SPH retrenchment, media stagnancy

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) recently had a retrenchment exercise. The initial plan was to reduce about 230 jobs (130 being retrenchments) by end 2018, but the management had a change of mind and decided to bring it forward to October this year.

This unfortunate event precipitated some critiques on local Singapore media: SPH mass retrenchment to save costs is like “applying a plaster to a gaping wound”, and also gave way to a schadenfreude of people gloating at local forum EDMW, talking about how the reporters deserved it for being the mouthpiece of the government all these years. Ironically, the popular EDMW forum belongs to SPH. Part of me thinks that this is an inevitable situation, considering the current economic realities, but part of me also feel for the people who got their jobs axed. Hopefully, this restructuring will give rise to new opportunities and a more robust media landscape.

To be captain obvious: the overall local media landscape is suffering now because we can’t compete with YouTube, Facebook and Google – platforms that are chewing up ad revenue and audience attention with their tech-enabled audience-targeting.

Platforms like Toggle and local news sites have been trying to create a viable business model based on free content and revenue from advertisers, but it doesn’t seem to be working. SPH has recently launched a premium news feature which is essentially a paywall to access content, but the success of that remains to be seen. In an era of information overload where everyone’s fighting for audience eyeballs, I’m not sure if an additional barrier like this will backfire and drive customers away instead. Since news content, if it’s important enough to need publicising, can be gotten from other sources anyway.

 

Just my two cents:

I think Toggle and local news sites can be made more appealing to users in terms of user experience, or unique tech features that YouTube, Facebook or Instagram currently doesn’t have. Maybe something like Netflix or Pandora’s AI which serves customised content based on a user’s preferences, or a feature like OkCupid’s quizzes which can connect like-minded users together.

In terms of content, Toggle has exclusive content, but the overall site is not user friendly enough, and features-wise, it’s not offering anything new above YouTube or other video sites. Consider video streaming sites from China which allow live-comments, I think that’s an interesting feature as it allows users to interact with each other as they watch the show. This makes the experience more fun. Just like how, before the internet, we used to watch TV together as a family and make jibes/comments about the plot and characters.

Perhaps if we can invest in and utilise newer tech like VR or 360 cameras, and produce 360 immersive video content – this would attract newer segments of the market (which currently is dependent on retirees and the under-16 children segment), and also inject a breath of fresh air to the content.

I think it’s hard to fight with Facebook and YouTube because of the sheer quantity of content, which is user generated and extremely current.

Maybe Mediacorp or SPH can try opening up their sites to allow user generated content. Like allow users to upload photos, videos, make comments, etc. Which, currently they do have to some extent, but I think they need to put more resources into encouraging the wider public to produce content. Like holding  contests and workshops to share knowledge and also drive interest towards fresh new content. Because right now, they are facing an image crisis and a lack of people coming forward to be content-creators or writers. Overall, there’s a sense that everything is same-old same-old, the public thinks that the media companies are not innovating and just reproducing the same old content every month.

I do believe that we have talent in Singapore. We just need to give them a space and encourage them to grow.

We can take a leaf from China or Korea, see how they have established their own platforms. I admit they are more homogeneous culturally with a common language as a platform, but perhaps we can also leverage on our diversity as a strength. What makes us distinct from the rest of the world – our Singlish language, our local food & customs, our unique perspective of Asia as we straddle both Asian/Western attitudes – can be our USP, unique selling proposition.

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