NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Rupert Murdoch's Fox is poking a sleeping advertising bear. For the second time this year, one of the entertainment conglomerate's popular prime-time programs faces a branding boycott. Twenty-First Century Fox isn't alone, though. YouTube, the web-video site operated by Alphabet's Google, has recently been in the crosshairs, too. Madison Avenue may be slowly transforming from a passive investor to a more activist one.
Cars.com, Peloton and others pulled their commercials from the Fox News show hosted by Sean Hannity, the President Donald Trump supporter who has been pushing a fake conspiracy theory involving the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer. The network retracted an online article it had published on the subject, but Hannity – who attracts an average 2.6 million watchers – stuck to his guns, claiming Fox News doesn’t speak for him. Several advertisers revolted this week.
A similar uprising occurred when more than 70 companies including Mercedes-Benz and T. Rowe Price abandoned Fox News host Bill O’Reilly after he faced a number of sexual-harassment allegations. He was soon booted from the Murdoch empire. YouTube also invited ire when ads were discovered next to objectionable videos. Agency group Havas and the likes of L'Oreal withheld budgets and demanded Google better police placement.
This tactic is relatively new. There has been little outcry from the mostly supine advertising community, for example, with regard to the National Football League and its concussion and spousal-abuse controversies. Likewise, the world soccer organization FIFA, mostly smoothed things over with sponsors amid a damaging bribery scandal.
The recent pushiness could partly be down to consumers swiftly mobilizing on social media to register their dissent. And it always helps to follow the money. Fox News last week experienced a drop in its prime-time ratings for the first time in 17 years. Google’s dominance also has been making advertisers increasingly nervous. They may have just handed advertisers easy excuses to fight back.
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