News Corp. CEO on Fake News Sites: "We've Gone From the Year of 'Mad Men' to Mad Metrics"

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Robert Thomson

Robert Thomson says ad agencies profit from "faux" news and need to join a crackdown on Facebook and Google.

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson, who oversees Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire, on Tuesday renewed his attack on ad agencies for backing fake news sites with their program ad buys.

Thomson said ad agencies should be held to account for the audiences they're creating online, and exploiting. "We've gone from the year of Mad Men to mad metrics, and from a caricature of the martini-sodden to the slightly techno tipsy," he told the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference as part of a presentation that was webcast.

Thomson's comments follow fake news stories and sites on the internet becoming an issue following the recent U.S. presidential campaign and Nov. 8 election. Facebook and Google in particular were hit with the proliferation of fake news during the election, prompting some critics to question the role the social networks played in helping Donald Trump get elected.

"As a society, it's important that people understand the nature of content, who's writing it, why they're writing it, and people can make a judgment about its provenance, whatever your political views," Thomson said. Beyond digital distributors, ad agencies also need to help crack down on faux news sites. 

"Ad companies make money out of fake news, and often advertisers will be aggregating audiences, so they're not just creating ads, they're serving ads to audiences that they have demographically defined," Thomson told investors. On the business front, the News Corp. boss noted that while circulation revenue was up, "you're also seeing a significant decline in advertising revenue," including previously announced 21 percent fall in ad sales for the Wall Street Journal during the most recent quarter.

That leaves the media company getting costs down, reconfiguring operations for the digital age, and needing to better understand how consumers access their news and information services to better evolve in the digital marketplace. But Thomson added clamping down on fake news posts could also help restore sanity to the advertising market.

"You would like to think that this debate over fake, over fallacious, over faux, over fraudulent will lead to advertisers in particular, and ad agencies to reassess the value of different platforms," he said. "The ad market is dysfunctional, and it's digitally dysfunctional," Thomson added.

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