CEO Of World’s Largest Ad Firm Says Facebook, Google Need To Accept They Are Not Tech Companies But Media

Despite both U.S. firms trying to distance themselves from the label of media, Facebook and Alphabet-owned Google must and they must accept that they are media, not technology companies, said Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP.

Questions about the “brand safety” issues seen on both Facebook and YouTube, such as ads being placed next to extremist content and problems with fake news were being answered by the boss of the world’s largest advertising firm when these comments were made.

The company saw clients continue to invest in advertising on Facebook, Google and newer entrants like Snap Inc’s Snapchat and the company represents around $75 billion globally of media placements, Sorrell said while speaking about his first quarter results.

“So investment in digital continues … but you’re right, there are these issues like brand safety, like measurability, we’ve had Facebook admitting on three or four occasions recently that the statistics that they give for their audiences were inaccurate,” Sorrell said.

“And of course, if any traditional medium, just like CNBC did that, they probably would be under extreme pressure if not out of business. So there are some very big issues, Google and Facebook are 75 percent of the digital marketplace … so they are very important and it is important that the data it shares in a more comprehensive way.”

Because they were being placed next to extremist content, several brands pulled ads from Google-owned YouTube. Apologies for the issue was asked for by Matt Brittin, Google’s EMEA president of business operations, in March. Including plans to take down inappropriate content faster, the company announced plans to expand its safeguards for advertisers.

Meanwhile, criticisms for allowing the proliferation of fake news on its platform have been faced by Facebook. The company also has had trouble with its live broadcasting product – Facebook Live. A Thai man broadcast himself hanging his baby daughter earlier this week. A number of broadcasts that show violence was also present on Facebook.

These internet giants need to have better control of the content that appears on their platforms and need to accept their role as media companies, Sorrell said.

“The fundamental point is the acceptance by Google and Facebook that they are media companies and not technology companies and that they have the same responsibility as you do and for your content on CNBC on those media such as Google and Facebook or indeed Snapchat or Yahoo … so we are seeing some concerns in that area,” Sorrell said.

But Facebook and Google have tried to resist being labeled a media company.

“I don’t think we have to be the publisher and we definitely don’t want to be the arbiter of the truth,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sherly Sandberg said in a recent interview with BBC.

In a trend that Sorrell said is likely to continue and with revenues from the segment up 4 percent on a like-for-like basis in the first quarter, WPP now gets 39 percent of its revenue from digital. Despite this, it could be a chance for traditional media to position themselves as a safer bet for advertisers, the WPP chief said.

“This is an opportunity for traditional media to suggest that brand safety in traditional media is greater than it is in new media,” Sorrell said.

(Adapted from CNBC)

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