Member Guest Post with Xandr – The Free Internet Conundrum

In this week’s member-guest post, we hear from Mia Sari, Manager, Solutions Consulting at Xandr, as she shares her thoughts on the ‘free internet’ and why she prefers to see highly relevant ads. 

Mia is a Solutions Consultant at Xandr, where she advises traders to yield optimal results for their programmatic campaigns. Before joining Xandr, Mia worked at a Berlin-based start-up Retail Media Group where she built the company’s programmatic infrastructure from scratch. In her spare time, she writes about all things programmatic and she works on her passion project where she builds mobile games to inspire girls to reach their full potential.  

With no end to the pandemic insight, I turned to bingeing TV shows and films for comfort, like countless other people who found themselves stuck at home. One of my favourites is  “This is Us”, which I streamed on Amazon Prime. 

After I gloriously completed watching three seasons in a row, I got stuck. The only option I had to continue watching season four was to pay. And this was the moment where I thought to myself, “I wish there is an ad-supported option, instead”.


The old adage “nothing is for free” is correct. For every unpaid piece of content we receive on the internet, we give away a bit of our personal information. It could be our age, our holiday destination, or even our favourite sports. Much of this data will be collected from cookies downloaded onto our computers. Cookie data allows web publishers to track our online journeys and observe the actions we take on different websites. 

If used for good, the data can improve the quality of the ads we see. We no longer need to see the ad that is not relevant to us. This can be beneficial as we only see products that are aligned with our interests. Long gone are the days when we had to endure watching diaper ads despite not having any babies in the family.

On top of that, advertising can help us discover new products that we would have otherwise never come across. I could share my recent decision to continue my study as an example. After reading a lot of online content about Artificial Intelligence (AI), I received a highly relevant ad of a higher education program on the subject. It was what I needed at the time and I wouldn’t have found this program any other way. You could call it luck, or perhaps karma. As a matter of fact, it is only a smart algorithm on the back-end.

Nevertheless, as big companies are collecting data about their customers from nearly everything they do on their platforms, there is concern over ethics of tracking and using consumer data without consent. 

As a result, a few policies have been created in order to regulate data protection, like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California. Since the policies came into full effect, the total sanctions for data violations count to date reaches more than $330 million in Europe.

The same concern also triggers the rise of subscription-based models. Netflix, The New York Times, Spotify, and the other content players have shown that users are indeed willing to pay for digital content to remove ads. 

Soon enough, we find ourselves overwhelmed by digital media subscriptions. We have multiple TV streaming services, music services, news subscriptions, app subscriptions, and software subscriptions. It’s like an infinity buffet, for those who can pay.

But the excessive amount of options has a downside: 47% of consumers are frustrated with the increasing number of streaming services, according to the 13th edition of Deloitte’s annual Digital Media Trends survey. We may be entering an era of ‘subscription fatigue’.

And the more we subscribe to consume media content, the higher the recurring cost we have to pay. Research found that Europeans spend at least €130 per month on subscription services. Every year, 350 billion euros is spent in Europe on these types of purchases. 

Appropriately, when Hulu and Spotify provide the option of an ad-supported plan on their platform, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon. Hulu says 70% of its 82 million viewers are on ad-supported plans. 

This could be the idyllic middle ground we seek out: We see non-intrusive and relevant ads by default, and we have the option to remove them by paying a subscription. In this way, consumers have a choice between both extremes.

As I write this, I already have subscription plans on Spotify, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Masterclass, Amazon, Netflix, and Disney+. The latter I just added recently only to see baby Yoda. “How many subscriptions is too many?”, I asked myself.

Therefore, when Amazon prompted me to pay more to continue watching season four of “This is Us”, all I want is for them to show me a few short but highly relevant ads instead.

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