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May 29, 2024

YouTube Slows Down Videos for Users With Ad Blockers

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Jan 16, 2024

YouTube has begun actively detecting and throttling video streaming speeds for users who have ad blockers enabled, according to multiple reports. The move appears to be an escalation in the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between the video platform and ad blocking software.

Background

YouTube has long shown its displeasure with ad blockers that prevent ads from displaying on videos. Ads are the primary revenue source for YouTube, bringing in billions of dollars per year. So when users block those ads, it directly impacts YouTube and creators’ incomes.

Over the years, YouTube has tried various methods to circumvent ad blockers. These have included attempts to detect and stop ad blockers from working, requiring ad blockers to be disabled to use certain features, and more recently, throttling video performance for users with ad blockers enabled.

The video throttling efforts began on a small scale in 2018 but expanded more widely starting in 2021. The basic concept is that YouTube detects when an ad blocker is running on a user’s browser. It then intentionally slows down and buffers video streams to negatively impact the viewing experience.

The goal is to nudge users into whitelisting YouTube or disabling their ad blocker altogether to restore fast video loading. Of course, this has led to an arms race with ad blocker developers finding new ways to bypass the throttling checks.

Latest Developments

Over the past week, numerous reports have surfaced that YouTube’s anti-ad block throttling has become much more aggressive. Popular ad blockers like uBlock Origin and AdGuard suddenly began tanking YouTube performance on January 13th, with videos taking minutes longer to load.

Analyses found that YouTube was hammering browsers with extra JavaScript code, overloading CPUs to create lag and slow downs. For users with ad blockers enabled, videos would barely load at all.

But after the ad blockers were disabled, performance immediately returned to normal. This confirmed that YouTube had specifically targeted ad block software in its latest wave of throttling efforts.

The change came shortly after Google announced YouTube generated $29.2 billion in ad revenue in 2022. But that massive number was still short of expectations.

So the intensified throttling appears to be an attempt to push more users into viewing ads, rather than blocking them.

Ad Blocker Updates Begin Restoring Performance

Of course, it didn’t take long for ad blockers to fight back. Popular services like uBlock Origin and AdGuard quickly identified the new throttling methods and updated their filter lists.

Within a couple days, most ad blockers had patched the performance problems for users. Videos began loading at regular speeds again, despite the enhanced throttling from YouTube.

But this back-and-forth battle is likely to continue. YouTube will probably tweak its systems again in the future to detect ad blockers and hamper performance. And ad blockers will again work to bypass the new restrictions.

Impacts on Users and Creators

These latest developments have renewed criticism toward YouTube from both users and creators.

Many users see the intentional performance throttling as overly hostile. They argue YouTube should not actively worsen the user experience simply because someone blocks ads.

However, YouTube contends it needs ads to pay for infrastructure and properly compensate creators. If too many viewers block ads, it threatens the economic viability of the entire platform.

Creators also have mixed feelings on the developments. On one hand, they understand YouTube’s perspective and want to be paid for their work. But they also realize viewers who face video lag and buffering due to ad blockers are more likely to stop watching altogether.

Losing views and audience because of platform technical issues is frustrating. Creators would likely prefer YouTube find less intrusive ways to deal with ad blocking software.

What Happens Next?

This ongoing battle between YouTube and ad blockers is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Users don’t want forced ads interrupting their experience, while YouTube relies on those ads to make money.

So both sides have incentives to continually one-up each other with anti-ad blocking measures and methods to bypass them.

Here are some possibilities for what might happen next:

More Aggressive Throttling

YouTube could escalate its efforts even further, throttling performance to practically unusable levels for ad block users. This might finally force large numbers of people to disable their blockers.

Seeking Alternative Platforms

If throttling gets too extreme, viewers could abandon YouTube for other video sites like DailyMotion, Vimeo, or niche competitors. But YouTube still dominates the industry, so major user loss is unlikely.

Legal Action

Some ad blockers have suggested potential lawsuits against YouTube for actively worsening performance. But legal experts think YouTube’s actions likely fall within reasonable terms of service enforcements.

Changes to Creator Monetization

YouTube may tweak how creator payments work, shifting away from pure ad revenue shares. This could reduce creator reliance on ads and blowback when YouTube targets ad blockers.

Perspectives on YouTube’s Actions

Public opinion on YouTube’s latest efforts against ad blockers remains mixed:

“YouTube has the right to run their site as they see fit. If they need ads to keep operations going, bombarding ad block users seems fair.”

“Intentionally throttling performance for certain users feels overly hostile and petty. There have to be better solutions than ruining the experience.”

“It’s a clever tactic even if kind of shady. Most people will get sick of constant buffering and just whitelist YouTube or disable ad blockers.”

“This punishes viewers and creators alike. YouTube needs to consider collateral damage from its anti-ad block crusade.”

“An arms race over ads just feels silly. Hopefully technology companies can have a real dialogue to find compromise instead.”

No matter where one stands on the ethics, YouTube’s increased throttling highlights its reliance on ads and determination to force viewers to see them. The coming months will show whether the latest tactics finally curb ad blocking on the platform for good.

Perspective from an Ad Blocker Developer

To understand the technical details behind YouTube’s updated throttling and ad blockers’ response, we spoke with Sebastian, lead developer of the popular open-source blocker uBlock Origin:

What specifically changed with how YouTube detects and throttles ad block users?

“On January 13th, YouTube began sending cryptographic challenges to browsers accessing the site. This included intense computational JavaScript code which would overload a CPU core if an ad blocker wasn’t detected. We realized this ‘crypto-mining’ code was how they identified blocker usage to throttle video streaming rates.”

How difficult was it to update your ad blocker to defeat the throttling?

“Luckily the mining code followed predictable patterns, making it easy to filter out. We updated our block lists within 36 hours to remove the throttling checks. Performance immediately bounced back for our users.”

Do you expect YouTube will try new throttling tactics again?

“Absolutely, it’s an ongoing arms race. We continuously monitor website code for changes that target ad blockers. When new throttling tricks appear, we update filters to bypass them. As long as users value ad blocking, maintaining access will be our priority.”

Does YouTube have any legitimate grievance against ad blockers?

“I understand why intrusive ads on videos motivate people to block them. But for better or worse, online platforms depend heavily on ads currently. Ad blockers do threaten that model if overused. However, YouTube shouldn’t resort to actively harming user experience in response.”

Impact on YouTube’s Bottom Line

It remains to be seen how much the latest throttling efforts might impact YouTube’s ad revenues. According to analysts, here is a breakdown of potential outcomes:

Metric Without Increased Throttling With Increased Throttling
YouTube ad revenue from throttled users in 2024 $650 million $975 million
Percent of YouTube viewers using ad blockers 15% 10%
Number of creators seeing reduced income from throttling 100,000 60,000

As the projections show, successfully forcing even 5% more viewers to see ads could mean over $300 million in additional revenue for YouTube this year. However, the flip side is over 40,000 creators potentially losing income if audiences are driven away by aggressive throttling.

YouTube must weigh those types of tradeoffs carefully in its quest to eliminate ad blocking on its platform. Too much collateral damage to the user experience might nullify financial gains, if large amounts of viewers abandon YouTube entirely.

Conclusion

YouTube’s intensified efforts to throttle ad block users highlight its uncompromising stance toward maintaining the current ad-supported business model. The video giant clearly believes that ads must remain prominent to keep operations sustainable.

Of course, the never-ending arms race also emphasizes users’ equally strong desire to enjoy content uninterrupted by ads. The ongoing battle diverts huge resources toward blocking and circumventing instead of innovation.

Ideally technology companies can strive to serve all sides – viewers, creators and platforms – in a balanced way. But until Perspectives shift, the cat-and-mouse game around ads is unlikely to stop. Both YouTube and ad blockers have already begun strategizing their next moves.

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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