State media Media Corpse insai got tai jee?

The exit of a number of senior executives from Singapore publisher and broadcaster MediaCorp reflects a company struggling to cope with major structural changes to the media industry, a former executive has suggested.

Head of strategic marketing Patrick Yong and interactive media MD Philip Koh are to leave the company it emerged today, within a month of other high profile departures. Those roles are not to be replaced, MediaCorp has confirmed.

A former staffer told Mumbrella that the exits reflect serious issues at play for the publisher of TODAY newspaper and the country’s main terrestrial TV channels, including an unrealistic corporate mission and a struggle to keep up with industry change.

MediaCorp aims to become a billion-dollar company by 2015, but without relying on acquisitions or moving outside of its core media capabilities. Given that the company is now worth around $650m, it is “nonsensical” to believe that MediaCorp can meet its billion-dollar target given the limited opportunities to grow ad revenue in Singapore, the executive noted.

He added that the target was “demotivating” for executives while a corporate culture of “risk aversion” is making it difficult for the company to move with the times.

Another problem has been the company’s approach to management, which has been to place generalists in specialist roles.

“People have been moved around the company regardless of expertise, which is a recipe for disaster in media. Whether the discipline is TV or digital, these units must be managed by specialists,” he said.

Both Yong and Koh are capable professionals but were “completely out of their depth” in the roles they were had been assigned, he suggested.

The string of senior departures, which has included head of digital enterprise Nick Fawbert and Tony Lai, a former Singapore Tourism Board executive who ran MediaCorp’s experiences and outreach arm, has happened now as the company’s financial year has just come to an end; budgets and company objectives have come into renewed focus.

“A few years ago, the shift from traditional to emerging media was still happening, but there was a lot less pressure on MediaCorp. No one noticed. But now an enormous amount of attention has been placed on digital projects as revenues have started to crumble,” he said.

MediaCorp has struggled with digital ventures in the recent past, with e-book store ilovebooks shutting down less than a year after it launched. Meanwhile its incubator program has been unwilling to take a risk on startups beyond serial entrepreneurs, the executive said.

However, it is unfair to lay blame for the company’s troubles solely on chief executive Shawn Seow, who is “steering a rusty ship in a very big tropical storm,” the former employee said.

“If you look at the decisions he’s making, he’s doing the right things. But he’s not working in isolation. Temasek [MediaCorp’s owner] are involved as are meddling politicians,” he said.

A Singaporean media agency boss has pointed out the key issue for MediaCorp is that it has been run like a government department and not a private enterprise, and sweeping industry change has been hard to process.

“MediaCorp is a long way from bankrupcy,” he told Mumbrella. “It is still a fairly solid business. The issue is that it is accustomed to making huge margins, which have steadily eroded.”

In a statement shared with Mumbrella today, MediaCorp said of the departures of Yong and Koh: “The global media industry is ever changing and media companies, such as MediaCorp, have to refresh and reorganise to meet the challenges of today and the future. MediaCorp is transforming the organization towards greater customer centricity as the media consumption habits have changed.”

“Personnel changes and rejuvenation are very much a natural part of this transformation. Messrs Patrick Yong (Head, Strategic Marketing) and Philip Koh (Managing Director, Interactive Media) are currently serving their notice periods. We appreciate their past contributions and we wish them well in their future endeavours. Because of the reorganization, their positions will not be replaced. New hires have come on board and there will be more to join the management team in the coming months.”

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