Google’s New Flash Pause Tool — Are Video Ads Crippled? An Exclusive Q&A with Vince Meyer

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Google’s latest Flash pause tool lets users pause plugin content that is peripheral to the main page.

Q: What does this mean?

Essentially, Google Chrome detects and pauses flash plugin content that’s independent of the main content. So, a flash banner ad would be paused, but a flash video game would still play. Google claims this will help save battery and CPU power, and that it will eliminate distractions by ensuring that there are never multiple animations on the same page. In practice, this plugin blocks some autoplay ads on publisher sites.

Q: How does this affect publisher revenue? Are advertisers still paying for impressions when the ad is paused?

This likely depends on the terms between the advertiser and publisher. There are two common ways to buy video: CPM (cost per thousand views) and completion (this is the YouTube model: the advertiser only pays if the user watches the whole video). Blocking views is detrimental to the publisher in both scenarios.

Under the CPM model, the advertiser will pay for a video that isn’t completely viewed, and performance won’t be great. Under a completion model, advertisers won’t pay for videos that never play, and publishers will lose revenue from wasted impressions.

Either way, this plugin potentially changes the dynamic between advertisers and publishers.

Q: Why would Google do this?

The Flash-pause feature can be seen as yet another move by Google designed to increase digital dominance under the guise of a user benefit. Google wants to maintain web monetization dominance because, let’s face it, something needs to fund those self-driving cars and fancy glasses.

Flash ads can be pretty annoying, so people might like this. You think this is a power move, rather than a customer relations move?

In the past, Google dealt with threats to its dominance by forcing publishers into exclusive deals. Now, Google found a more subtle means to the same end: developing features to “protect” users who don’t understand how the web works.


Q: Can you give some examples of what they did in the past?

In 2014, Google released a software removal tool purportedly designed to help users remove unwanted malware. This “malware” was actually software that originally made Google the default search engine on many devices and browsers. Google ended the relationship with these software companies when they wanted to increase margin by moving traffic away from Google to other search engines. Google responded by offering a handy tool to remove all this (now) “bad” software. Clever, clever.

Q: So you see this Flash removal option as a similar move?

Yes. Google is removing Flash ads that are causing “distractions.” It’s convenient for Google that these distraction cause users to click on videos, lessening the chance for Google to get a click on its most profitable ad unit, Adsense for search. Again, clever. Heavily monetized sites have multiple competing ad units, but if autoplay video is disabled, certain ad units become irrelevant.

Q: Is this a way to decrease competition?

In part, yes. Click cannibalization is something that Google looks at very closely. They have often asked publishers to reorganize page content to avoid eclipsing Google ads. There are strict rules on where the Google ads can be placed on publisher pages and violations are punished. This time, they are circumventing the publisher and allowing the user to block competing ads under the guise of enhanced user experience. Apparently, it’s good to own a browser.

Q: Are there any legal implications to this move?

Google owns the browser, so they control the features. If they start selectively blocking Flash in a way that benefits their video ads, but hurts competition then that would be problematic. This feature doesn’t fully block the ads, the user can still click to play, it just adds an extra hurdle.

Also, it doesn’t exclusively help AdSense ads, since theoretically any non-Flash ad competing for space and attention would benefit from this. The subtext of this is anticompetitive, but this move gives users a useful tool, at least on the surface.

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