back to article Big TV flips ad blockers the bird

At Hulu - the ad-driven streaming video site cooked up by media giants NBC and News Corp. - you can watch mainstream feature films and big-name TV shows without paying a penny. But you aren't welcome if you've installed an ad blocker. Roughly a month ago, Hulu began serving this message to any user who dares equip their Firefox …

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This'll be the next...

...virus-writer V antivirus company digital war on the horizon then?

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Dead Vulture

Looks like it'll be back to the kazaa shop then...

The Hulu approach:

http://www.virginmedia.com/images/gruesome_clockwork_431x300.jpg

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I've seen this before

I've seen similar pop up on a few other sites recently, no access because of *something* not working, lo and behold it works fine with the ad-blocker disabled.

I never visit those sites again.

Plenty of other places to get news/vids/whatever.

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Doesn't work from the UK anyway

.

... and it doesn't carry much in the way of good tv shows either.

.

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A hint...

Shove it where the sun don't shine

The only way I'll ever turn of privoxy is when there's something better or when they pry it from my cold dead hands...

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Anonymous Coward

I can think of two ways to block ads

1) Physically cover the ad with an opaque block at the browser level. This would seem undetectable. It would require the blocker to recognise the ad on the page.

2) Look for those advertising services stupid enough to require the advertising medium to include a specific URL (eg: ad.uk.doubleclick.net <cough>) and point it somewhere else. I would have though it would be quite hard to match up connections to the medium with connections to advert, so, again, hard to detect. This has the advantage that it only requires a list of advertising domains.

The question then, is how does Hula know that an ad blocker is being used unless these products are stupid enough to advertise their presence?

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Google has nothing to fear...

...because it's adverts are non-javascript and relatively inobtrusive. I suspect that like me most people who run adblock are not actually against any form of advertising, just the monserous animated flash banners that make pages slower to load and uncomfortable to read.

If you want the visitors to respect your adverts, respect the visitors.

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Not welcome

I'm apparently not welcome anyway, ad-blocker or not, since I happen to live in a bit of the world that isn't the US.

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Pointless

So when Phorm and BT are changing the adverts on this page to other companies, how is this helping this site's sponsors?

It isn't, that's how.

So what's the difference if we use ad blocking or not?

None.

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Linux

How it works

There are two ways the ad-block technology works and ways for companies to detect it.

Firstly you have static images, jpegs and the likes. The adblock software has a blacklist and doesnt download content from those domains/links. Companies can detect this by matching page requests with image requests, and hinder future requests from the same session

Second is the more active content, like flash. Because of built in scripting functions, a n onload script can then request something else, alerting the company that the ad has been seen. Again sessions contrio

So how to combat this. Virtualisation technology. Have a little box to display all the ad content at will, but fail to connect it to a screen!! woops. It should be quite undetectable, as really all your doing is ignoring the content rather than blocking it. Does add to the bandwidth bill (on both sides might i add )

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I can think of two ways to block ads

1) You still download the ad, so why not just let it be?

I get annoyed with the giant animated ones, I have some slow machines and they can be flattened by a giant heap of flash.

2) This is the ad-block model.

a) Use a bit of JS to see if you've loaded up the ad providers images, may be able to get around that by using a blank in place of the ad image.

b) Link to the ad provider and only serve to people who've downloaded the ads cookies simplify that, but you wouldn't need them.

c) Ad has a link that you follow to get the content, no ad, no link.

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Why block ads?

Since these websites largely depend on advertising revenue to survive, isn't it rather shooting ourselves in the feet?

I'm on their side. Ignore the ads, don't block 'em.

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Happy

Very nice...

But with near instant downloads from heavily loaded torrents and the added ability to keep it and play it back over and over again from your media centre, can't see these taking off other than from Joe Public, who doesn't know about the less than above board alternatives.

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Anonymous Coward

If nothing else...

""Our detection method is 'ad blocking software' agnostic..."

...they should be boycotted for tech-raping the word 'agnostic'. I'd hoped we'd gotten beyond that travesty of English.

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Pirate

A band-aid approach

One has to ask how they know exactly what software you have: is their 'interrogation' techinque(s) legal or not, and can it (they) be disabled or not?

If so, would such companies then target any system refusing to answer/tell them their required info (or respond with delay times of .. or whatever), in which case I can see a new plugin quickly being developed that would return the expected data, ad blocker or no.

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Flame

When will the marketing / advertising prats learn?

Why do these idiots think that AdBlock exists in the first place? It isn't because people have a pathological hatred of advertising in general, its because people have an *intense* dislike of in-your-face, garish, overbearing advertising that spoils their enjoyment of whatever content the advertisement is embedded into.

In other words, AdBlock, and other similar ad blockers, are the bastard offspring of the advertising twats themselves. If they had behaved reasonably in the way they placed ads then nobody would have minded and there would be no need for AdBlock.

Of course, once AdBlock, etc, came along and people realised they could block *all* ads, not just the *really* annoying ones, they did so.

So, Mr thick-as-shit advertising 'executive', you only have *yourself* to blame if nobody is looking at your annoying bullshit. You are too stupid to realise that, on the Internet, there is *no way* you can *force* people to look at your ads and *no way* you can block access to desirable content to users of ad blockers. There will *always* be a way to work around your pathetic attempts to force your crap through.

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Extra options..

I remember in the original Adblock there was an extra option which allowed you to download the adverts but not display them, precisely to get around this kind of detection.

I've just looked in the AdBlock Plus preferences and I don't see an equivalent option there. If this technique becomes popular I imagine that something similar will be added pretty quickly.

The nature of the web means that this is a battle web sites can't win. Keeping ads small (in file size and screen space) inoffensive (no flash animations) and relevant will encourage people to view them. Anything else and people will find a way to block them.

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Re: I can think...

1) Then you get a big area where the advert is still. adblock removes the advert totally so that it doesnt take up any room

2) Thats how adblock plus works

3) They could tell by javascript. onpageload if advert == null then complain :)

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This is a very good point.

So next-gen ad blockers will be stealthy enough that advertisers won't be able to find them? Man, I love this shit. 'You can't do (X), and I've made something that'll stop you!'

'Oh yeah?' *click*

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Boffin

Detecting adblockers

"how does Hula know that an ad blocker is being used"

The ad blockers typically alter the page so that the ads are never fetched from the server - they remove the HTML tags. Thus, if you are controlling a particular page, and have the appropriate server-side intelligence enabled, you can refuse to serve the actual content until the browser has downloaded the ad.

You are right, however, that an ad blocker which actually *did* download the ad would be much harder to block. And with Flash ads, they can tell when they are being displayed, not just downloaded, since they are executable content.

What you need to do to end-run around all of this is to effectively have a virtualized browser that does everything a normal browser page would do, but only actually displays those bits that are wanted by the user.

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Anonymous Coward

Surprised it's not happened sooner

It's obviously very easy to detect if an ad blocker is being used; the server just has to detect whether the ads are being fetched by the browser. if they are not, then something out of the ordinary is happening (ie - there's an ad blocker in place).

I suppose one way round this would be for the browser to fetch the ads but just not bother displaying them. Would do nothing to save on bandwidth usage of course, but at least the user wouldn't have to put up with the ads.

Of course, a bit of script could also play a part in detecting this stuff.

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Flame

To block or not to block

I have Adblock Plus always running. I do this because 99.99% of all internet ads are far to intrusive. I don't want a page with a pig (or whatever) doing the funky fandango all over the content, I want to read/view the content.

If the ad were less obnoxious, smaller to download and rendered last; then I may be inclined to reduce the blocking level. Also, if the ads did not engage in user tracking (hello to the Google evil-empire) then I may be even more inclined to do so.

Until then, blocked they shall remain.

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Anonymous Coward

@ I can think of two ways to block ads

They'll be monitoring the server for requests probably. Serve a page, then check with the server dealing the ads to see if the relevant ad has been requested. Easy enough to work around of course, just request the advert then bin it.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if we see an arms race out of this where flash adverts will start making a request back to the server to report that they're running normally.

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Re:I can think of two ways to block ads

***"The question then, is how does Hula know that an ad blocker is being used unless these products are stupid enough to advertise their presence?"***

I assume it is the Flash applet that is trying to download the ad and displays the message if it can't.

Simplest work around is to have your ad blocking proxy return a dummy file of the correct type whenever a request is made to a URL pattern matched to a advertiser. The player would get a file it *thinks* is from the advertiser and continue happily.

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Disable ad-blocking?

Only if I get a cast-iron, written undertaking that no adverts loaded with malware or any other nastiness will ever be served and a similar cast-iron undertaking to recify it at no cost to me if any such nonsense does appear.

Until then, no thanks.

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Nic
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Imagine all the people...

As always a load of freetards demanding something for nothing. I have no idea why you think a site providing free content doesn't have the right to advertise.

If you disable their ads then you are only one small gray step away from theft.

El Reg is a classic example. Alright there are quite a few ads and the expanding jobbers are especially irritating but they are there for a reason. It's how they pay their staff to get the content you so lovingly bitch about on to the site in the first place.

If you want a micro-payment web instead then fine. I personally don't mind the ads if I can get some free content in return.

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@AC

In Firefox, it's apparently fairly trivial to detect if a user has a particular extension installed:

http://jeremiahgrossman.blogspot.com/2006/08/i-know-what-youve-got-firefox.html

Alternatively, it's presumably possible to detect if the DOM has been changed to hide an advert, and trigger a function to prevent loading of a video if this is the case (note: I don't know if this is how Adblock works, I'm not a Firefox extension developer).

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Anonymous Coward

@Anonymous Coward

> The question then, is how does Hula know that an ad blocker is being used unless these products are stupid enough to advertise their presence?

1. Assume that everyone has an ad blocker so always get ready to display the 'disable your ad blocker' message

2. Use an advert delivery system to set a global variable

3. If the variable has been set hide the message

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admuncher is still the best

admuncher is still the best Ive bought in recent years

www.admuncher.com

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We're all being 'freetards' on this one

OK, not *all* of us.

But most of us are used to services like Facebook, YouTube and even The Register being available to us for free. Who do we think is paying for this?

So it makes sense for free web sites to find a way to protect their advertising revenue and hence - their existence. Either that or they'll have to find a new business model.

(We've been here before - UK readers will remember when "Freeserve" was actually "Free", in the sense that the ISP connection was free to the user. That model didn't last.)

When my favourite websites get round to asking, I'd pay a few pounds a year for an advertising-free option. It would be worth it for the security and possibly for the increase in page load / refresh times. In the meantime, I'm going ahead and using AdBlock and NoScript.

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Anonymous Coward

fish and chips

I have adblocker turned on, however I allow ads on sites that provide content to me for free.

After all, i'd rather see an advert & get something for free than not see the advert & have to pay for the content. And why shouldn't people make something for going to all that hard work of providing something I want?

theregister.co.uk is a classic example.

Ad-blockers are all well & good, but you should seriously consider turning them off for sites you wish to support.

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Pirate

why block ads? ?

Get started now with blocking ads - the less they are blocked the more silly ideas they think of. We can't be too far away from Jeff Noon's 'Blurb flies' and other writers little mobile advert devices. But once we've all got our General Identity Tags our RFID chips will broadcast our Facebook info so any bus stop, advert hoarding or shop sign can directly tell us what we need to buy.

Tom, you ain't seen nuthin' yet!

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Think I know

I have an idea what they might be doing ..... they might be detecting the fact of the advertisements not being ownloaded. Simple fix would be to have an "extreme" setting for ad-blocking software which does actually download the advert (and, just out of sheer spite for pay-per-click advertisers, also silently downloads and discards the page to which the advert linked; thus forcing somebody to pay for nothing), but doesn't then go on actually to display it. It still takes up bandwidth, but at least it doesn't eat up screen real estate.

If I thought I could make any money doing it, I'd resell broadband internet with a transparent, advert-busting proxy server. No downloads, no settings to change, totally platform-agnostic: you just get the Internet sans advertising.

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/dev/null is your friend here

I chime with AC above. There's no technical reason (apart from waste of bandwidth) why an ad blocker shouldn't, to the perfect satisfaction of the Web server, accept all the ads offered on a page and then send them to /dev/null on route to the browser surface.

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Flame

How would Hulu know?

In a properly designed browser there should be no way to know what extensions a user has installed from Hulu's end. The only way to do it should be to link video downloads with ad downloads. That would be trivial to by pass by downloading the ads and simply never displaying them.

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I do this

I have created a number of sites which all share the ability to (attempt) to detect ad blocking software.

Two of the sites that I deployed on lost 30% of their page views (ignoring the ad-block notification screen) during the first month. Over the same time period ad revenue increased (the sites popularity was growing).

In both cases the websites were profitable before the change, but with filtering savings and no loss of revenues they now generate around 3 times as much (to be fair starting profit was low, so 3 times low isn't massive).

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Skipping Adverts on the telly

Didn't the CEO of Turner Broadcasting once say that watching broadcast television and not watching the adverts was like theft once? Sounds as if he's in good company.

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@ Tom Melly Re: Why block ads?

Like others have mentioned, I don't mind lightweight ads such as the ones Google throws up. It's the big/garish/animated/annoying/any combination of the above which I use AdBlock to screen. If they're going to insist on eating my bandwidth with advertising, they can either choose to do it in a tasteful and inoffensive manner, or they can get blocked. It's up to them.

And maybe they are getting the message. When I first installed it a couple of years back I was adding new URLs to the block list pretty regularly. Now, I don't remember the last time I made an addition, which means one of two things - either I've already blocked the main offenders for my sphere of browsing, or the advertisers have wised up and are creating less irritating ads. Either which way, I don't mind seeing the adverts which still make it through. Perhaps the advertising industry could learn from this...

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It goes away after 30 seconds

I am currently watching family guy with Ad-Block plus on

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Re: We're all being 'freetards' on this one

However, the marketers were being freetards first.

The most egregious example:

When people bought cable TV it was for-pay but without ads.

Then they added ads but the service didn't get cheaper.

Then they added more ads.

Now 1/3 of it is ads.

OK, we have 120,000,000 channels, but most would make $0 if we had to choose them.

There's another reason to block ads: when the ad server is busy, the pages won't complete loading until the ad has completed. Block the ad and your pages load quicker.

A final big reason is that ads can be expensive bandwidth wise and with fair use being "don't use it", this is an imposition.

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No loss

On one hand, drastically reduced ads, thus speeding up my web browsing. On the other hand, I get to watch dumb TV shows.... Choices choices.....

I never used Hulu anyways, so it's no loss to me. Since I save bandwidth by not viewing videos and ads, that's more bandwidth I can use for more important stuff.

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Stop

Missing the point

...People detecting ad-blockers and then withholding content (I appreciate that in this case it's not _actually_ being withheld) are missing the point.

I absolutely won't ever click on your advert anyway. I just won't. So let me block it and save me the bandwidth of downloading it, and yourself the bandwidth of serving it. Showing me it really won't change my mind. "but you might WANT to see it, go on, take a look!". No. You can't polish a turd.

@A J Stiles - interesting idea, clicking through so someone pays for nothing. Maybe sites like this should have their banners clicked on a few thousand times per hour for a day or two? The advertisers would likely pull out if they had to shell out 10K for naff all.

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Gates Horns

Call me a freetard but...

The point of web advertising is not that you simply watch the advert, but actually buy the product or service that is being advertised. I installed Adblock after I realised that I had never bought anything advertised in a web banner online, so it was a waste of time for me to view the ad. The way some commenters have described it, viewing ads is a punishment that must be endured for the right to view "free" content. Why not create an alarm clock that shouts random brand names/slogans at you every morning, make ownership compulsory, and that is your quota for the day. Everything else is advertising free.

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@ David Wiernicki

Sorry, I'm a bit late to this party, but why is this use of 'agnostic' anathema to you. It's from the Greek, and means, "Without [having the] knowledge". Seems perfectly apposite to me, and no travesty of Greek, or English either.

Cheers

Peter

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Anonymous Coward

The Reg...

Problem is they use doubleclick, and they have a profusion of flash ads.

Actually, who is it that would serve up the phorm compatible ads?

I guess it's a doubleclick style service?

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Silver badge
Alert

it was inevitable

remember adblockers, sites including this one need those ads to pay the bills, no advertising revenue, no content.

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Flame

WITN?

Why is this news? ABC (at http://abc.go.com/player/) has been doing this for months. Maybe years for all I know. You can watch all their shows you want to but you have to allow the "commercials" as they call the.

What are you guys at El Reg trying to pawn this off as something newsworthy? Can't keep up?

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J
Stop

It took long...

Had to read almost to the end to see a few people saying what I was thinking...

I have no sympathy for people who block ads. I agree, the ads are many times way too intrusive and obnoxious, specially the Flash ones (it's hard to read something when there is some stupid flashing, moving thing taking 20 % of your screen: hint to El Reg).

But as others mentioned, you are getting content for free, many times from professional people -- or at least people who do this for a living. Ads are their way to get paid. They therefore have all the right to deny serving content to whomever kills their (sometimes) only revenue stream. I would if I were them, for sure.

Don't want to see ads, go away read Wikipedia, I'd suggest.

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Happy

Blocking

I find blocking Flash only is the most effective. I can ignore static adverts and if I WANT to watch flash I click on the ¦> Arrow

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@AC

"... and it doesn't carry much in the way of good tv shows either."

So Sir Hitchcock and Rod Serling not very good. My wife won't watch the any of the Hitchcock shows because they remind her too much of Psycho. And the Serling show with Phyllis Diller as the nagging wife ghost - also a classic. Guess you didn't look very hard.

Actually, I don't find the ads all that bad. They are usually 15 to 30 seconds, not even enough time to get up off the couch.

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