Facebook Needs to be More Transparent When it Censors Speech

The more Facebook tries to move beyond its original role as a social network for sharing family photos and other ephemera, the more it finds itself in an ethical minefield, torn between its desire to improve the world and its need to curb certain kinds of speech.

The tension between these two forces has never been more obvious than it is now, thanks to two recent examples of when its impulses can go wrong, and the potential damage that can be caused as a result. The first involves a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist whose account was restricted, and the second relates to Facebook’s leaked moderation guidelines.

In the first case, investigative reporter Matthew Caruana Galizia had his Facebook account suspended recently after he posted documents related to a story about a politician in Malta.

Caruana Galizia was part of a team that worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to break the story of the Panama Papers, a massive dump of documents that were leaked from an offshore law firm last year.

The politician, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, was implicated in a scandal as a result of those leaked documents, which referred to shell companies set up by him and two other senior politicians in his administration.

Facebook not only suspended Caruana Galizia’s account, it also removed a number of the documents that he had posted related to the story. It later restored his access to his account after The Guardian and a Maltese news outlet wrote about it, but some of the documents never reappeared.

The social network has rules that are designed to prevent people from posting personal information about other users, but it’s not clear whether that’s why the account was suspended.

Some of what Caruana Galizia posted contained screenshots of passports and other personal data, but many of these documents have remained available, while others have been removed. He is being sued by Muscat for libel, which has raised concerns about whether Facebook suspended the account because of pressure from officials in Malta.

A spokesman for Facebook told the Guardian that it was working with the reporter “so that he can publish what he needs to, without including unnecessary private details that could present safety risks. If we find that we have made errors, we will correct them.”

Caruana Galizia said the incident was enlightening “because I realised how crippling and punitive this block is for a journalist.” And they clearly reinforce the risks that journalists and media entities take when they decide to use the social network as a distribution outlet.

If nothing else, these and other similar incidents make it obvious that Facebook needs to do far more when it comes to being transparent about when and why it removes content, especially when that content is of a journalistic nature.


In an unrelated incident, the world got a glimpse into how the social network makes some of its content decisions thanks to a leaked collection of guidelines and manuals for the 4,500 or so moderators it employs, which was posted by the Guardian.

Outlined in the documents are rules about what kinds of statements are considered too offensive to allow, how much violence the site allows in videos — including Facebook Live, which has been the subject of significant controversy recently — and what to do with sexually suggestive imagery.

Much like Twitter, Facebook appears to be trying to find a line between getting rid of offensive behavior while still leaving room for freedom of expression.

In the process, however, it has raised questions about why the giant social network makes some of the choices it does. Statements about violence towards women, for example — such as “To snap a bitch’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat” — are considered okay because they are not specific threats.

Facebook has already come under fire for some of its decisions around what to show on its live-streaming feature. There have already been several cases where people committed suicide and streamed it on Facebook Live, and in at least one case a man killed his child and then himself.

The guidelines say that while videos of violence and even death should be marked as disturbing, in many cases they do not have to be deleted because they can “help create awareness of issues such as mental illness,” and because Facebook doesn’t want to “censor or punish people in distress.”

As a private corporation, Facebook is entitled to make whatever rules it wants about the type of speech that is permitted on its platform, since the First Amendment only applies to the actions of governments. But when a single company plays such a huge role in the online behavior of more than a billion people, it’s worth asking questions about the impact its rules have.

If Facebook censors certain kinds of speech, then for tens of millions of people it effectively ceases to exist, or becomes significantly less obvious.

The risks of this kind of private control over speech are obvious when it comes to things like filter bubbles or the role that “fake news” plays in political movements. But there’s a deeper risk as well, which is that thanks to the inscrutability of Facebook’s algorithm, many people won’t know what they are missing when information is removed.

Facebook may not want to admit that it is a media entity, but the reality is that it plays a huge role in how billions of people see the world around them. And part of the responsibility that comes with that kind of role is being more transparent about why and how you make decisions about what information people shouldn’t be able to see.

Cannes vs Netflix Is the Latest Battle in an Ongoing War

Even an inexperienced movie director would have said the symbolism was too heavy-handed. When the screening of a Netflix-backed movie started on Thursday night at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, the aspect ratio was wrong, so large parts of the film couldn’t be seen.

The problem was quickly corrected, and the Festival said it was just a simple projection error. But that small mistake took on much greater significance because it involved Netflix.

Even before the glitch in the projection of the movie on Thursday became obvious, reports say there was a chorus of boos from the audience when the Netflix logo appeared on screen. That’s because many players in the traditional film industry see the streaming giant as an unwelcome interloper in their business, if not an outright threat.


The movie, a new film called Ojka from director Bong Joon-ho, sparked controversy even before Thursday night’s showing, when the head of the Cannes jury—Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar—said that he felt Netflix films shouldn’t be eligible for the festival’s Palme d’Or award unless they are screened in a traditional theater first.

Almodovar’s comments echoed the festival’s announcement earlier this month that starting next year, it won’t screen any movies that haven’t had a traditional French theatrical release first.

Netflix has said it is willing to consider a truce with the industry, in which its movies would have limited theatrical screenings, but the law in France requires that films be available in theaters for at least three years before they can be streamed online.

On his Facebook page, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings referred to the Cannes festival’s decision as “the establishment closing ranks against us.”


Actor Will Smith, who is also on the jury for the festival, jumped in to defend Netflix after the Spanish director’s remarks, noting that his teenaged and twenty-something children watch a lot of Netflix content but also go to see movies regularly in theaters.

Smith’s defense of the streaming company isn’t surprising, considering he has a new movie coming out soon called Bright that was backed by Netflix. But the brouhaha also reinforced the divide between the forces that control the traditional movie industry and the kind of generational change in content consumption that Netflix has tapped into.

Almodovar and others may believe that a movie hasn’t really been experienced until it is shown on a large screen in a traditional theater, but millions of Netflix fans and those who stream movies through alternative providers such as Amazon Prime Video would beg to differ.

Not only is Netflix moving in on the traditional industry’s turf by financing and releasing films like Bright and Okja, but the “binge watching” phenomenon that the company pioneered—in which people watch multiple episodes of TV-style shows back-to-back—could also be seen as a competitor for the attention that used to go to movies.

It’s not just the attention of audiences or artistic considerations that traditional movie companies are concerned about. Netflix has also been spending large sums of money (as has Amazon) to buy the rights to movies at events like the Sundance Film Festival, and that has very real implications for the industry.

As it has in the TV end of the entertainment business, Netflix has been making attractive offers that don’t suffer from the same kinds of constraints that many typical Hollywood deals do, such as arcane formulas for profit-sharing that often result in lower returns. And the more appealing Netflix becomes, the more threatened the industry feels.

Ojka director Bong said that Netflix gave him “great support. The budget of the film was considerable, and a budget of this size is rare for filmmakers. I loved working with Netflix, they gave me total freedom. It was a wonderful experience.”

The war between Hollywood and Netflix got its start in 2015, when the company released Beasts of No Nation, and said that it would screen the movie in traditional theaters at the same time as it was streamed to Netflix subscribers online.

This was a shot across the bow of the movie industry’s much-loved “release window” rules, which require that films must be available exclusively in theaters for 90 days before they can be streamed online or delivered digitally. When Netflix refused to budge, most of the major U.S. theater chains refused to show the movie.

Netflix CEO Hastings hasn’t helped matters by accusing Hollywood of being backward technologically and allergic to innovation. “How did distribution innovate in the movie business in the last 30 years? Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it,” he said during a Q&A with reporters earlier this month.

Amazon, meanwhile, which is a much smaller player than Netflix, has acceded to the industry’s demands and releases its movies in theaters first before streaming them online. As a result, it has gotten very little of the negative attention that its larger competitor gets.

Fox Chairman Roger Ailes Dies, Leaving a Deeply Conflicted Legacy

It seems fitting somehow that the death on Wednesday of Fox News co-founder and former chairman Roger Ailes caused almost as much discord, discontent and division as the pioneering conservative-leaning news network did when he was alive.

Ailes passed away at the age of 77, according to a statement released by his wife Elizabeth. “Roger was a loving husband and a loyal friend to many,” the release said. “He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity.”

On the network he helped create in 1996 with billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Ailes’ death was mourned by anchors and hosts such as Sean Hannity, who said “America has lost one of its great patriotic warriors.” Some of those who talked about him on air wept openly.

The only reference made to any of the darker aspects of the former Fox chairman’s legacy were some comments about how “we all have our sins — we all have our cross to bear.”

Outside of the Fox universe, however, Ailes’ death was celebrated by those who saw him as a sexual abuser who tormented multiple women during the course of his career — charges that ultimately led to his dismissal last year — and by those who saw Fox News as a malevolent force in U.S. society.

“It’s okay to be happy when bad people die,” said one media observer, after the news of Ailes’ passing was broken by Drudge Report, a site that has close ties to Fox and other leading right-wing news outlets such as Breitbart News.

“Roger Ailes behaved egregiously toward women in his organization and changed our culture for the worse, making people dumber and angrier,” said Business Insider writer Josh Barro. Huffington Post political editor Sam Stein said Ailes “was a TV genius” but added that he also had “an apparently monstrous personal life and nasty, dangerous editorial instincts.”

New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer said that Ailes was “one of top 3 people involved in most poisoning American society in last 30 years.”

Whether you believe that Fox News was a positive or a negative force in the U.S. media, there’s no question that Ailes and Murdoch created one of the most powerful media entities the world has ever seen when they put together what would become Fox News.

Ailes got his start as a TV producer with the Mike Douglas Show, and became a political operative after meeting Richard Nixon, who was impressed with his command of what was then still a new medium. According to some reports, Nixon said TV was a “gimmick,” and Ailes replied: “Television is not a gimmick. And if you think it is, you’ll lose again.”

Ailes became a senior adviser to Nixon’s campaign, and subsequently an adviser to other conservative politicians such as Ronald Reagan. In right-wing political circles, he became known as “the dark prince of negative advertising.” In the 1980s, he returned to television.

In 1996, Murdoch and Ailes clearly saw the shape of the future — that the splintering of the traditional media would lead to demand for more passionate and opinionated content, and that conservative forces in U.S. politics needed a champion. Fox took advantage of both.

The pinnacle of the network’s achievements, in many ways, was the election of Donald Trump as president. Many believe that with that event, the dissatisfaction and turmoil that Fox helped fuel in the conservative side of U.S. politics eventually found its outlet.

Whether it was fueling rumors that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. or fomenting what many saw as a growing racial and class divide in the country, Fox rode that wave of discontent. “Fox News often operates as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,” Obama’s communications director Anita Dunn said in 2009.

All of that made the network immensely profitable. Fox has been the top cable-news provider for 15 straight years, with more than 1.7 million daily viewers, and is estimated to generate more than $1.5 billion in revenue every year for parent 21st Century Fox.

According to writer Gabriel Sherman, who wrote a book about Ailes called “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” the massive profitability of Fox created an environment in which the Fox chairman and other senior executives could do no wrong, even when word began to spread about allegations of sexual harassment by Ailes and former Fox host Bill O’Reilly.

The harassment issue exploded into public view last year, when former anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes, alleging that he sexually harassed her on multiple occasions. Other women also came forward to make similar allegations, all of which Ailes denied.

After much debate within the Murdoch family over how to handle the situation, Ailes was eventually removed as chairman of Fox News, although he received a reported $40-million settlement.

The ripple effects of Ailes’ alleged behavior continue to be felt at Fox, however: The federal Justice Department is said to be investigating whether financial payments to Ailes’ accusers were reported properly in the company’s financial results.

The investigation is also said to be looking into the behavior of some of the people Ailes hired at Fox to gather information on his enemies.

According to multiple reports, the Fox chairman paid private investigators to follow Gabriel Sherman and others, including former Gawker Media editor John Cook, and even hired a woman to pretend to go on a date with CNN media writer Brian Stelter, who at the time wrote a blog about the TV industry.

Trump Said to Want Fewer Public Press Briefings and Less Sean Spicer

White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s daily media briefings have become almost a pop-culture phenomenon, to the point where they only draw big TV audiences and have made Spicer the subject of multiple skits on the satirical show Saturday Night Live.

Those briefings, however—with their passive-aggressive dynamic and an often loose relationship to the truth—could soon be a thing of the past, according to a number of recent reports by White House watchers. President Trump is said to be considering having fewer public briefings, and possibly even making a dramatic change in Spicer’s job status.

Politico recently quoted senior White House sources it said were “familiar with the president’s thinking” as saying that Spicer would no longer be doing a daily on-camera briefing once Trump returns from a foreign diplomatic trip that begins this week. Said Politico:

“Trump has told allies and aides he doesn’t want Spicer, who has developed a belligerent persona from behind the lectern, publicly defending and explaining the message anymore.”

There have been reports for some time now that Trump was unhappy with Spicer’s performance, and was considering replacing him. Former Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle said in a recent interview that she was in talks about taking the job, although some White House sources cast doubt on this.

Spicer missed a number of recent press briefings because he was reportedly serving with the U.S. Navy reserve, and his place was taken by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. That fueled rumors that Spicer was on his way out.

The New York Times said in a recent report that Trump was thinking about getting rid of Spicer. There have also reportedly been discussions about having fewer press briefings period. Trump recently threatened to stop having them altogether.

Early in the Trump administration, Spicer and Trump spoke openly about possibly moving the press briefings out of the White House to another location, an idea that senior adviser and former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon—who has referred to the media as “the opposition party”—later took credit for.

Trump and a number of advisers like Bannon have made no secret of their dislike for the media, with the president often referring to “the lying media” and “the failing New York Times,” and calling their reports on his misadventures “fake news.” Trump has also talked in the past about “opening up libel laws” to make it easier for him to sue the media.

This week, Trump adviser and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recommended that the president should give up on holding press briefings at all. The news media “is destructive and disgusting” and “a danger to the country,” he said.

David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, said on Twitter that the White House typically sees press briefings as an exercise in getting their message out, and if they decided to stop doing them it would be because they were no longer effective in doing that.

The value of the White House daily briefings has also been called into question by media observers, along with the existence of the White House press corps itself. Some argue neither the press nor the public are served by taking part in a process that often involves obfuscation and outright denial of the facts.

According to multiple reports, the president is said to be upset that Spicer and other members of his press team often don’t do a good job of communicating his message, or become confused about what the message is, and that makes his government look weak or unsure of what it is doing.

This kind of confusion has been seen repeatedly, although it’s not clear who is to blame. During a number of recent controversies—including one over whether Trump disclosed classified information to Russian diplomats during a closed-door meeting—the administration’s response was to deny early reports, only to have them confirmed later by Trump himself.

This pattern was also seen when Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Multiple White House staff said that the president made the decision on the advice of the deputy Attorney General, and then Trump said he made the decision himself, and the AG had nothing to do with it.

Regardless of what changes the president decides to make to his press team or his briefing policy, it sounds as though Sean Spicer is going to have a much-reduced role in the process. Whether that will actually help the White House or not remains to be seen.

Facebook’s Latest Ad Measurement Error Comes at a Particularly Bad Time

Facebook’s latest admission that it made a mistake in measuring advertising-related behavior on the site is a refreshing display of transparency, but it also happens to be the 10th time the company has made such an admission in less than a year.

The most recent screw up is a relatively minor one, in the grand scheme of things, and only affected a small number of advertisers and a tiny number of clicks. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the latest in a long line of similar errors, and that trend isn’t helping the social network’s pitch that it is the future of advertising.

In the most recent case, the company mis-categorized certain kinds of clicks that were made by users interacting with ad-related video carousels on mobile devices. Even if someone just resized the carousel, Facebook defined some of those as clicks that took them to the advertiser’s website.

Since advertisers typically pay more for clicks that bring a user to their site, this miscalculation resulted in some brands paying more than they should have.

Facebook said the bug only affected 0.04% of all the ad impressions on the site, but nevertheless it is still issuing refunds to some advertisers who were affected, and promising that the problem has been fixed.

The larger issue that arises from all of these mistakes is that advertisers are drawn to Facebook [fortune-stock symbol=”FB”] in part because their ads, and all the various ways in which users can interact with them, can be measured in a thousand different ways. Using that data to target users and behavior more specifically is one of the site’s key selling points.

To be told that this doesn’t work sometimes isn’t the kind of message advertisers want to hear, as they contemplate moving millions of dollars in ads from more traditional venues such as TV.

On top of that, the latest error comes right in the middle of the “Upfront” campaigns that cable networks and other media outlets are holding to try and woo advertisers, and one of their key messages is that the data coming from digital entities like Facebook can’t be trusted.

The most common criticism is that Facebook and Google “grade their own homework,” as more than one ad manager has put it. In other words, they tell you what the metrics for your campaign are, but few are validated by any kind of third party.

In the NBCUniversal Upfront presentation on Tuesday, advertising head Linda Yaccarino scoffed at the idea of doing brand-awareness advertising on Facebook instead of on TV.

“What the hell is a view any way?” she asked the crowd of ad executives. “Has a ‘like’ ever walked into your store, purchased your product or drove a car out of the dealership?”

ESPN, meanwhile, made much of the fact that it is not only going to tell advertisers who watched their pitches via live-streams and in places like bars and restaurants, but all of this data will be verified by Nielsen, the leading TV audience-measurement company.

There are some in the TV business who are skeptical of Nielsen’s ability to measure such things accurately, but at least the sports network is trying.

Facebook has also been making some moves towards soothing the advertising industry’s concerns about the reliability of its measurement, especially after some of its more egregious errors, like the one where it said it over-estimated video views by as much as 80% for two years.

Among other things, the social network has expanded its third-party verification efforts to bring in more partnerships, including one with Nielsen and one with comScore.

After months of criticism, Facebook also recently agreed to have its advertising data audited by the Media Ratings Council, something a number of industry groups including the Association of National Advertisers had been asking for for some time.

As Its Cable Audience Declines, ESPN Looks for Viewers Elsewhere

With cord-cutting and other factors eating into its traditional cable audience, sports giant ESPN is trying hard to come up with ways to measure viewers who are watching the network through digital live-streaming services and in places other than their homes.

At its “Upfront” presentation for advertisers on Tuesday, the company said that it will soon offer a single viewership number that combines audiences on traditional cable and satellite services with those watching via live streams and what the network calls “out of home” viewers.

The latter part of the new offering comes from a deal with Nielsen, the audience-measurement company. Last month, ESPN became the first to sign up as a partner for a new service that tracks who is watching the network’s programming in places other than their homes.

These numbers are especially important for ESPN because large numbers of people often watch major sporting events in places like bars and restaurants, but such audiences have traditionally been difficult to measure. The out-of-home service also estimates total viewership in places like hotels, gyms, airports and other public places.

To come up with these figures, Nielsen has been extending its traditional monitoring service, which pays TV viewers to wear “people meter” devices that track their viewing habits. Instead of just wearing them at home, now some volunteers will wear them everywhere.

The devices track what is on the televisions around a user by listening for a special tone that is broadcast as part of the signal. Some advertisers, however, argue that this doesn’t determine whether a viewer is actually engaged with the programming, since all it measures is whether a TV nearby is tuned to a specific channel or not.

Nielsen’s attempts to come up with a consistent measure of out-of-home and streaming audiences have also been criticized by some TV networks, including NBCUniversal, because the process hasn’t been standardized across the industry.

Although they may be disputed by some, once the numbers are included ESPN could see a substantial increase in viewership. The company told Variety that live-streaming and out-of-home viewing boosted its total audience in the first quarter of this year by 12%, and the number of viewers between the ages of 18 and 34 rose by 18%.

ESPN has been struggling for the past year or more with declining numbers of traditional cable and satellite viewers. According to industry estimates, the sports network has lost about 12 million subscribers since 2011.

This decline has cost the company a significant amount of money, since each subscriber is worth an estimated $7.50 or so per month, the highest per-user fee of any cable network.

The Disney-owned sports broadcaster, which laid off about 100 of its employees last month, is caught between a rock and a hard place: Its sports-licensing costs are continuing to rise (they are expected to total more than $8 billion this year) while its audience numbers continue to fall.

Luckily for ESPN, the affiliate fees that cable and satellite providers pay for the right to carry its programming are continuing to increase, which makes up for some of the decline in viewership. But there is still pressure on the company to show that it is reaching large numbers of sports fans, and its deal with Nielsen is an attempt to bolster that argument.

Facebook’s Fact-Checking Can Make Fake News Spread Even Faster

After acknowledging that it has a problem with fake news, Facebook introduced a feature recently that flags certain posts as “disputed.” In some cases, however, this appears to be having the opposite effect to the one Facebook intended.

According to a report by The Guardian, the tagging of fake news is not consistent, and some stories that have been flagged continue to circulate without a warning. In other cases, traffic to fake news posts actually increased after Facebook applied the warning.

Facebook started rolling out the new feature last month, as part of a partnership with a group of external fact-checking sites, including Snopes.com, ABC News and Politifact.

When a user tries to share links that have been marked as questionable, an alert pops up that says the story in question has been disputed. The alert links to more information about the fact-checking feature and says that “sometimes people share fake news without knowing it.”

If the user continues to share the link or story anyway, the link is supposed to appear in the news-feeds of other users with a large note that says “disputed,” and lists the organizations that flagged it as fake or questionable.

The idea behind the effort was to try and decrease the visibility of hoaxes and fake news, which many Facebook critics believe are spread rapidly by the site’s news-feed algorithm.

In a number of cases, however, the Guardian said it appears that the fake-news warning is either being applied too late — after a story has already “gone viral” and been shared by large numbers of people — or is having the opposite effect to the one Facebook wants.

A site called Newport Buzz, for example, published a story about how thousands of Irish people were brought to the U.S. as slaves, and the story was flagged as untrue according to Snopes.com and Associated Press. But the editor of the site says that traffic to the story actually increased significantly after Facebook applied the warning.

“A bunch of conservative groups grabbed this and said, ‘Hey, they are trying to silence this blog – share, share share,'” Christian Winthrop told the Guardian. “With Facebook trying to throttle it and say, ‘Don’t share it,’ it actually had the opposite effect.”

Facebook hasn’t provided any data on the number of articles that have been flagged as disputed, or what effect that has on traffic, but a spokesman did tell the Guardian that a disputed tag “does lead to a decrease in traffic and shares.”

Another website owner whose articles have been flagged by the system as disputed said he hadn’t seen any sign of a traffic decline as a result of the warning. Robert Shooltz, who runs a site called RealNewsRightNow — which he argues is satire rather than fake news — said a flag on one of his stories “had absolutely no effect.”

One of the problems with the kind of fact-checking process Facebook has implemented, sociologists and psychologists say, is that it only works if users trust both the social network and the third-party fact-checkers that it has partnered with.

If a person doesn’t trust a specific information source, then arguments made by that source about the inaccuracy of a story can actually convince the person of the opposite, even if the source has facts and evidence to support their argument. This is sometimes called “the boomerang effect.”

In other words, for at least some news consumers, the fact that Facebook and Snopes have flagged something as untrue makes them more likely to believe it, not less.

The actor James Woods, who is known for making right-wing comments on Twitter and elsewhere, expressed exactly this sentiment recently, saying “The fact that @facebook and @snopes ‘dispute’ a story is the best endorsement a story could have.”

In a recent essay, sociologist danah boyd (who chooses to spell her name without using capital letters) argued that Facebook and Google can’t solve the fake news problem because it is being driven by human nature and a clash of cultures, and that can’t be changed through argument or the presentation of facts.

Forget About the Internet, Network Execs Say—TV Is Still Where It’s At

This week marks the start of an annual TV industry ritual known as the “Upfronts.” It’s called that because it’s the time of year when networks pitch new shows in an attempt to get advertisers to give them money up front, by committing to ad contracts.

In practice, this consists of a lot of wining and dining of advertisers and their representatives, and a lot of promotional hoo-ha about shows that will likely never even see the light of day, or will be cancelled after two episodes.

Despite this, however, everyone still takes part, because the fate of a multibillion-dollar industry rests on all that smoke and mirrors.


Meanwhile, pressure on traditional broadcasters from cord-cutting and disappearing millennial viewers continues to increase, not to mention competition from massive digital players such as Google, Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, each of which wants to be the future of TV.

With that as a backdrop, the message from TV networks and entertainment companies this year boils down to: “Forget about the Internet! TV is still what matters.”

NBCUniversal, which (like most of its TV brethren) is pitching a lineup of new shows and reboots of old shows like Will & Grace, explicitly cast some shade on its digital competitors on Monday, with the tagline: “TV sells your product because it reaches real people.”

Linda Yaccarino, the head of advertising at NBC, pushed this benefit during her presentation, asking the audience of assembled ad executives: “What the hell is a view any way? Has a ‘like’ ever walked into your store, purchased your product or drove a car out of the dealership?”

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Yaccarino and other traditional TV executives also get up in arms when digital players like Facebook compare the number of views that their streams or live-video events get to a television show, because they say the two are apples and oranges.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has talked about how the social network gets “a Super Bowl every day on mobile.” But TV execs point out that a Facebook view is anything longer than 3 seconds, whereas the Super Bowl is watched by hundreds of millions for hours at a time.

Fox advertising head Joe Marchese made a point of drawing these kinds of comparisons in his Upfront presentation, which included slides noting that the network had several times more minutes of total viewing than Google and Facebook put together.

TV has its own measurement problems, however, which has led many insiders to question the numbers they get from viewership and ratings agencies such as Nielsen.

In addition, no matter how much bravado the traditional TV industry indulges in at the Upfronts, the reality is that ratings for network shows have been falling across the board, and that is unlikely to stop. The peak viewership numbers of even a few years ago are just a memory.

According to statistics from Vulture, only one network TV show managed to increase its viewership in the under-50 age group this season, and that was The Bachelor. Everything else shrank, in many cases by double digits.

“This year, 27 returning series suffered what we’d define as serious decline — a ratings loss of 25 percent or larger,” Vulture said. That’s up from 16 last season.

This isn’t a one-year phenomenon either. The same trend has been seen for the last four years, as younger viewers give up having a cable subscription (or never even sign up for one) and get a lot of their TV-style consumption through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

According to Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser, traditional TV viewing among the 18-49 age group was down by 5% in April compared to a year earlier, and the number of TV commercials seen by that age group fell by more than 8% year over year.

Despite the obvious trends at work, many advertisers appear to be sticking with traditional TV for now. It’s something the industry knows well, and that goes a long way when you are trying to justify a million-dollar ad budget.

Digital also brings with it a number of its own question marks, and measurement is only one of them. Google and Facebook have both had problems recently with advertising showing up next to objectionable content. YouTube in particular suffered a boycott by a number of major advertisers who complained their systems were ineffective.

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TV, may have its own problems, but at least it is easily understandable. As Wieser put it in a research note for Pivotal clients: “We continue to believe in our maxim that television is the worst form of advertising except for all those others which have been tried, at least for those advertisers focused on awareness-based media goals.”

At the same time, as Joe Adalian points out at Vulture, network TV appears to have come to the realization that advertising alone isn’t enough—and likely will never be enough—to support a TV show, unless it’s a blockbuster hit. So they have been looking elsewhere for revenue, and not paying quite as much attention to ratings as they used to.

In particular, traditional TV companies are looking towards streaming services like Netflix, YouTube TV and Amazon Prime Video to license their shows, which provides additional cash.

“The path to profitability now comes through a combination of revenue streams,” says Adalian. “Rather than waiting four or five years to put reruns of shows on cable networks, networks now cut deals with Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon to stream shows immediately after the first season airs.”

It’s not clear whether those deals are merely a stop-gap effort for traditional networks, however. And meanwhile, the overall trend for TV viewership continues its inexorable march downwards.

Trump Associates Said to Have Helped Roger Ailes Target His Enemies

As a federal investigation continues into how Fox News handled financial payments to alleged sexual-harassment victims of Roger Ailes, the actions of the network’s former chairman appear to have implicated two senior associates of President Donald Trump.

One of those people is Roger Stone, a long-time political consultant and confidant of Trump’s. The other is Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the right-wing site Breitbart News, who is now a senior strategic adviser to the president. Both men allegedly helped Ailes go after certain people he perceived as enemies, according to a report by Politico.

Stone was reportedly paid by Ailes to keep an eye on certain people, including former New York Observer writer Gabriel Sherman, who is now at New York magazine and wrote an uncomplimentary book about the Fox chairman in 2014 called “The Loudest Voice in the Room.”

Politico says in addition to keeping track of Sherman, Stone was also asked to publicly criticize Chris Ruddy, the CEO of right-wing news network Newsmax, because Ailes was afraid that the company might grow to become a competitor to Fox News. Stone wrote articles criticizing Ruddy and his operation for right-wing sites like The Daily Caller.

A lawyer for Ailes told Politico the former Fox chairman “doesn’t know anything about payments to Mr. Stone.” The Trump associated himself told the site that he tried to referee the relationship between the two men out of friendship, not because he was paid to do so.

Bannon, meanwhile, was reportedly part of a team of Ailes advisers who got together to plan a co-ordinated response to Sherman’s book before it came out, with the intention of discrediting him, according to three people who spoke with Politico. That plan allegedly involved the publication of negative stories about Sherman at Breitbart News.

The Breitbart chairman — who stepped down when he became a Trump adviser — was said to be in favor of a “go to war” strategy against Sherman. But former Fox reporter and Ailes adviser ** recommended a low-key approach that Bannon later described as “love taps.”

Many of the attacks at Breitbart were published under a pseudonym, by someone calling themselves “Capitol Confidential.” But the editor-in-chief of Breitbart, told Politico that the site’s coverage of Sherman was not driven by anything other than the news value of reporting on his book, and was not a result of any co-ordination by Bannon.

Another Ailes associate who is caught up in the widening allegations against the former Fox chairman is New York mayoral hopeful Richard “Bo” Dietl. A private investigator, Dietl recently admitted to the Wall Street Journal that he helped investigate Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox host whose allegations of harassment by Ailes led to his departure.

Dietl, who previously said he “never, ever did any work for Roger Ailes,” is also believed to have helped investigate other people the Fox chairman saw as his enemies, including Gabriel Sherman.

The investigation into Ailes’ behavior and Fox News’ handling of it is focusing in part on a group of people who were close to the Fox chairman and were paid from company funds — a group often referred to as “Friends of Roger,” but whose actual job duties were unknown.

One of the things that federal investigators are looking into, according to multiple news reports, is whether payments to such individuals — and to former staffers who made allegations against Ailes — were properly reported by the company in its financial documents. If they were not, the company could be accused of fraudulent reporting.

Vice Media Said to be Raising More Cash as Prelude to Possible IPO

Some media entities might be struggling to make ends meet, but not Vice Media. The one-time alternative culture magazine that became a new-media colossus just keeps on getting bigger.

The company is said to be working on a new round of funding that will give it a theoretical market value of more than $5 billion, or about $1 billion more than it was worth the last time it raised money in 2015, according to multiple news reports based on anonymous sources.

Sky News says that one of the funders who is considering a $500 million investment in Vice is TPG Capital, an investment fund based in the U.S. with $70 billion under management that owns stakes in Airbnb and J. Crew, among other things.

Others who are said to be interested include CVC Capital Partners, a private-equity fund that was spun off from financial giant Citicorp in the 1990s.

Vice’s last round of funding came from Disney, which invested $200 million in December of 2015, doubling its previous investment of the same amount, which was announced at the same time that Vice said it would take over a TV channel run by A&E Networks (a joint venture between Disney and Hearst).

Those investments gave Disney about 20% of the company’s shares. Other investors include 21st Century Fox, which in 2013 bought what was then a 5% stake in Vice for $70 million.

According to Sky News, the investment round is designed to fund Vice’s global expansion, and a move into “scripted” or TV-style programming. The financing push is seen by some as a prelude to an eventual initial public offering later this year.

In February, Bloomberg reported that Vice had hired Morgan Stanley and the Raine Group to help it raise money for a fund that would be used to develop and produce “scripted programming for TV, mobile devices and movie theaters.”

Vice has said it wants to expand into offering more traditional types of programming in more than 80 countries this year, and has signed a number of deals with media companies and telecom providers in the Middle East and Asia for distribution.

Whether Vice will eventually do an IPO has been the subject of much debate, fuelled in part by comments from Vice CEO Shane Smith on the topic. In December, he said that the company had met with a number of big banks about the possibility of an IPO, and the company has started filing audited monthly financial statements, often a precursor to going public.

Vice watchers say there is also the chance that Smith could decide to sell the company rather than go public, however. Disney would make a logical candidate, since it already owns a significant chunk of the shares, and is also looking for growth candidates that can compensate for the inevitable decline of more mainstream assets like ESPN.

In a speech at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year, Smith said he faced a dilemma when thinking about whether to sell or IPO. “Do I do something that’s good with me, stay independent, or do I do something that’s good for the shareholders?”

Vice has been busy expanding its reach over the past year beyond just digital, and into more traditional areas like TV news, where it launched Vice News Tonight on HBO. It has also been moving into developing scripted TV-style programming (i.e. shows instead of raw live video).

Developing TV shows, even short ones, can be an expensive proposition, which helps explain the need for funding. And the more it moves into TV content, the more Vice will run into other players such as Amazon, YouTube and Facebook, all of whom have their eyes set on being the future of TV.

Vice is seen by many as a hedge for the traditional media companies that have invested in it, as they try to bridge the gap between the decline of their existing cable and other assets and the rise of the mobile, millennial, cord-cutting consumer.

Whether it would make a good IPO or not remains to be seen, however. Smith has said in the past that Vice has a $1-billion annual run rate, but little is known about the current state of its actual finances.

Media companies can be problematic investments because most are based at least in part on an advertising-driven model. Much like the media business itself, the advertising industry is also going through unprecedented upheaval as a result of the Internet, with Google and Facebook controlling an estimated 75% of all digital advertising.

Despite those challenges, BuzzFeed is also said to be considering an IPO either this year or in 2018. It has raised a total of $400 million in two rounds from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, the last of which gave the company a theoretical market value of about $1.7 billion.