SINGAPORE, 9 November 2001 - SPH MediaWorks, the broadcasting arm of main board-listed Singapore Press Holdings, has trimmed 73 employees from its workforce of 380, in a bid to contain costs in the face of a weak advertising market and to restructure TV Works in response to rapidly-changing market conditions.
The move follows an across-the-board salary cut of 12.7% effective this month, as the broadcaster moves swiftly to consolidate itself - after chalking up a trading loss of $43 million in the financial year ended in August - to prepare for a longer than anticipated downturn so as to emerge leaner and fitter when the economy eventually recovers.
The affected employees, most of whom are non-bargainable executives, are given salaries in lieu of notice, pro-rated annual wage supplements and bonuses and ex gratia payments amounting to a one-time cost of $1.5 million. The downsizing and salary cut are estimated to result in an annual saving of some $7 million.
Sixty-five of the affected employees are from TV Works, MediaWorks’ English language channel. With immediate effect, the channel will be integrated with MediaWorks’ more successful Mandarin channel, Channel U, with both channels being managed by a consolidated Operations Group headed by Mr Man Shu Sum, currently Chief Operating Officer for Channel U.
Rating trends since the launch of MediaWorks’ two channels have indicated that while Channel U has established itself as a mass general entertainment channel, TV Works has not and has to be contented with being a special interest general entertainment channel.
Less than five months after its launch, Channel U garnered more than a third of Mandarin TV audience share and became the second most watched TV channel in Singapore. The active involvement of the more experienced Channel U team, most of whom are effectively bilingual in Chinese and English, in the management of TV Works is expected to inject welcome expertise and experience in programming, promotion and downstream production into the English-language channel.
"The English-language TV channels in Singapore have always had a small audience share," explained Mr Lee Cheok Yew, MediaWorks Chief Executive Officer. "When we first started in May, we tried to expand this share by ramping up local production on TV Works in the hope of bringing in new viewers. But the market decided otherwise."
"Instead of seeing an expansion of English-language audience, we see the two Mandarin channels growing at the expense of all the rest. Whether we like it or not, this is a fact we have to accept."
Dismissing rumours that MediaWorks plans to shut down TV Works soon after, he added:
"TV Works will continue to be an integral member of the MediaWorks family, but must be operated as a special interest channel. We will align its cost base to its lower revenue base through innovative programming and creative sharing of resources with Channel U. This will allow us to conserve resources to continue to compete strategically and selectively with the competition for imported programmes that have proven to work. We will also continue to invest in local productions that have shown to work, like Ah Girl and Makansutra. And we have started experimenting with dual language interpretations of one creative concept, like the recent army series shown on both Channel U and TV Works and which did well on both."
Asked whether TV Works will become a genre channel like a news or history or science channel, Mr Lee clarified: "When I said we will be operating TV Works as a special interest channel, I meant a special interest channel in a language sense - a channel that has to contend with appealing to a small, non-mass language audience and still stay viable. In terms of genre and programming, it will still be a general entertainment channel."
Mr Man, who used to oversee English-language non-drama production in MediaCorp before crossing over to MediaWorks, looks forward to the challenge in managing the two channels under the consolidated Operations Group.
"Before this consolidation, I have been streamlining processes to squeeze even greater efficiency and productivity out of an already efficient and productive Channel U team. This has now come in handy. Together with the remainder of the TV Works team transferred over, we will be able to jointly manage both channels effectively and efficiently. I am confident that the combined team will be able to take Channel U to greater heights while at the same time make TV Works a successful special interest channel," he said.
Assisting Mr Man in the Operations Group in English-language production will be Senior Vice President Andrea Teo, Singapore’s best-known sitcom queen. Among the projects she will be working on will be a sequel to Ah Girl, TV Works’ well-received sitcom featuring a next-door Singapore girl working in a mobile phone shop.
Meanwhile, Mr Jamal Hassim, formerly Chief Operating Officer for TV Works, has resigned with effect from today. Mr Lee has accepted his resignation and thanked him for his contributions in starting up TV Works.
Issued by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
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