SPH unloads failing media businesses into nonprofit

The Singapore Press Holdings headquarters in Toa Payoh. Photo: Google
The Singapore Press Holdings headquarters in Toa Payoh. Photo: Google

The owner of Singapore’s largest newspaper will staunch its losses by folding its media outlets into a nonprofit entity amid declining revenues. 

Singapore Press Holdings, or SPH, which owns publications including national daily The Straits Times, announced today it will move its media-related subsidiaries into SPH Media Holdings Pte. Ltd. to focus more on “quality journalism” and digital. The move will open the company to funding from private and public sources, including the government.  

“SPH’s media business has since fallen into the red,” the company said in a news release. “Even with the resumption of business activities post-lockdown, the decline in advertising revenue is expected to continue at a similar pace to the last five years.”

SPH saw its first-ever loss of S$11.4 million last year. It also recorded a S$122.5 million drop in advertising revenue attributed to a decline in print circulation and “sustained stiff competition” on digital advertising revenues.

SPH is also giving the subsidiary S$80 million to get started plus S$30 million of shares in SPH and its real estate units.

The newly incorporated and wholly owned subsidiary will control and publish dailies such as the Business Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian and more than 30 magazines, radio stations, books, related leaseholds, intellectual property and information technology assets. Other than its media business, SPH also manages properties such as shopping malls. 

The major restructuring move came amid “unprecedented disruption in recent years,” SPH said, with operating revenues halved since 2016 due to the decline in demand for print advertising and subscriptions. It has invested over S$40 million annually since 2016 as part of its digital transformation strategy. 

At a press conference earlier today, CEO Ng Yat Chung reportedly lost his cool when asked about how SPH Media could maintain editorial independence if it took direct government funding. 

“For SPH, we have always had advertising and we have never, never conceded to the needs of advertisers,” he was quoted saying by Today. “The fact that you dare to question (the editorial independence of) SPH titles… I take umbrage at that comment. I don’t believe that even where you come from, you concede in doing your job.”

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