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Photo of Ng Yat Chung by Straits Times.

SPH nett profit plunges by 25% even as ‘paper general’ CEO retrenches and charges for free content

by Kwok Fangjie

Media giant Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced Tuesday (10 Apr) that net profit for the second quarter fell 25% to S$40.2 million, compared with S$53.5 million the same period last year. This was contributed by a fall in both its media and property segments.

The revenue drop for the media segment was the sharpest at 7.4% to S$155.6 million. Within these, the advertisement and circulation income fell 9.3% and 7.5% respectively. Separately, media consultancy Nielsen showed that the reach of its flagship newspaper Straits Times fell by 7.5%, from 32.4% the year before to 30%.

The Board declared an interim dividend of 6 Singapore cents while the share price remained flat at around $2.50

Paper General CEO retrenches and charges for premium package while competitors are offering free access

Last October, the Straits Times reported that the media company sought to retrench 130 staff as it “moved to cut costs and restructure its work processes” under the new CEO Ng Yat Chung. Ng had said that such a move would lower staff costs by 8 to 9%

This raised outrage from netizens given Ng's track record as the former CEO of Neptune Orient Lines (NOL). Joshua Chiang, former Chief Editor of TOC and artist, expressed disgust on Facebook about Ng's actions of “making decisions to axe many long-term staff, while again, suffering no serious consequences himself.”.

NOL had suffered consecutive years of losses before it was sold to French Shipping giant CMA, which registered an $86m profit the year after it took over. Till date, it is still unclear how a former general would have experience in running a shipping - or newspaper - company.

After taking over as the SPH head, his focus has shifted to "our digital blueprint for the future, which includes our new all-digital subscription plans, and our strengthened integrated multi-platform marketing."

Amongst others, they have introduced ST Basic Digital package “to cater to price sensitive audience” and “spearhead growth of digital readership and digital revenue, by offering different entry price points”.

It remains to be seen how such an initiative would take off given that competitors are offering free access for the same content. For example, the Straits Times reporting on the opening of a new $50 million Seletar Airport was a premium article, but the content could be accessed for free on Mediacorp’s TODAYonline.

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