Mobile Advertising Could Be Under Threat As Shine Signs Its Biggest Ad-Blocking Deal With Econet Wireless

Ads can be annoying, especially when they pop up and try to sell you things you don't need. It's also a little unnerving to know that your online activity is being tracked, and that this information is being used to send you more ads. This is why ad-blocking technology is all the rage, and more players are seeing the potential value of blocking ads.

One of these players, Shine, has developed a game-changing service - deep packet inspection that detects and ejects ads at network level, blocking advertisers from deploying any and all advertising. Shine has signed a deal with Econet Wireless to deploy this technology on its network.

Econet Wireless has 40 million subscribers in four countries - Burundi, South Africa, Lesotho, and its home country Zimbabwe. There is no firm timeframe on the planned rollouts yet, but indications are that Shine will be deployed across all of Econet's markets starting with Zimbabwe.

The Econet Wireless deal is Shine's first foray into the African market, and its third publicly announced deal after Digicell in the Caribbean in September 2015, and the Three Group in Europe in February of this year.

Econet broadband serves about 80% of the Zimbabwean mobile broadband market, so the potential impact of blocking all ads on four-fifths of Zimbabweans online will be huge, especially for local businesses that advertise online.

Shine will be deployed by default for all subscribers. The 40 million Econet subscribers will join 14 million on Digicell, 8.8 million on Three UK, and 9 million on Three Italia, giving Shine a potential userbase of 71.8 million.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe CEO Douglas Mboweni CEO expects this deal to reduce webpage loading times for subscribers, as well as cleaner interfaces free from advertisements, and lower resource waste in terms of bandwidth and memory. He also expects the service to protect subscribers from tracking and profiling software deployed by ad delivery platforms.

Ad-blocking is eating into advertisers' bottom line, with projected losses from unrealized revenue estimated to rise to US$35 billion by 2020, and this could threaten the jobs of creatives, content producers and advertisers who rely on online ads to get their daily bread.

The potential damage that Shine presents is more than financial - it’s existential. The rise of ad blocking comes just as the media industry had settled on a revenue model to move forward after years of disruption by the rise of new technologies.

Online advertising presented an opportunity for publishers to tap into new sources of ad revenue as older models withered on the vine. With so few people willing to pay for content, advertising was supposed to bring up the rear. But publishers who had banked on digital advertising seemed to have totally overlooked the fact that, while print ads were relatively innocuous and unavoidable, digital ads are different.

Earlier this month, Facebook reportedly found a way to block ad-blockers, meaning that visitors who had installed Ad Block or other similar software were not shielded from ads when they visited the desktop version of the site. However, Shield does have the ability to block native ads.

It appears that the race to both show and hide ads is far from over, and it should be interesting to see if any other carriers sign on to Shine's service. What this recent deal shows is that there is money to be made on both sides - showing ads and blocking them. The question is, who will pay?