Free in France freezes out adverts via firmware update
The online advertising model is still very young but that has not stopped the boundaries being pushed, as was the example with Phorm. The second largest broadband provider in France looks set to re-write the advertising model completely and in one small update reduce the visibility of adverts to a large number of users.
Free has apparently issued a firmware update to its customers ADSL routers which are now blocking adverts by default, with users having the option of turning back on adverts via the routers built-in web configuration pages. The result of the blocking is that when DNS requests for services like Google Adwords are made, the router intercepts the request for the advert and returns a blank section.
Ad blockers are nothing new and many people use them to curb the excesses of sites that use adverts that pop-up or under the main content page. A broadband provider effectively blocking them for all customers though is a very different prospect and with many blogs and other free services relying on advertising income the removal or at best a major reduction in revenue could cause many smaller sites and services to cease operation, The advertising world which is populated by creatives is not likely to sit dormant, and one could expect that things like sponsorship deals, or paid content articles to become more prevalent if banner adverts vanish.
What is unknown is why Free has made this move, possibly the intention was to allow customers to have the option of blocking content and the upgrade enabled the feature by mistake, or maybe at some future date a Phorm type operation will start with the providers own advertising being inserted. For now the New Year is not looking good for many websites in France, whether donation buttons where adverts used to be would form a credible source of revenue is something we expect some to explore. Another option if this blocking is permanent would be for sites to explore a subscription model, but this will only work for sites with large user bases or very niche sites that have a small but very loyal following.
One interesting aspect of this is that the French telecom regulator is already looking into why YouTube is performing so badly on the Free services, and therefore it seems the ad-blocking (for which Google Adwords will be the largest advert provider) may be linked to the net neutrality debate in France, where some providers feel they should be paid for carrying traffic.