Tim Wu and Joshua Gans Differ on Whether Ad Avoidance Is a Problem for Quality Content

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on November 18, 2013


In an article he wrote for The New Yorker, Columbia University law professor Tim Wu explores the impact of ad avoidance on the sustainability of content development and delivery. “Is Ad Avoidance a Problem?” looks at the increasing trend of people avoiding advertising by watching movies through Netflix, using TiVo to bypass commercials, and jumping past the sponsored links on search results.

The argument is pretty simple: if you destroy the advertising revenue that content depends on, we’ll end up in a cultural wasteland, or, worse, a culture plagued by advertising that masquerades as content. But things are more complex than they may at first appear.

Professor Wu argues that ad-avoidance will always be present but won’t necessarily be a disaster for media industries.

Some of what’s called ad-avoidance might be better termed “paying for stuff.” Netflix, Amazon, HBO Go, and other subscription services are direct beneficiaries of people who hate ads. While not ad-free, the New York Times, reversing a trend that began in the eighteen-thirties, now makes more money from its subscribers than its advertisers.

In conclusion, Professor Wu discusses the value of individuals’ time.

As consumers, we should understand ad-avoidance as a way of setting a price on our time and attention. For the past century, we’ve arguably been selling it too cheap, trading it all for a few decent sitcoms and sports programming. The rise of ad-avoidance is a way of putting a higher price on the privilege of doing what ads do—make brands more valuable and convince us to spend money.

Additionally, in his article, Professor Wu references a paper by economic professors Joshua Gans and Simon Anderson, and characterizes it as seeing ad-avoiders as content-killers. Professor Wu then goes on to argue that “it’s obviously not true that ad-avoidance is creating a cultural wasteland.”

Professor Gans counters Professor Wu’s reference to “TiVoed: The Effects of Ad-Avoidance Technologies on Broadcaster Behaviour” by saying it does “not argue that ad-avoidance would be content killers.” In “Will ad-avoidance kill content?,” a Digitopoly blog post, Professor Gans stresses that his and Professor Anderson’s ‘TiVoed’ article points out “that broadcasters would react in various ways including increasing the volume of annoying ads, causing content to move more mass market and that, unlike the arguments put by Wu, there are real challenges in using subscriptions to substitute for advertising revenue (at least initially).”

Read Professor Wu’s full article in The New Yorker: “Is Ad Avoidance a Problem?

Read Professor Gans’ full post in Digitopoly: “Will ad-avoidance kill content?