SPH focus still on resilience for core media business

More than 400 shareholders attended the media group's annual general meeting yesterday at the SPH News Centre. The board and management took questions for about an hour before all resolutions were swiftly passed.
More than 400 shareholders attended the media group's annual general meeting yesterday at the SPH News Centre. The board and management took questions for about an hour before all resolutions were swiftly passed.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Chairman says it is also exploring other opportunities such as property, education to add value

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) remains focused on building resilience for its core media business even as it explores other opportunities to add value to the group, chairman Lee Boon Yang said yesterday.

"Despite challenging times and changing media consumption patterns, our core newspaper business maintained its leading position," he told shareholders at the media group's annual general meeting.

"We launched a group-wide review of our core media businesses to further adapt to the new media environment... we will continue to strengthen the synergies between our media and non-media adjacencies."

SPH's net profit fell 17.5 per cent to $265.3 million for the year ended Aug 31, partly due to weaker advertising and circulation revenue.

Still, SPH's total newspaper circulation across both print and digital editions averaged 997,300 copies per day for the financial period ended Aug 31. This is a rise of 2.8 per cent from a year earlier, a result of more mobile outreach, Dr Lee said.

To deliver more effective solutions to advertisers and business partners, SPH has created an integrated marketing division. It is also working to trim operating costs over the next two years, even as it presses ahead to "transform from print-centric newsrooms into a multi-platform operation", said Dr Lee.

More than 400 shareholders attended the meeting at the SPH News Centre. One shareholder mused that SPH seemed to be morphing into a property investment company, in terms of its asset base.

Dr Lee acknowledged the media business is "relatively asset-light" with higher profit margins.

"But you cannot continue to assume that despite falling advertising revenue, management will be able to maintain the 30 per cent profit margin for media. We will try our best, but not many businesses can give you that kind of return."

He also said: "Having a substantial part of our assets in the form of property does provide a buffer from the declining fortunes in the media business, and I think it is useful in this period of uncertainty to have such income to support us."

In fact, SPH plans to make more strategic property investments and will continue to focus on the retail sector, he said.

Another growth area SPH has identified is education, following its investment in MindChamps Preschool two years ago. Dr Lee said: "We are continuing to explore opportunities in early education, pre-school education. This is an attractive area because education is so important to parents and young children."

The board and management took questions for about an hour before all resolutions were swiftly passed.

Dr Lee thanked Mr Ng Ser Miang, who retired yesterday after serving on the board for nine years, and Mr Lucien Wong, who is resigning on Dec 15 to be Singapore's Attorney-General from January. Dr Lee welcomed Mr Ng Yat Chung, who joined the board in August.

SPH shares fell two cents to close at $3.73 yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'SPH focus still on resilience for core media business'. Print Edition | Subscribe