- News Corp executive Robert Thomson explains his thoughts on world markets, the future of digital content, and his happiness upon receiving a $120M check from Zillow.
SAN FRANCISCO — When it comes to the media’s view on real estate, there are few who are able to see the world through such a broad lens at Robert Thomson, chief executive at News Corp. The journalist-turned-exec sat down with Brad Inman to discuss how world politics can and are affecting real estate.
The end of the discussion concluded with Inman asking Thomson about his thoughts on the recent lawsuit settlement between Zillow and Move Inc.
“Are you happy the lawsuit is over?” Inman asked.
“We came to a very amicable agreement, and it was obviously very amicable from our side because they paid us a lot of money,” Thomson responded. Move Inc. filed a lawsuit against Zillow in March 2014 for misappropriation of trade secrets.
Thomson, nay Robert Dell’Oro Thomson, has been in the media world since 1983. Four years after being hired by the The Sydney Morning Herald in his homeland Australia, Thomson was covering Peking University student protests in Beijing, China.
In the January 1, 1987, issue he explained how the protests illustrate two things about the students: “One is the nascent freedom young people feel after a period of repressed energies and aspirations. The other is the infusion, through the ‘open door’ policy, of a host of foreign influences, through television, films, radio and the very products of the Western consumer society themselves.” The students were protesting in the name of democracy.
Fast forward 29 years and Thomson is sitting across from Brad Inman at Inman Connect San Francisco, offering his thoughts on the Chinese market.
Thomson and Inman discuss international markets
“Let’s pop around the world,” Inman said. “So, China — its growth was really good for the U.S. It was good for the luxury market. What’s your assessment of China these days?”
“Slowing,” Thomson responded. “But still creating a merging middle class. There now is probably — even if you’re making up numbers — 400 to 450 million people, and they are getting wealthier and not poorer and you’ll see a lot more Chinese tourism.
“That’s really only just beginning because visa restrictions are gradually being eased. Instead of just the very, very, very wealthy Chinese money, I think we’ll see more studious Chinese investment coming here.”
Inman moved onto Russia.
“The problem is the amount of license [Vladimir Putin] has at the moment,” Thomson replied. “There is a need, whether it be in Beijing, or Washington, or wherever, to be a strong counter-party. He will keep pushing.”
The two former journalists then took the conversation to South America.
Thomson focused on Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina.
He said that Brazil and Venezuela were two tragedies, but that Argentina is recovering. He laughingly explained that half of the cabinet are former J.P. Morgan employees, “so, they understand money…they had some outstanding debt issues that they’ve resolved.” He also said it’s a country blessed with resources but cursed with history.
The future of digital journalism and content distribution
Near the end of the 20-minute discussion, Inman queried Thomson about the future of journalism.
“It looks to me like you’re building quite a digital platform. Where do you see that going?” asked Inman.
Thomson expressed a scary reality about content creators, while simultaneously paying tribute to Inman’s work as a content platform.
“We’re in an era where people who create content — newspapers, websites — are somewhat, and increasingly so, at the mercy of distributors,” he said. He pointed to Facebook and Google as distributors. He explained how we, the collective we, are “going back to this AOL-walled garden concept” where all the content remains on one platform and it’s unnecessary to go anywhere else.
“That’s not great for creators,” he said.
And, to quote the conclusion of the same article Thomson published regarding the Peking University student protests in his 1987 editorial: “However worrying the result might be to some of the Chinese leadership, there really is no turning back.”
No — for content creators, there is only looking forward.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
Email Britt Chester