By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Norwegian company Opera is introducing a new version of its desktop computer browser that promises to load web pages faster by incorporating ad-blocking, a move that makes reining in advertising a basic feature instead of an afterthought.
Faster loading, increased privacy and security and a desire for fewer distractions are behind the growing demand for ad-blockers.
However, their popularity is cutting into the growth of online marketing for site publishers and corporate brands, who rely on reaching web and mobile users to pay for their content rather than restricting access to paid subscribers.
Opera has a history of introducing innovations that later become common in major browsers such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking, which helped users control an earlier generation of in-your-face ads and malware disguised as advertising.
"Ad-blocking technology is an opportunity and a wake-up call to the advertising industry to pay attention to what consumers are actually saying," an Opera spokeswoman said.
Opera said it can cut page-loading times by as much as 90 percent by eliminating the complex dance that occurs behind the scenes in a user's browser as various third-party ad networks deliver promotional messages to users.
The Norwegian company, which has agreed to a takeover by a group of Chinese firms led by Beijing Kunlun Tech in a cash deal valued at $1.23 billion, introduced its first computer web browser in 1995.
With the rise of the smartphone, it shifted to focus on the mobile browser and advertising market, where it now derives most of its revenue and counts 281 million users.
Opera said on Thursday it was introducing a version of its browser aimed at software developers and early adopters, but will eventually offer the feature for both computers and phones.
The Oslo-based firm ranks a distant fifth behind more mainstream desktop computers browsers from Microsoft, Google, Firefox and Apple. The company counts 60 million active monthly desktop users worldwide.
Opera sees no contradiction in the fact that it relies on advertising for a big chunk of its own revenue but is introducing ad-blocking control features in its products. Demand for ad-blocking should abate when messages became less disruptive and more relevant, an Opera spokeswoman said.
Because it is building the features directly into its browser, page delivery times are 40 percent faster than existing ad-blocker plug-ins, or browser extensions, it said. Top plug-in providers include AdBlock, AdMuncher and Ghostery that run on top of existing browsers.
A study published by PageFair and Adobe estimated online ad revenue lost to blockers in 2015 would amount to $21.8 billion and those losses could almost double to $41.4 billion in 2016. Ad-placement firm Carat forecasts global digital and mobile advertising will near $150 billion this year.
(Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Keith Weir)