Where Does the Ad Money Go?


The current model of digital advertising is on the cusp of a seismic shift. For as long as most of us have known the internet, a silent transaction underpinned most of what we encountered online: advertisers funded websites in exchange for the promise of our attention. In the background, ads loaded alongside articles, or played before videos, and revenue trickled in based on impressions or clicks. Yet, the rise of AI assistants threatens to turn this familiar system on its head.

An AI assistant isn't browsing the web the way we do. It doesn't stumble upon articles by chance, or click on eye-catching headlines. Instead, it seeks targeted answers with ruthless efficiency. If your goal is to learn about quantum physics or find the perfect recipe for risotto, AI might bypass websites entirely, pulling relevant information from multiple sources instantly. With no direct website visit, those old banner ads are invisible. Ad dollars cannot sustain the creation of valuable content if human eyeballs rarely, if ever, glimpse the site the information came from.

This doesn't spell the end of advertising, but rather a radical restructure of how money flows. We can start seeing glimpses of how this new order will function. As users turn to AI for answers, those companies controlling the assistants gain unprecedented knowledge about what we really want. With that, these AI agent companies become highly attractive to advertisers desperate to reach real human eyes.

While advertisers still have budgets, those budgets won't be spread across countless individual websites; the ad budgets will get consolidated and spent at the AI application layer. A chunk of ad revenue will likely be spent powering access to knowledge - the data fees necessary to let AI scrape and answer countless queries seamlessly. It becomes a new cost of operating AI systems, and in turn, a source of income for information providers.

This creates a unique opportunity. Advertisers seeking direct targeting will prioritize query types (not specific websites) on AI platforms. Publishers become data custodians, offering premium and well-structured content with proven accuracy. Instead of fighting for attention, knowledge providers get rewarded for quality and authority. This symbiosis might just ensure high-value content not only survives, but thrives, when direct audience access shifts away.

It's crucial to view this transformation as a complex evolution, not a singular catastrophic disruption. Those who recognize that ad budgets will not vanish, but simply flow through new channels, will be best equipped to navigate this change. Publishers must prepare for monetization based on knowledge access. Advertisers need to rethink their campaigns toward targeting intent.

We're on the verge of an internet shaped by profound artificial intelligence. The ad revenue flows that shaped our current web experience will change with that evolution. We at TollBit are taking proactive steps to prepare for a world where value may no longer revolve around direct, human-driven website traffic.

Written by Olivia Joslin and Toshit Panigrahi