SPH news publications reach nearly 3 million people in S'pore - Dec 06, 2007 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

SPH news publications reach nearly 3 million people in S'pore

Print business continues to account for bulk of gains but group is also investing in new media platforms.

By Chua Hian Hou
Dec 06, 2007
The Straits Times

FOUR out of every five people in Singapore over 15 years of age - 2.9 million people - read a Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) news publication.

The figure was presented to SPH's annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday as evidence that its core newspaper and magazine business continues to do very well.

At the same time, the group is investing in new media platforms to secure its future, chairman Tony Tan told more than 350 shareholders who turned up at the SPH News Centre auditorium.

The group, he said, had done well in the year ended Aug 31. Its 'core newspaper and magazine business turned in an excellent performance and continued to bring in the bulk of profits', he said.

Annual net profits crossed the half billion-dollar mark to hit $506.2 million.

Its flagship papers, The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, had demonstrated 'resilience and flexibility in the face of threats to traditional media'. The Chinese paper overtook Today to regain its position as Singapore's second most-read daily.

The Straits Times has held on to its readership of 1.3 million, proving that despite the challenges from new media, quality papers can continue to thrive and provide value to readers, said Dr Tan. He added that SPH will invest further in The Straits Times, to ensure it stays relevant to its changing readership.

SPH chief executive Alan Chan said the group's stable of print products was able to 'buck the trend' experienced by other newspapers around the world - falling readership and advertising revenues.

This was due to the 'good work of its journalists' who continue to deliver good products that 'people are prepared to spend money to read', he said.

Dr Tan said the company has also been investing in other media platforms to secure SPH's long-term growth.

Online initiatives such as citizen journalism site Stomp, online classifieds ST701, and Chinese-language lifestyle portal omy have all done well. By next year, SPH will be rolling out search and directory services, to extend its online offerings.

After the speech, Dr Tan opened the floor to questions from shareholders - which came fast and furious.

One shareholder, who identified himself only as Mr Tan, asked SPH to 'exercise ingenuity' in order to milk this Internet 'cash cow'.

Dr Tan replied that the company had every intention of doing this, and had, in fact, set aside $100 million to invest in this area.

Retiree Low Chai Yeong wanted to know more about the performance of SPH's online business.

Dr Tan said it will take some time before the online initiatives show a profit.

Nonetheless, said Mr Chan, it was necessary to prepare for the future now.

SPH's Sky@eleven luxury condominium in Thomson Road was the subject of a number of questions. Mr Low asked if SPH had misjudged the property market by pricing the project at $975 per sq ft (psf) on average, in the light of how quickly it had sold out - within hours of its soft launch.

He suggested that the company would have been successful even if it had raised the average selling price to $1,500 psf.

In response, Dr Tan said that after discussions with various experts then, the $975 psf price had appeared to be 'a price we could sell it at, at that point in time'.

Shareholders voted in favour of all resolutions, including a final dividend of nine cents a share and a special dividend of 10 cents a share.

The AGM ended near noon and shareholders enjoyed a buffet lunch. SPH shares rose 10 cents yesterday to $4.74, its highest closing price since September 2000.