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Instagram Trials New Unskippable “Ad Breaks”

Instagram is currently testing a new advertising feature that has stirred significant controversy among its users.

Traditionally, Instagram has allowed users to swipe or scroll past adverts that appear in their main feed, Stories, and Reels. However, this new feature, dubbed “ad break,” forces users to watch ads without the option to skip them, which has sparked a wave of negative reactions online.

The New “Ad Break” Feature

The “ad break” feature introduces a countdown timer that prevents users from continuing to browse the app until they have viewed the entire advert.

Screenshots shared on social media reveal a timer that counts down to zero, indicating when users can resume their normal activities on the app. When users click for more information, screenshots circulating on social media show Instagram explaining, “Sometimes you may need to view an ad before you can keep browsing.”

Instagram has confirmed that this feature is currently in the testing phase. In a statement to the BBC, Instagram said, “We’re always testing formats that can drive value for advertisers,” adding that updates would be provided if the test led to permanent changes. Meta, Instagram’s parent company, reiterated this sentiment, noting that it is “always experimenting with new products and ad solutions in line with the evolving consumer trends and business needs.”

Users Grumble

The reaction from Instagram users has been overwhelmingly negative. Many have taken to various platforms, including Threads and X (formerly Twitter), to express their frustration. Although the Meta power brokers in Menlo Park will unlikely lose sleep.

This backlash is reminiscent of the response YouTube faced when it introduced non-skippable ads. YouTube’s approach involves showing non-skippable ads to users who do not subscribe to its premium, ad-free tier.

These ads can range from 15 to 30 seconds and may appear before, during, or after videos. In addition to these standard non-skippable ads, YouTube also utilises “bumper ads,” which are shorter, six-second adverts that users cannot skip. These ads are designed to deliver a concise message quickly and are often used to complement longer ad campaigns.

Non-Skip Ads & Ad Blockers

In response to the widespread use of ad blockers, YouTube has implemented various strategies to ensure its adverts reach viewers – steps Meta would more than likely follow.

One such measure includes detecting ad blockers and prompting users to disable them in order to continue watching videos. In some cases, YouTube has restricted video playback entirely until the ad blocker is disabled. These tactics aim to protect ad revenue and ensure advertisers’ messages are seen, though they have sparked criticism and frustration among users who prefer an uninterrupted viewing experience.

The Impact on Engagement

One critical question remains: does forcing users to watch ads actually benefit companies?

A study by TikTok, published in January, suggested otherwise. The study found that more than 70% of participants were more likely to engage with an advert if they had the option to skip it. This suggests that while unskippable ads might guarantee views, they could lead to lower overall engagement.

The Road Ahead for Instagram

Instagram’s move towards unskippable ads aligns it more closely with platforms like YouTube, which have long used this model to drive ad revenue. The shift also reflects Instagram’s evolution from a photo-sharing app to a video-centric platform, thanks to features like Stories and Reels. As Instagram continues to explore new ways to monetise its content, the “ad break” feature represents a significant experiment in balancing user experience with advertiser value.

Despite the negative feedback, Instagram has not disclosed where these ad breaks will appear within the app or if the feature is being tested globally. Initial reports suggest that the ad breaks have been spotted in the main feed while watching video posts. It remains unclear if Instagram creators will have any control over the appearance of these ads.

For now, the “ad break” feature is merely a test, but it signals Meta’s willingness to experiment with the core user experience in pursuit of increased ad revenues.

*Image source: Reddit

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