflix and I barely ever use it, because when I go into it, it’s just a bunch of garbage that I don’t want with one or two little nuggets of things that I do actually want to watch. And typically for me, that entails the Marvel’s “Daredevil,” and coming up this month now they’re going to release Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” Those are the only two shows on all of Netflix that I actually want, and I’m paying whatever a month for it. I really want to just buy those on blu-ray and be done with them, and have them myself. Again, they do these exclusive, the windowing and all that stuff, that, “Oh, well Netflix has the exclusive on that.” As a viewer, that pisses me off; I think that’s exploiting loopholes in the legacy system and the way people are used to things. I think you would make more money as a content producer if you released things everywhere and let people decide how they want to view them themselves instead of trying to control that. But I don’t think that’s going to happen until the people that have run this stuff for a while die off, and even then there’s sort of a danger that they infect the people coming up with that mindset.
MB: Yeah, I can see getting rid of the windows, not having that window of time between the theatrical release and either the pay-per-view or the DVD release, but I don’t see…if HBO is producing “Game of Thrones,” I just don’t see them throwing that out everywhere. Although I think they should make it easier, you should be able to just buy that show as opposed to, you know, now you have to sign up for HBO GO or whatever it is. And like you said, you’re being forced to pay for all of this content. It goes back to the old—you know, Mike and I are old—but when you would go to the record store and pick up a CD when we were in high school, and you’d buy a CD and it would have one or two good songs and the rest of it was all garbage, and Apple finally revolutionized that by allowing you to buy those one or two good songs. Eventually I think we’ll get there, where you’ll be able to buy a show. But you’re right, it’s going to take a while for the old guard to basically die off and retire before you’re going to get there.
MJ: Unfortunately, you’re probably right. But at the same time, the thing that I would maybe lay into the mind of anyone in that industry is this is entertainment, it is not necessary. Obviously people get attached to it—I mean, I’m just as much a fan of a bunch of things as anyone else is of other media products. But as you get older, you start to see similarities between things you’ve liked in your life. I think the thing that these companies forget is they’re actually not only competing with what’s out now, because of home video and things like that and because of access to a lot of this stuff, and because of people that are making the fan-made stuff, you’re competing with everything ever, basically. I mean, not 100% yet, maybe. But I don’t need to see the newest episode of “Game of Thrones,” I can watch one from last season. I could wait until it comes out on disc. And, I’ve got to admit, the more I’ve gotten pissed off about this, the more tempting that’s become. I don’t know what I’ll do yet when this next season comes around, but that temptation is there to just say, “You know what? Screw you HBO, I’m not paying for your HBO NOW, I’ll just wait.” And it’s not the end of the world, I’ve read the books, I can read spoilers on the internet and get my fix in that way. I think that they forget that, that it’s not a requirement to have this stuff, it’s a choice, and people can choose differently.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.