Unskippable ads are tech’s latest curse – and now they’re even coming to Instagram

Unskippable ads are tech's latest curse – and now they're even coming to Instagram
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Unskippable ads are a growing menace on smartphones and streaming boxes – and if you thought Instagram was safe, think again. The social media giant has just confirmed that it’s testing YouTube-style ad breaks that you can’t skip.

Over the past few days, some aghast Instagram users (like @TheDanLevy below) have posted screenshots showing a pop-up called ‘Ad break’ with a countdown timer (like the one below). And unlike Instagram’s typical advertisements, these can’t be scrolled or swiped past – you have to wait until the ad’s finished.

Unfortunately, these are unlikely to be isolated cases. Instagram has now confirmed in a statement given to TechCrunch that it is testing the new format ahead of a potential wider rollout. “We’re always testing formats that can drive value for advertisers,” a Meta spokesperson said.

We don’t yet know what Meta’s rollout plan is for the ‘Ad break’ feature, but it doesn’t sound good. “As we test and learn, we will provide updates should this test result in any formal product changes” the spokesperson added, worryingly.

A post on Reddit’s Instagram subreddit has shed some further light on Meta’s new plan. Apparently, when you click on an info icon in an advertisement it states: “You’re seeing an ad break. Ad breaks are a new way of seeing ads on Instagram. Sometimes you may need to view an ad before you keep browsing.”

That doesn’t sound like a feature that’s destined to remain an experiment among a minority of Instagram users. Judging by the early backlash on social media, it could be the final nudge that some need to leave the increasingly diluted and confused social media platform. 

Sign of the times

A TV on a yellow background showing a YouTube advert

(Image credit: Future)

Bringing unskippable adverts to Instagram somehow feels like crossing a line compared to seeing them on the likes of YouTube. 

If you watch YouTube on your smart TV, you’ll have noticed the commercial breaks getting longer over the past year. YouTube rolled out what it calls “30-second non-skips” to its most popular channels in May 2023 and even started testing pause screen ads.

Yet aside from Shorts, most YouTube videos are longer than Instagram Stories and some people are still on Instagram to (gasp) see photos. The unskippable ads tested by Instagram may have only been a few seconds long, but they’re effectively a takeover of your smartphone screen when you’re in the app – and it remains to be seen whether it’ll actually boost Instagram’s bottom line.

As pointed out by the BBC, a recent TikTok study suggests that non-skip ads can be a drain on engagement, making them something of a net negative for social media platforms. Let’s hope that’s the case again here, otherwise, we really will have to jump ship for the best Instagram alternatives (something we’ve been vowing to do since, oh, at least 2021).

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