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SPH CEO: ‘We need to take a hard-nosed view of our business’

The recently instated chief executive officer of Singapore Press Holdings has called for a tougher approach to tackling the company’s ailing media business in the wake of a 42-per cent fall in profit this year.

Ng Yat Chung: “We can see a little bit clearer”

Ng Yat Chung, a former senior executive at Temasek, told an audience of SPH shareholders that his perspective, “as an outsider”, would help him take a more pragmatic approach to overturning the company’s shrinking media revenue, which fell 8.2 per cent to S$1 billion this year.

“We need to take a hard-nosed view of our business. Not leave it at what it is,” the former chief of Defence Force in the Singapore Armed Forces said at SPH’s recent AGM.

“I think for many of our loyal journalists and employees in our media business, newspapers are a hard business. You have to work 24 hours for the news; you have to work weekends and wake up early in the morning. It’s hard and requires a lot of devotion.

“For the staff, it’s very hard for them sometimes to accept things are going to change, whereas for us – without that attachment to the business – we can see a little bit clearer. The truth is the revenue has been falling and there is a structural decline in newspapers.

“We have to convert ourselves from the news business to the insights business in digital. The strategy [to protect print at all cost] has seen its last days. A lot of our investment have gone towards a digital first strategy and digital subscriptions.”

He added: “For The Straits Times that decline is slower than other countries. We will do what we can to arrest this decline in the media business. But for you who complain about the share price, we have to find other sources of revenue.”

Despite SPH’s net profit increasing by 32 per cent on the back of the sale of an online classifieds business, the company recently axed 230 jobs from its media business, accelerating a planned 10 per cent staff reduction that was intended to end by next year. 

The company has significantly merged its editorial teams at The Straits Times and The Business Times, and is also merging teams from its Chinese Media Group (CMG), which consists of Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and CMG Digital to form a new newsroom called NewsHub.

Meanwhile, to diversify its revenue streams, SPH has invested heavily in property, buying the malls, Paragon and The Clementi Mall, in addition to the elderly care home Orange Valley. The company is now said to be “aggressively and actively” looking at more property acquisitions, including those overseas.

However, chairman Lee Boon Yang reminded shareholders that the company would continue to “fight for its core business ” but needed more time to boost the media division’s prospects.

Lee Boon Yang: “We need more time”

“I think with our efforts in the media business, we are better organising ourselves. We need more time to see if we can arrest the decline, and better still to see if we can regain some growth in this sector. It’s not going to be easy because the digital advertising environment is dominated by multi-national giants like YouTube, Google and Facebook.

“We’ve opened up a good fight, and are confident that we can meet this challenge. We have our local identity and ability to really understand the local market. But just focusing on the media business is not sufficient, which is why we have launched these complementary businesses.

He added: “We will defend media vigorously; we are just looking for new opportunities that will help sustain SPH for years to come.”

 

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