SPH aims to stay on top of the game - Jun 26, 2007 (ST)

BackJun 26, 2007

The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

SPH aims to stay on top of the game

Dr Tony Tan, chairman of Singapore Press Holdings, delivered the keynote speech at the 16th annual conference of the Asia Media and Information Centre (Amic) and 1st World Journalism Education Congress yesterday. This is an excerpt

Jun 26, 2007
The Straits Times

(THIS is) a time of dramatic change in the media industry worldwide. The days of easy growth - yearly gains in advertising and subscription revenue - are behind us. Two key forces have been responsible for this.

The first is the relentless pace of technological advances, the second is rapidly changing consumer habits. The digital revolution and the convergence of technologies and media platforms have opened up vast new sources of news, analysis and information.

This deluge of material is not just from competing media organisations but also from the new legions of citizen journalists and bloggers. With wide access to the Internet and broadband penetration, almost anyone can now be a publisher and enjoy very low distribution costs for whatever content or material he produces.

This content explosion and the 'democratisation of distribution' have had a profound impact on the media industry.

Consumers, too, have changed. We now have a mobile, technologically savvy, multi-tasking generation with many more demands on its time. Their media consumption habits are vastly different from their parents' generation. Overall, they are consuming more media than before, but they are opting for more targeted channels, fragmenting the market in the process.

They no longer passively consume content, but interact with and participate actively in creating content. In Singapore, almost half of Internet users are creators of their own content, and this number is expected to grow.

As a result of these changes, media companies everywhere are grappling with an unprecedented assault on their business models.

On the newspaper front, with the exception of developing markets such as China and India, most developed- country markets have experienced secular declines in circulation numbers.

In the United States, large metro newspapers are the worst hit and are bracing for more readership declines.

Not surprisingly, advertising trends have followed suit, and classified advertising in particular has migrated to the Internet in a major way. So bottom lines of major media companies are under pressure in almost all markets.

Winners and losers

BUT in the face of grave threats, this is also a time of unique opportunities.

In fact, at the recent World Association of Newspapers annual meeting held in Cape Town, South Africa, the mood was appreciably more upbeat, different from the doom and gloom of previous years.

The consensus now - at least outside the US - is that the news business is alive and well, largely because of a flurry of innovations.

At Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), we believe that newspapers will survive - but not all of them. Some will be winners, but quite a few will be losers. The big question is, who will be among the winners?

Our sense is that the papers with the best chance of success are those with unique and differentiated content. In short, content is king.

Community newspapers, for instance, may well outlast some bigger dailies. So will newspapers that can offer mass reach. They will be an effective and valuable medium for display advertisers, even as a long tail of niche products try to make their mark.

Another critical factor is credibility and trust. This still is, or ought to be, one of the strengths of the mainstream media. The bigger, or louder, the information explosion, the more consumers will value and turn to sources they can trust and rely upon.

Papers that continue to be trusted as an authoritative source of news and views will have a far better chance of outlasting the competition.

But much also depends on the boards and managements of media companies. This is often not well appreciated. Like in all businesses, the quality of leadership makes all the difference, especially in challenging times. Newspaper boards and managements must make the right decisions and continue to invest for the future. Boards and managements which embrace new innovations and inspire their staff to transform their businesses will be rewarded with good results.

The media in Singapore

SPH has every intention to be among the winners. We have invested and are continuing to invest a great deal in our business. Our flagship English title, The Straits Times, has a proud 162-year history. We see a window of opportunity for The Straits Times to be among the best papers in the Asia-Pacific.

In all, SPH publishes 14 newspaper titles in four languages in Singapore and we sell more than a million copies a day. Helped by the high 95.4 per cent literacy rate that Singapore has achieved, our products reach 2.7 million readers each day.

This gives us a high newspaper penetration of more than 80 per cent of households in Singapore.

Our magazine titles now number more than 90 and this number is growing, in Singapore and in the region. Looking ahead, our aim is to move beyond print and beyond Singapore.

We already have significant stakes in television and we operate two radio stations. Our online sites have more than 100 million page views and some six million unique visitors each month.

We have launched our online classifieds, called ST701, starting with jobs, with vehicles and properties to follow.

Our online search and directories will come onstream early next year.

But we are determined to do more and our aim is to become a winner in the online space as well. To achieve this objective, we will leverage on our rich content and advertiser relationships, and use our financial resources to invest in new media, in new products and in new adjacent businesses.

Journalism education

LET me now turn to journalism education. Having been involved in university education for many years, one need is evident to me - the media industry needs high-quality journalism education more than ever before. This is why the World Journalism Educators Congress is so timely and important.

The true mission of journalists has not changed. If anything, it has broadened to encompass even more responsibilities. It is no longer enough for journalists to inform, educate and entertain. Now they must engage, enlighten and inspire.

To do this, journalists must have strong core skills, deep-rooted professional values and high ethical standards. This is where a sound journalism education makes a huge difference.

In Singapore, from the early years, our newspapers played an active nation-building role - helping to build a harmonious, multiracial, multi-religious society in this small city-state. From this interaction between public life and the media grew a deep and instinctive belief that the media must identify with the aspirations of the communities we serve.

It is from this standpoint that our papers strive to provide balanced views on both national and international developments. We want to help our communities make sense of what's going on so that they can make enlightened choices on issues that affect their lives and their children's lives.

I believe that papers which discharge this responsibility well will continue to thrive.

Let me end by acknowledging the role that Singapore's own journalism schools have played, in particular the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, which is the co-organiser of this congress.

Some of you may be aware that Mr Wee Kim Wee, the late president of the Republic of Singapore, was editorial manager of The Straits Times.

SPH is honoured that one of its journalists rose to the highest office in the land and has NTU's journalism school named after him.

In its short 15-year history, the Wee Kim Wee School has built up a creditable record, attracting good students and producing media professionals who have made their mark not just in Singapore but also overseas. The Wee Kim Wee School has every prospect of securing its place as a premier Asian journalism school, one that is confident of its own Asian model. I am also confident that it will achieve international eminence.

>> SPH aims to be among media 'winners': Tony Tan
>> Excerpts of Chairman's speech
>> Striving for credibility and trust