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Are Ad-Blockers Leeching Revenue From the Very Streamers We Think We’re Supporting?

Many online content creators rely on ad revenue. Does that make it unethical to use an ad-blocker?

Twitch streamers, viewers and leadership are in a heated argument, and ads are at the center of it. The increasingly popular streaming platform, which recently caught the attention of politicians, has been waging war against ad-blockers, pushing updates that make it increasingly challenging for these commercials to be caught and prevented. Many viewers find this reprehensible, saying that the constant barrage of ads disrupts their viewing experience and emboldens them to leave the platform altogether.

Streamers, meanwhile, land somewhere in the middle, because ads make up a portion of their income. “Using an ad-blocker on Twitch does prevent a streamer from getting paid for that impression,” confirms Autumn, a representative for Twitch. “Essentially, streamers are paid for ads that their viewers see. Streamers typically get at least $3.50 per 1,000 views.”

Knowing that, it could be argued that fans should consider turning off their ad-blockers in support of streamers — in fact, you may sometimes see streamers asking viewers to disable their ad-blockers. However, the issue of ads on the internet is much more complicated than that, and many streamers understand why their viewers are blocking them. Yes, an ad-blocker does prevent a streamer from earning adshare revenue from those ads,” says streamer ColletteisaBear. “However, I’ll note that since the income from ads is so minuscule, most streamers aren’t willing to jeopardize their community for an ad. I personally never play ads voluntarily on my channel. I’d much rather focus my time on an uninterrupted stream. I feel, if anything, that Twitch should integrate sidebar ads, rather than ads that completely interrupt a stream.”

Similarly, streamer Ramautso notes that subscriptions, donations and sponsorships can be more dependable sources of revenue for streamers, and that losing viewers to ads can dig into them, hence why many streamers are so understanding of viewers who use ad-blockers.

But as viewers, should we feel obligated to disable our ad-blockers in support of streamers, YouTubers and other online content creators who benefit from us viewing their ads? 

This is a loaded question.

On one hand, we can all recognize that many, many online creators rely on ads to keep them afloat. In 2015, American iOS developer Marco Arment pulled his wildly popular ad-blocker, Peace, from the App Store for this exact reason, saying, “Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad-blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.” He goes on to explain that ad-blocking requires “a more nuanced, complex approach” than “all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white.”

On the other hand, the internet is a minefield of ads, and expecting viewers to give them their full attention is a questionable stance to take. As an article in the Prindle Post explains, “A person viewing a website is under no obligation to view ads, just as someone reading a print newspaper is under no obligation to read the advertising. An advertising contract is between the website and the advertiser. In fact, if it is understood beforehand (as it ought to be) that ads will not reach the whole of a ‘target consumer audience’ then that’s the risk the advertiser takes, and it is simply factored in a cost of doing business.”

In an attempt to solve this dilemma, in 2015, internet artist Darius Kazemi developed the Ethical Ad Blocker, which entirely blocks any webpage that contains ads, preventing users from experiencing ads and leeching free content. However, this essentially renders the internet useless, because as you probably know by now, pretty much everything online is funded by ads.

So again, we find ourselves in the same predicament as before: Should we allow ads to run in support of online content creators? 

The answer is really up to you. If advertisers have a right to advertise, you should have a right to look away — in fact, there are good arguments that suggest ad-blocking could eventually streamline the advertising process, no matter how hard we try to block them. And of course, streamers should have the right to choose whether ads appear on their content or not, which has been a big problem for those on Twitch lately.

However, with no obvious solution for online creators who rely on ads, you should at least consider the impact of blocking them. For now, if you want to be supportive of streamers and exercise your rights, maybe consider running a second muted stream on the side without an ad-blocker.

Or you may just have to watch them, because at the moment at least, Twitch appears to be winning the war against ad-blockers.