Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp, says platforms need to change their ways to benefit publishers’ long-term business models, but he doesn’t let publishers off the hook, either. The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.
The tech platforms have been the big story of the past year, with advertiser backlash and talk of regulation. How do you see it?
The surprising thing about the scrutiny is how long it’s taken to come to pass when you think we’ve been discussing these issues actively for well over a decade. It is at last good to see how the publishers are speaking up. Why they were so mute for so long — did they feel intimidated, was it an affront to fashion? There’s no doubt in Washington, there is a time of reckoning. The digital world is dysfunctional from a content creative perspective. When you do a search now, so many answers are people gaming search optimization or clickbait. I think we imagined, perhaps naïvely, that the web would become more sophisticated not less. There’s no doubt it can play a role, but it’s become clogged.
Is regulation going to help publishers, though?
I’m not normally in favor of regulation. The type of regulation I would argue for is self-regulation, a change in behavior that’s benefit to our long-term models. We’ve been engaged with Brussels and their investigation. We’re in constant discussions with both Google and Facebook. We hope we can come to agreements with everything from confronting piracy to a more coherent systemic issue of provenance. There’s obviously a debate in Facebook about its role, commercial and social. They’re in the midst of a storm that’s not going to go away anytime soon. The base issue for any digital company is, are you compliant or are you complicit? Facebook is a publisher, and like all publishers, you have a responsibility for what you publish. Even if the word “publisher” is hard to utter.