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Mediacorp CEO Shaun Seow on redefining the media game

Media convergence, the popularity of news aggregators, headline-grabbing acquisitions and headline-grabbing failures are all things we’re used to seeing in the media industry. But Shaun Seow, CEO of Mediacorp, says this is just the beginning...

Speaking today at FIPP Asia, Seow used the popular TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ to draw parallels in the media industry and demonstrated how Mediacorp’s journey of transformation is taking shape.

Shaun Seow cropped ()

The new normal

“The media market in Singapore isn’t linguistically protected like other parts of Asia,” said Seow, hinting that the barrier to entry is low. “Singaporean publishers must make their content appealing to audiences, and I ask my people to understand that our activity is being benchmarked internationally.”

Unlikely alliances

Broadcast company Hulu and media company Vice have both had rocky paths since inception, said Seow, but have now grown from strength to strength. In the same vein, Mediacorp has shifted into “disruption mode”. “Rather than doing nothing and await our death,” Mediacorp has introduced ‘Mediapreneur’ – an in-house incubator programme. “We need to understand what is disrupting this industry, which involves acquiring new skills and digital instincts," he said.

Mediacorp incubator ()

Setting your own rules

Some companies have tried to redefine the game, said Seow, using Axel Springer as an example. “They’re rebuilding their digital subscription business and losing their dependence on advertising. They’ve transformed their business model,” he said. Similarly, Mediacorp has pledged to better understand how its audiences are consuming media, said Seow, and as a result has launched ‘Customer 360’ – a propriety planning system for TV, radio, out of home, digital and print. Audience data is gathered from these channels and allows Mediacorp to provide a holistic view of how audiences are consuming media. A collaboration between Nielsen and Pointlogic, Seow said Mediacorp knowing its audiences’ behaviour will help advertisers build better cross-media plans. “We’re hoping it will be a game changer for the way we sell,” he said.

Ultimately, said Seow, Mediacorp is hoping Customer 360 will help understand the “youth audience” – which they can then sell to advertisers, instead of having limited data and selling “overlapping audiences." 

Mediacorp youth audience ()

Staying relevant

Seow says remaining relevant is “so important for business survival”. In April 2015, Mediacorp restructured its more than 50 products from being categorised in either TV, radio or to being placed in “customer segments”. “We’re hoping to produce content for the customer and take him on a journey,” said Seow, using weekly TV show ‘Body SOS’ as an example, where the programme extends much further than just the TV.

Mediacorp non-siloed products ()

A new world order

Also we have no silver bullet and no ‘one size fits all’ said Seow, there are lessons we can learn from Mediacorp’s organisational change:

  1. When starting a new business line, don’t use the same executives who have succeeded in ‘traditional’ lines. They march to a different beat. They don’t know how to fail fast.
  2. Don’t underestimate staff pushback to what the management see as a crucial initiative. There will always be resistance to change, and you can never over-communicate to get staff buy in.

“Are we dead yet?” asked Seow, in conclusion. “No. We’ll each find our own way to survive, and thrive. We will live to fight another day.”

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