Former Ad Tech CEO Rob Leathern Is Building A Subscription Service For Avoiding Ads

Rob Leathern is hoping to help publishers embrace ad blocking, and he’s doing it under a familiar name —, which was previously the social ad company where Leathern was founder and CEO.

Brand Networks acquired Optimal (okay, so not exactly the same name, but really, really close) in 2013. Leathern left six months later, though he stayed on the Brand Networks board until earlier this year.

To be clear, this is a new company, but it’s acquired the old Optimal domain, and it’s funded by Leathern himself. The idea is to allow consumers to pay a subscription fee that goes to online publishers. In return, those publishers agree not to serve ads to those subscribers.

The thing is, there are plenty of ad blocking tools already, many of them free. Why would someone sign up for a subscription fee that they don’t need to pay?

“We think that there are a significant [number] (but not majority) of free ad block users that will welcome a way to block ads but still fairly pay content creators,” Leathern told me via email — the same way that some people donate to NPR, while most don’t.

And like NPR, doesn’t aim to eliminate advertising entirely, even for subscribers. In a post addressed “To Everyone Who Visits Mobile and Desktop Websites,” Leathern wrote:

Most adblocking is all­-or-nothing ​today, but I know that for me personally​, there are some websites and some advertisers with whom I want to maintain an ongoing dialog and don’t mind seeing ads.​ will let users see and share which websites are showing ads respectfully, and as advertising stops deceiving and advertisers start being more upfront about the data they use, users will let some of it return. The vocal minority blocking ads today can help shape a new ad ecosystem for us all  — it’s time for a transparent conversation​ about ads vs. no ­ads instead of leaning on the previously implicit ​relationship between ads, users and content.

Leathern said his team is already offering a free analytics product to help publishers understand how many of their readers are blocking ads. It plans to launch the consumer subscription in 60 to 90 days. You can join the waitlist here.