SPH 'Poised to Leverage Digital Media' (ST)

BackDec 01, 2012

Core newspaper business still strong despite outside challenges: Chairman

SINGAPORE Press Holdings (SPH) is well poised to take advantage of the continued growth of digital media with its new online and mobile offerings, chairman Lee Boon Yang said yesterday.

Dr Lee told the media giant's annual general meeting (AGM) at SPH News Centre: "The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, The Business Times Weekend and various SPH Magazines' titles all launched apps for smartphones and tablets. Readers can look forward to more mobile apps in the pipeline."

He said SPH's core newspaper business "maintained its strength despite the numerous external challenges".

For instance, he noted that The Straits Times and The Sunday Times posted year-on-year growth in total circulation of 4.9 per cent, or 17,600 copies, to 373,900 (a day). He added: "This was a result of the inclusion of paid digital replica copies as part of the ST circulation."

The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao and My Paper were revamped with more content and new features, while the print classifieds section was given a makeover to cater to the changing lifestyles and needs of readers and advertisers.

SPH's broadcasting business also grew with the launch of SPH UnionWorks' Kiss92 – Singapore's first new radio station in 20 years.

The property unit's new retail development in Sengkang – The Seletar Mall – will be ready by the end of 2014. Its other retail properties – Paragon and The Clementi Mall – continue to enjoy full tenancy.

Dr Lee thanked retiring directors Ngiam Tong Dow and Yeo Ning Hong.

Mr Ngiam, a former permanent secretary who has served in several ministries and statutory boards, joined the board in 2001 and stepped down at the AGM.

Dr Yeo, a former Cabinet minister, became a director in 2001. He retires in March.

Yesterday's meeting attracted about 500 shareholders and drew questions on issues from online business to property expansion.

Shareholder Tan Tok Jin asked if SPH would create a real estate investment trust (Reit) to manage its three retail properties eventually. Dr Lee said: "We've not taken any steps in this direction as yet, as currently we've a portfolio of only two retail properties... The question we need to ask ourselves is, with three malls in operation, do we have the critical mass to provide an attractive retail Reit to investors?"

Another shareholder asked about SPH charging a fee for some of its online content.

Dr Lee said: "If you give it away for free, you face an even greater challenge of sustaining the operation... It's not just a battle for eyeballs, it's also a battle to earn revenue and make some profit out of the whole exercise. It's a difficult balance."

Among the resolutions passed was one to appoint KPMG as the auditors, replacing PricewaterhouseCoopers which has served as its auditors since SPH's incorporation in 1984.