At Singapore Press Holdings' annual general meeting yesterday, chief executive Ng Yat Chung (left) said the company aims to improve its financial performance, dividend payout and share price, while chairman Lee Boon Yang (right) said it is prepared f

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) will continue to invest in transforming the media business to keep up with changing consumer habits, especially with the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the business.

Its property segment, including purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) and retail, was also identified as an area for growing recurring income, said SPH chief executive Ng Yat Chung at the company’s annual general meeting yesterday.

He told a virtual audience: “SPH is facing a challenging media landscape. We have not been spared from rapid changes disrupting the news media industry everywhere. Consumer habits are changing, and they are increasingly moving to digital media.

“As a result, our media business faced a steady decline in both print advertising and print subscription revenue. And these are traditionally our largest revenue and profit drivers. The Covid-19 pandemic this year has further exacerbated these challenges.”

SPH had earlier reported its first net loss of $83.7 million, for the year that ended on Aug 31.

One of the strategies, moving forward, is to grow income from its property segment, Mr Ng said.

He said in response to shareholder questions that about 60 per cent of units at The Woodleigh Residences, a development by SPH and Kajima Development, have been sold as at Nov 20.

SPH is also on track to become a sizeable PBSA owner-operator, he said, with 7,723 beds across 28 assets in Britain and Germany worth more than $1.4 billion.

“Many shareholders have asked about the SPH plan to list our PBSA assets. We are always considering and looking out for opportunities to improve shareholder value,” said Mr Ng. “The listing of our PBSA is a possibility. But an announcement will be issued by the company only in the event there is a material development on the matter.”

Mr Ng said SPH also aims to improve its financial performance, dividend payout and share price.

On Nov 20, the company’s share price shot up about 19 per cent to $1.25, prompting a query from the Singapore bourse.

SPH had replied then that it regularly evaluates opportunities across its portfolio. This may from time to time involve discussions with various parties and stakeholders.

It added that there is no assurance that any transaction will materialise or that any definitive or binding agreement will be reached. It will make further announcements as appropriate, in compliance with listing rules.

Mr Ng said SPH will invest in technological capabilities to rejuvenate, reinvent and reposition its product offerings as it continues its media transformation efforts.

Digital circulation and digital advertising revenue have grown over the past few years, even as SPH continues to try to stem the decline in print.

The company has also improved its data analytics, such as by building a model to identify and serve up promotions to readers who are most likely to subscribe, leading to a conversion rate that is three times higher than before.

It also made progress in estimating expected revenue from each subscriber, which will guide the development of new products and optimise customer acquisition costs.

Video analytics, such as tracking algorithms, also help examine traffic in front of outdoor advertising screens so campaigns can be better designed for advertiser returns.

Mr Ng said other transformation initiatives include The Straits Times’ revamp to make it a better experience for readers. The next development will be to deliver news tablets for the magazines as well.

Chairman Lee Boon Yang said: “SPH is prepared for a lengthy recovery from Covid-19. The priority is to conserve cash through an effective cost-control programme while adopting a disciplined and prudent approach to capital allocation. Our resilient balance sheet will help the group buffer against the long-term uncertainty.”