Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Ignorance around advertising is putting the free internet at risk

New research reveals that four in ten have no idea that the internet is ad-funded 

 A lack of understanding about the role of advertising in funding the internet is putting many websites at risk. That’s according to a new representative survey from The Trade Desk amongst 1,500 people in Great Britain, which reveals that only a quarter (27%) of Brits claim to know how the internet is funded, with four in ten (41%) not realising that advertising could be largely responsible for generating revenue for online publishers.

The research reveals that 10% believe that internet providers foot the bill for the internet, while 8% believe Google and Facebook deserve thanks for funding the content they access for free. Other theories include taxes, with one in 20 (5%) believing this is where the internet finds its funds, while one in 50 (2%) speculate that it could be paid for by China, or even the military.

Seven in 10 Brits (73%) claim to have no idea how the internet is funded and this lack of understanding arises, in part, from a failure by the advertising industry to clearly communicate the value exchange of the internet. In fact, around one in five (22%) recognise that many websites and apps would simply cease to exist without data-driven ads, as they wouldn’t be able to make money and keep their services running. And only 15% of Brits realise that a large proportion of websites and apps would be forced to charge them for access to their content if they weren’t able to use data to frame relevant ads around it. 

This lack of awareness means Brits expect a subsidised service, with about four in 10 (39%) revealing they would not be willing to pay for internet content, and the same proportion stating they wouldn’t pay more than £5 a month to access the internet without advertising. Yet, only half (50%) of people are willing to share their data in exchange for free content and over a third (35%) admit to using an ad blocker, preventing themselves from being served ads and damaging publishers’ ability to fund free content. Research by the Association for Online Publishing suggests that publishers lost over £18 million in 2018 as a result of ad blockers.

Consumers’ appetite for an ad-funded existence extends far beyond the internet.

Utility bills and grocery shopping top the list of services Brits would most like to be subsidised by advertising, selected by 40% and 39% respectively. These are followed by public transport (28%), Netflix (27%), flights (21%) and national rail journeys (19%).


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