Ad rates based on independent third-party readership data, not on circulation numbers: SPH Media CEO

Circulation data is not used as a basis for SPH Media’s advertising packages, said CEO Teo Lay Lim. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - SPH Media Group’s chief executive officer Teo Lay Lim has written to advertisers following news that an internal company review found inconsistencies in circulation data.

In an e-mail sent on Tuesday evening, Ms Teo noted that some clients and partners have had queries on the relationship between circulation data and advertising rates.

She said circulation data is not used as a basis for SPH Media’s advertising packages.

“Our media rates and advertising packages are based on reach and readership of individual titles, and our SPH Media solutions as a whole,” she wrote.

Circulation data is a count of how many copies of a publication are distributed, such as through regular subscriptions or off-the-shelf purchase, while readership is an estimate of how many readers a publication has.

Ms Teo added that data on reach and readership is collected periodically via a survey panel that is statistically representative of the Singapore population. She said: “This data is obtained from and verified by independent third-party research agencies, namely GfK.”

Concluding her e-mail, Ms Teo said: “As a trusted and responsible organisation, we look forward to continuing our relationship with you. Thank you for your understanding and support.”

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an SPH Media spokesman said on Tuesday that circulation numbers reflect the paid customer base, which is one of the key metrics tracked by media companies.

On Monday, the spokesman said that staff involved in the issues linked to circulation numbers that were revealed by the internal review had been taken to task or had left the company. 

The inconsistencies in the reporting of data resulted in a discrepancy of between 85,000 and 95,000 daily average copies across all titles, which represents 10 per cent to 12 per cent of the reported daily average circulation, he said.

The spokesman also said that the company had immediately taken steps to strengthen processes.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Wong Wei Kong, editor-in-chief of SPH Media’s English/Malay/Tamil Media (EMTM) Group, sent out an e-mail to staff addressing the news of the issues with circulation data.

Mr Wong said that the review of circulation numbers, which began in March 2022 – three months after SPH Media was hived off from Singapore Press Holdings to become a company limited by guarantee – was started “based on certain observations”.

The review period reached back to before SPH Media became a new company, he said. The SPH Media spokesman on Monday said the review period was from September 2020 to March 2022.

Separately, when asked if the Singapore Exchange (SGX) was taking action, an SGX Group spokesman said: “We are reviewing the circulation information, including its materiality and time of occurrence.” SPH Media was part of SGX-listed SPH until November 2021, and SPH was subsequently delisted in May 2022.

Mr Wong said that even as the review was in progress, “we rebased our numbers, once it (was) clear the historical bases may be inaccurate”. “This affected us materially, and within EMTM, both ST and BT rebased our figures,” he said, referring to The Straits Times and The Business Times.

He added: “All this was painful, but necessary to put right what was once unknown, but now known. There is no choice – we cannot possibly continue reporting numbers that would now be questioned. However, with the rebasing and the steps taken, it is important to note that the numbers we are reporting now will bear up to scrutiny.”

He noted that even with these measures, the company will be getting “a lot of stick going forward”.

He said: “We will have to get through this together, but knowing that it is part of the journey to put things right. Ultimately, when the dust settles, we will still be judged by our stories, our content and how we go about doing our work, so I hope we will keep our focus on that even with what is going on.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.