Media Convergence: Singapore Model

Mildred V. Galarpe
Asia Journalism Fellowship

From the time the Mission Press printed Singapore’s first newspaper, Singapore Chronicle, in January 1824, Singapore’s press has been through major challenges – technology, economics and politics.

Technology is always changing and moving forward and economics comes with the proper utilization of technology. Laws and regulations make a difference in a country’s media environment — its evolution, growth and maturity.

The challenges to the media today are incredible. The potential is limitless, and the pressure is everywhere. Part of the reason is technology. How is technology changing consumer habits globally? How is technology shaping media products?

A robust and stable technology and communication infrastructure development in Singapore greatly contributed to the society’s media consumption patterns.

Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, in its Statistics on Telecom Services for 2008, revealed that as of June 2008 household broadband internet penetration is at 85.6 percent, while mobile penetration is at 127% of the 4.6 million population.

Share (%) of Total Minutes Spent Online
Total Internet 100.0%
Instant Messengers 24.2%
Entertainment 13.8%
Social Networking 8%
e-mail 5.7%
Online Gaming 2.4%
Search/Navigation 2.3%
Blogs 2.1%
Business/Finance 1.9%
Community 1.5%
News/Information 1.3%
All Other Categories 37%

ComScore, Inc. (NASDAQ: Scor), a leader in measuring the digital world, recently released its first report on online usage in Singapore. The report showed that in February 2009 more than 2.5 million people in Singapore, aged 15 and older, accessed the Internet from home and work locations, consuming an average of 1,785 pages of content and accessing the Internet an average of 21 hours per person. (add table 1)

Three students from the Ngee Ann Polytechnic School of Film and Media Studies Lee Xian Jie, Kai Wen, and Jabez Fong — made a research on Media Consumption in Singapore in 2007.

Of the 520 respondents (professionals and students) from East, West, North and Central Singapore, 228 are Gen X and 282 are Gen Y.

Key findings of the research reveal that Generation X-ers are more traditional in their selection of media usage, especially when they are searching for news and information, preferring to read newspapers or watch television. Generation Y-ers are more likely to get their news and information online than from newspapers.

Radio listening is on the decline for both generations alike.

Most importantly, our findings reflected that the more people read newspapers, the less reliable they perceived newspapers to be.

Among them is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who said in a television interview that his media consumption habits have shifted more to the screen.

Interviewed over Channel News Asia last February, Lee said “I watch the news on TV most evenings, usually the eleven o’clock news. In the morning what I do, I watch – I get the news on the Internet. Mr browser is open and I always have 3 or 4 news sites, CNA is one of them and the Singapore newspapers and BBC and couple of others. And that’s the first thing I look at every morning when I get up. I read the print newspapers after that. But now with the big screen and with better software, you can get a very good impression of the print newspaper on the screen. I think my habits may migrate even further onto the screen.”

In Singapore, the government sees the media as subordinate to government so it cannot be considered as the fourth estate and there is control of the press, said Tan Tarn How, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies. His research areas are in arts and cultural policy and media and Internet policy.

The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) oversees media and content policies that cater to the information and social needs of our community while the The Media Development Authority (MDA) administers media and content regulation.  

MDA administer the following media and content laws: 

Broadcasting Act Cap. 28
Newspaper and Printing Presses Act Cap.206
Films Act Cap.107
Undesirable Publications Act Cap.338
Public Entertainment and Meetings Act Cap.257

MDA also administers codes and guidelines for the media industry in the following areas:

Arts Entertainment
Publications/Audio Materials
Video Games

Tarn How said government has legal control over the press which means licensing is required to operate. Media are also considered government properties, meaning government has ultimate control of the media company and has soft control like selection of key editorial staff.

But Tarn How said there is no conclusive data that would show that the younger people are more reliant to new media – so the need for new media is not a credibility issue of the traditional media but a change of lifestyle or consumption patterns.

The guidelines for new media are evolving and Singapore has recognized the need to legislative changes to adjust to the evolving public residents and the increase in technological sophistication amongst its citizens.

For a long time Singapore’s two media giants, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. (SPH) and MediaCorp Pte. Ltd (MediaCorp), ran all print media and operated all the broadcasting, respectively, enjoying duopoly.

SPH publishes 14 newspaper titles in four languages (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil). It also publishes and produces more than 100 magazine titles in Singapore and the region. All of its newspapers have Internet editions.

MediaCorp pioneered the development of Singapore’s broadcasting industry, with the broadcast of radio in 1936 and television in 1963. Today, MediaCorp has over 50 products and brands in four languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil), reaching out to all adults in Singapore every week.

In June 2000, laws controlling media ownership changed. Government issued media licenses to SPH and MediaCorp to start additional broadcasting and print projects.

In the same year, MediaCorp launched a daily tabloid, TODAY, while SPH started two television channels, TV Works – English language channel, and Channel U – the Chinese language counterpart.

The change in government regulations resulted in the emergence of a new form of journalism in Singapore – convergence journalism. SPH called it “Amphibious Journalism” while MediaCorp called it “Newsplex”.

Convergence is the buzzword these days and its new and ongoing processes are changing mass communication, media companies and landscapes.

It being an ongoing process makes defining convergence difficult. Others see convergence as a result of changing media consumption brought about by technological advancement, while others view it as a way to address declining newspaper sales, stagnation of television audiences and stiff competition for advertising income.

Newsrooms embracing convergence also call it integration, synergy, cooperation, collaboration, multiple-platform journalism, and cross-platform journalism, among several others.

What is convergence?

Whatever and however one defines Convergence the fact remains that it is not a “one size fits all” system. Convergence varies depending on the country’s media laws, available technology, type of audience, newsroom culture and the kind of society.

Gil Thelen, former publisher of Tampa Tribune in Florida, defines convergence “as a company that operates on multiple platforms to both serve the public interest in terms of news and gains market share in the process.”

Rich Gordon, Director of Digital Technology in Education of Northwestern University, said the “term convergence has been applied to corporate strategies (the merger of AOL and Time Warner), to technological developments (video on demand and interactive television), to marketing efforts (partnerships between newspapers and TV stations to promote each other’s work), to job descriptions (“backpack journalists” who return from the scene of a story with words, audio and video) and to storytelling techniques (the melding of text and multimedia on news Web sites).”

Convergence in The New Media Handbook by Andrew Dewdney and Peter Ride, refers to the bringing together and overlapping of media practices, where knowledge skills and understanding of different analogue media practice are brought together in digital hypermedia and multimedia.

Convergence is an editorial strategy to engage whatever device the user (audience) turns to in order to access that information.

A lot of newsrooms tried to do convergence but failed, and this was because of the lack of understanding of what it really is and the absence of the plan of how to go about it.

Convergence in Singapore

In April 2002, SPH MediaWorks Pte Ltd, a subsidiary and broadcasting arm of Singapore Press Holdings, was granted a licence by the Singapore Broadcasting Authority to operate two new free-to-air channels, Channel U (the Mandarin Channel) and Channel i (the English channel). Both channels feature dramas, variety shows and current affairs programmes.

It is about this time that SPH started its multi-platform journalism. Print journalists were trained to supply the content for the television news and were themselves appearing in current affairs programs.

However, SPH’s “Amphibious Journalism” didn’t last long because the television ventures were closed down.

There was no immediate explanation from SPH when asked why the venture failed in 2004, but Patrick Jonas, deputy editor of Tabla, one of SPH’s publications, who was around during the time of “Amphibious Journalism” said, “the experiment failed becuase Singapore did not have a population large enough to support two networks.

MediaCorp, on the other hand, the only media company in Asia with different platforms under its house – press, radio, television and interactive media – is developing a new convergent newsroom which pools newsgathering resources of the four platforms.

By nature, these different platforms are anti-convergence. They are from different cultures and have different mindsets, not to mention the journalists’ egos and pride towards each other. But MediaCorp found a good conductor to lead its symphony.

Dr. Chitra Rajaram is head of Newsplex.

Interview with Dr. Chitra Rajaram

MediaCorp hired Dr. Chitra Rajaram to head Newsplex, the office overseeing the company’s news convergent newsroom.

Rajaram, a seasoned journalist, was former editor of SPH’s Tamil Murasu, and once managing director of GolinHarris, a PR consultancy firm. She also was in academics for a while.

MediaCorp has talked about convergence for a long time and they see it as the way to go because of the company’s multi-platforms, but didn’t have one person who solely focuses on it.

“Picking somebody outside MediaCorp is easier and I don’t have any affiliation to TV, radio or the paper. I am coming in as neutral so it was easier for me,” Rajaram explained.

Economic viability of convergence is one thing MediaCorp is hoping to achieve with a convergent newsroom through multi-media or bundled advertising. Is there a business model for it? There is none, and MediaCorp is in the process of developing its own business model based on its media products and Singapore’s media consumption.

How is MediaCorp doing Convergence?

Under the new Newsplex structure there will just be one business desk for all platforms called Bizplex, one sports desk called Sportsplex and Newsplex for the general news. Interactive Media will come in different as well as the foreign correspondents and language TV stations and other products.

Rajaram started merging the business desks of Channel NewsAsia, 938Live and TODAY in August 2008.

“It was really like moving mountains because people have been doing the same thing for years and years and their mindset had to be changed,” Rajaram recounted.

The business desks of Channel NewsAsia and 938Live, which are housed in one complex, were moved to one place where they sit together and work together. The business desk of TODAY came in a little later because they are moving from a different location.

“It was not easy because first, you have to tell people they have to move office and sit with people they don’t know and in their mind they are competitor and second the versioning for every platform is different,” Rajaram said.

In the Bizplex experience, Rajaram said it was easy for television and radio journalists to share because the writing style is almost the same but it was a bit of exemption for print because print is more detailed, in-depth.

One notable observation in the business desks integration is the sharing of stories. Now, not all three reporters are going out to cover an event. One goes out to cover and the others focus on their own exclusive stories, work on in-depth features. This maximization of resources is aimed at improving content.

The sports desks of the three platforms were merged end of 2008. “That was even better because the boys who write for the print media now hosts radio talk shows and they are so excited,” Rajaram said.

On April 1, 2009, Rajaram started merging the general news desks and now it is called Newsplex. She said merging the general news desks is the greatest challenge, “but I am finding it more and more working because people are sort of responding and seeing the value of sharing stories.”

What are the benchmarks for success?

For SPH, convergence is a success when they are the first to break the news online and still get an exclusive of the same coverage for the Straits Times.

MediaCorp on the other hand is just starting convergence but so far Rajaram said the mergingt of the Business adn Sports desks are working fine and so much sharing of stories.

Was it the strategy of MediaCorp to integrate newsrooms by section? “Yes, it’s like a black cat in the black room, we have never done this before. The foreign media have done it like The Daily Telegraph of U.K and ABC of Australia, but we are the only ones who gonna do all three platforms,” Rajaram said.

“Eventually we will also be doing Internet, but we want to do things phase by phase, we don’t want to bring everyone together and create chaos,” Rajaram said, adding that in the Newsplex a person from the Internet will sit down and will be the one to push content to the web.

How did you handle the cultural differences? What were the challenges and how did you manage?

People are the biggest challenge, Rajaram said. “I started talking to people, try to do a buy in and that was the challenge — like we had a retreat, talk to them. Until your house is put together it doesn’t really work.”

Talking to people in groups in town hall discussions or informally meeting pockets of journalists in canteen while having lunch have to be done to explain how convergence works. “There is the effort that goes into it because it is so new to a lot of people.”

She said there is a need for a strong information campaign about Convergence among the journalists for them to understand and appreciate the system.

“People had been doing one platform for the last 15 to 20 years and suddenly I am telling them – do something else – it’s tough,” she said.

The younger ones are enjoying it; some of the older journalists are still a bit skeptical. Some have seen the results of convergence, some haven’t.

Resistance to convergence comes because of fear – doing three platforms. “There is more learning to be done and some unlearning too, but once we start giving people time, they adjusted.”

In any reorganization harmonizing titles and positions of people is a tough job. “When we transferred people over, nobody got a title that is lower than what they are. We have worked on the titles that are reflective of what they do and their seniority in the company also being considered.”

If you are executive editor, you are executive editor of Newsplex of Bizplex or Sportsplex and not Channel NewsAsia or 938 Live or TODAY.

What about technology and other infrastructure?

Their will be new infrastructure to be constructed like the new newsroom for entire Newsplex and there will also be software.

The new Newsplex newsroom will be completed by October 2009. This is going to be the new icon of MediaCorp.

At the moment all three platforms are using different software. The press is under Prestige, radio is under Dolly and TV is using ANTS.

“Technology can be very expensive so I am looking at two companies that can offer this. They will give us a preview and sessions and all that. I am also very prudent, you know don’t want to spend unnecessarily.

“We do it as trial basis and software can come later. Don’t forget that with new software you need to train people and it has another cost factor.

“I see convergence as cost efficiency whatever savings can be used to other things to get our resources to better use,” Rajaram said.

On the other hand, after the failed “Amphibious Journalism”, SPH is now adapting a strategic convergence of its media products – Straits Times print and the AsiaOne Network which covers a whole suite of online platforms, including Asiaone, STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print) Razor TV, Straits Times, The Business Times, and Omy.

Peter Khoo, SPH Assistant Vice President for Branding and Promotions, said SPH go beyond print in a lot of ways, one is the newspapers online version. Khoo said the strategy is very simple – breaking news must go online and the strategy is to put online whatever content the competition (television and radio) will have.

Exclusive interviews of the cause of the fire or interviews of victims can be held off for the next day’s issue of the newspaper. “The strategy is to be first to put out the news online,” he said, adding that the public trusts Straits Times whether the newspaper or the online edition.

Learning from experience, Khoo said SPH is not converged online. All SPH publications have their own newsrooms.

Unlike MediaCorp, SPH publications don’t share stories but can quote or lift stories and credit the papers. SPH have a common Resource Centre (library). All newsrooms can access old reports, pics and other resources. If a photographer of one paper attends an event, the other paper can request a picture but not necessary the same picture will be used.

“I think it is ridiculous to ask a reporter to shoot high definition video, take high definition audio and at the same time write a relative piece. It think it is a bit crazy,” Khoo said.

For a journalist attending a press conference and a story breaks, the reporter should send the story for the online version in five minutes and upload the first video for SPH Razor TV and come back to write the full story for the print edition.

Follow up of the breaking news should be done by another crew because it will be crazy if it is done by the same person.

With the development of new media, would print journalist still be relevant? Khoo said “digital natives”, journalists who were born during the internet age, don’t have the experience of the “digital immigrants” like the traditional journalists – those born before the internet age.

There may be an abundant supply of digital natives but nothing beats the experience of digital immigrants, Khoo said.

Multimedia journalist

MediaCorp’s Rajaram said multi-skilled reporter is happening in Newsplex. “My aim is bi-platform. I don’t expect them to do all three platforms. So far a lot of them are now doing it today – a TV package and a radio package at the same time.”

A press reporter covering an event takes a camera crew with him/her and writes the story for press. Somebody could repackage it for TV as long as the crew is there to take the sound and video.

But critics say a multi-skilled reporter is actually losing one’s niche. “I don’t think so. I think it’s more enriching if you want to make the effort. Nothing comes easy,” she added.

“Reporters doing radio reports have to be cleared through the voice panel and same goes to TV. We train people,” Rajaram said.

Jeremy Wagstaff, a columnist/writer/commentator for The Wall Street Journal, BBC World Service based in Singapore and a journalism professor at the National University of Singapore, said multi-media reporting is not just about learning the technical skills.

He said it is also learning the skills as a journalist by being able to think quickly, ask questions quickly, summarize quickly, and figuring out the headline and the lead quickly.

In the existing setup, journalists become specialized and hide behind their specialization. They have a traditional view that their expertise or their knowledge of the subject and their contacts apparently give them special dispensation; put them in an ivory tower that means that is what they are being paid for.

Wagstaff said traditional journalists need to be reminded and encouraged that, that is not just what they are being paid for; they need to be able to think outside of the ivory tower. The way to do that is sort of a carrot and stick.

The stick is that they are going to lose their jobs if they don’t continue to learn, open their eyes and minds to learning these skills.

“Most journalists, their argument is, what is the incentive for me to start writing more online? If I am the editor I would say what would be the incentive for me to continue hiring you and not hire somebody who is willing to do this.

“But then you need to talk about the carrot, you give people something dangling in front of them to make it possible. So you need to train them how to think like a wire service journalist in terms of giving them the mental tools to be able to think more quickly on their feet.

“Take pride in being able to put things out officially, recognize their contributions so that if they do get the story before the rival newspaper they are rewarded – lots of recognition for that. The other thing is you need to give them the available technology like laptops, video and audio recorders and encouraged them to make the best use of the technology if they show the willingness to use it,” Wagstaff said.

Business Model

Good journalism attracts enough advertising to sustain the journalism and the need to make profit. Return on investment is a question always attached to the discussion on convergence.

Convergence from the editorial point of view is to expand audience across media platforms and from the marketing standpoint it is to reach as many people as possible. The editorial’s aim of expanded market reach is ought to be translated into increased revenue.

In theory, convergence makes financial sense but in practice the case is tough and it differs in most markets, said Colin Chong, Vice President Integrated Media of MediaCorp.

Multimedia advertising is not new. In fact in 2003, the International Newspaper Marketing Association (INMA) published a booklet designed to show that one of the most promising opportunities for publishing companies was to develop a multi-media advertising strategy.

INMA defines multi-media advertising as the integrated use of multiple media in a single advertising campaign.

The strategy involves running a campaign simultaneously across some combination of print (newspaper or magazine), broadcast (radio or traditional television or interactive television), wireless, the Internet, and some emerging platform.

MediaCorp on the other hand is introducing a creative concept – a solution type of advertising campaign to Singapore advertisers and media consumers.

Under Chong’s integrated products are 10 television channels (news and languages), 13 radio stations and 14 newspapers and magazines.

Chong, who has been on MediaCorp’s media sales for the last 15 years, said the challenge is so big because no one has actually done it for all platforms.

Before the integration, each MediaCorp product has its own sales people who are familiar with the product itself and these sales people from the different products go to the advertisers for their advertising placement.

Chong said with the integration all of the sales people from the different products will have to be familiar with all the 37 different MediaCorp products from radio, TV, press and mobile.

The creative concept strategy is to help advertisers with their media campaigns using the different media platforms of MediaCorp. The strategy will provide solution to the media requirements of an advertiser without going to an advertising agency. The creative concept is part of the advertising package.

To Chong, this is an uphill challenge because you have to train the existing sales people to be familiar with the different products across multiple platforms. They have to be familiar with the different radio and television programs as well as newspaper supplements and magazines.

Some of the sales people resigned because they feel it’s too much for them. The new ones are more open-minded because they came in with fresh ideas, expectations and no biases to one platform or product.

Chong said staff training is just one part of the challenge; another part is to sell the idea to advertisers who are so used to the old way of advertising. Introducing a new thing at the time of recession and declining advertising budgets makes the job more difficult.

Educating and changing the mindsets of advertisers and the consumers is tough, Chong said. And right now not a single advertiser sees the advantage of buying from an integrated product package.

SPH’s Khoo said the problem is not just the advertisers but the people in the advertising industry, the media buyer and the people placing the advertisement.

Advertising agencies allocate the advertising budget of an advertiser to the different platforms. Most ad agencies, Khoo said, prefer the newspaper because they get 15 to 17 percent commission per ad placement a day compared to the 2 to 3 percent commission from online advertising per month.

But Nielsen Company reported recently that advertising spending in Singapore fell to 6.4 percent in the last quarter of 2008. The total ads spent for TV, print, outdoor and cinema, but excluding Internet, in those three months amounted to S$525.1 million, down by S$35.8 million.

A report from the Channel said with fewer advertising dollars available and Singaporeans spending more time at home, outdoor ad displays are expected to suffer.

Print ad spending is also expected to decline, as classifieds are pulled back during lean times. But all is not lost.

More money is expected to go into direct marketing efforts such as in-store promotions and digital ads.

A Business Times report said recently that in 2008, Singapore’s online advertising industry was estimated to have raked in $190 million in revenues, representing a year-on-year growth of 33.7 per cent.

Paid search advertising, by far the largest online advertising segment, accounted for 44 per cent of Singapore’s online advertising revenues in 2007. This segment is expected to continue growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 22.1 per cent between 2008 and 2013.


“The youths of Singapore are hooked on the internet,” says Frost & Sullivan analyst Kamlesh Kalwar. “They form the largest chunk of active internet users and have been one of the primary drivers of online advertising in recent years.”

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that the online ad market, which was worth $142.1 million in 2007, is forecasted to reach $413.5 million by end-2013, growing at a CAGR of 19.5 per cent from 2008 to 2013.

Among the sales teams and sales packages conceived as multi-platform offerings are the Topeka Capital-Journal in Kansas. They sell packages that incorporate radio and television advertising. The Tampa Tribune has been successful selling packages across media. The Telegraph Media Group also provide integrated multimedia solutions.

Driving the move toward multi-media advertising — for both media companies and advertisers — is the number of “media touchpoints” that have emerged in the past quarter century.

Instead of media consumption habits that are consistent and easy to track over time, Martha Stone in her report on “Embracing the Power of Multi-Media Advertising”, argues the “touchpoints” have created new media options from which consumers can choose — ranging from traditional media like newspapers, radio, and television, to the emerging media such as wireless telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), kiosks, electronic billboards, web sites, interactive television, teletext, e-mail, and others.

The future of journalism

Mr. P.N. Balji, Director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship of Nanyang Technological University, stressed that the real problem in the Singapore media landscape is going to come not from the readership but from within the editorial leadership itself, who might have become ‘dinosaurs’.

Mr Balji, in a talk about “New Media Challenges for Old Media: From Behind the Battle Lines” on December 18, 2008 at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, observed that there has been no evolution in Singapore reportage in the last decade, with writing styles and news presentation unchanged since he started out in journalism in the 1970s, and noted that there is no real difference in the way broadcast and print media present issues to the public then and now.

He attributed the predictability of editorial style and content to the increasing editorial focus on advertising at the cost of editorial work.

Mr. Balji said local media, while competent and professional, are not preparing Singaporeans for the big story that is brewing. To take the Lehman Brothers saga for instance: when the story of the bank’s collapse first broke on a Friday, the Financial Times subsequently covered the issue on Page One for days.

Meanwhile, the story was buried in the Money pages of The Straits Times. When the story grew in prominence, The Straits Times did not carry it on the cover page of its Money section, which instead had a story on how paper diaries are being superseded by their digital cousins.

This example shows how Singapore readers cannot be more discerning if “they cannot see what the local media should be doing” in journalistic terms.

Mr Balji noted that editorial content in Singapore media is indeed undergoing a change, but he was unsure if current changes bode well for the industry. Content is going downstream, and there is a general trend of sacrificing depth for breadth in terms of content. While “gems” or important information do exist in local reportage, one has to spend some time to ferret these “gems” out as they are not presented as starkly as they should be.

In a recent talk on New Editor before Fellows of Asia Journalism Fellowship, Mr. Balji raised the idea of a borderless newspaper. A group of students from the Nanyang Technological University wrote an article about the future of journalism in relation to Mr. Balji’s talk.

Mr Balji did not appear to be very optimistic about change in the Singapore media landscape. While there were ‘pockets’ within the journalistic community that is dedicated to better reportage, this is not widespread enough to constitute a trend.

Is convergence the future of journalism in Singapore? 

We need to understand the media industry and the relationship between the old media and the new media, or we will lose our relevance as professional journalists.

Convergence is just the vehicle, the result of technology advancement but journalist should not be confused for what matters is good reportage, context on stories, story hierarchy, in depth follow up stories and the basic principles of journalism like fairness, accuracy and timeliness should be considered more because content is king.

Quality content delivered through converged platforms is the future of Singapore’s journalism.

Dr. Chitra Rajaram is head of Newsplex.

Dr. Chitra Rajaram, Director Newsplex


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