Most consumers prefer ads to paying for ad-free (IAB)

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has released a summary of its consumer research into the attitudes of media consumers toward advertising. This study is not restricted to audio, but does include it.

Key finding: Most consumers prefer paid subscription to free listening when ads are in the audio. The study is IAB’s first comprehensive survey on consumer privacy, and is titled “The Free and Open Ad-Supported Internet: Consumers, Content, and Assessing the Data Value Exchange.” 

While not focused on audio — the study covers online advertising generally — it contains findings that pertain to streaming audio and podcasting. The key focus is consumer thoughts, preferences, and concerns regarding their personal data and digital advertising overall.

The most general finding is about consumer attitude to a “free and open internet” — eighty percent of respondents agree it is a social good. Most of that cohort think it would be unfair to low-income people if websites and apps were not “free and open.”

Following from that sentiment, the same number of participants (80%) understand that most websites and apps are free to use because they contain advertising, and 70% think it’s “fair” to receive ads in exchange for free services. (We’re a bit perplexed that advertising might be considered “unfair,” even if it is considered undesirable.)

The headline finding is this: “Nearly 80% of consumers would prefer to get more ads in turn for having to pay nothing for websites/apps.” That is a clear call to advertisers and content producers, made by the chief institutional advocate for online advertising.

Even those who did not state a preference for more ads in exchange for unpaid content would have a poor reaction if content switched from ad-supported to listener-supported:


“Nearly all (91%) of consumers would react negatively, including being frustrated, disappointed, angry, confused, or sad if they had to start paying for the websites/apps they currently use for free.” — IAB consumer privacy study


This resistance to a change from ad-support to listener-support skews young: “Gen Z values the ad-supported internet nearly twice as highly as Boomers,” the report states.

David Cohen, CEO of the IAB, uses this study to rally support from and for the IAB’s constituency:


“As an industry, we need to speak together with one voice. We need to make it clear that consumers — especially Gen Z — understand the value of the ad-supported internet and wouldn’t want to live without it. We’re committed to giving consumers the free and open internet experiences they want while protecting their privacy.” — David Cohen, CEO, IAB

Brad Hill