Old Media firms slash jobs in Malaysia, Hong Kong


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HONG KONG/KUALA LUMPUR: Media groups in Malaysia and Hong Kong have unveiled restructuring moves at their traditional broadcast and print operations. These are likely to see the disappearance of hundreds of jobs. Purely digital venture, Viu also revealed the trimming of its outreach into India.

What appears to be the largest job cuts will come at Media Prima in Malaysia. The country's largest media group, which currently has 3,800 staff, includes television channels TV3, NTV7, 8TV and TV9, and newspapers including the New Straits Times, Berita Harian and Metro.

Media Prima said in a statement that it had sought consultations from journalist and newspaper worker unions, before coming to a decision on the new operating structure, and the list of employees to be laid off.

It did not reveal the number of people affected, but unions at the New Straits Times, said that the company is seeking the departure of 543 people by min-March. It has previously sought two rounds of voluntary redundancies.

Media Prima was profitable in 2018, albeit with lower revenues and earnings than at its peak in 2014.

In addition to a shift by audiences and advertising from linear TV and print publication, Media Prima has also been affected by the change in government last year. It was closely associated with the Umno and its Barisan Nasional group that was voted out of office in 2018. Since July this year, Media Prima has come under the influence of businessman Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, who is said to be a close friend to the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

In Hong Kong, Television Broadcasts (TVB) also appears to have found itself on the wrong side of history. In an internal memo circulated on Monday, the company said that it would lay off 10% of its workforce, or approximately 350 jobs.

For years, the territory's dominant free-to-air television operator, TVB last year dipped into the red for the first time in decades, having lost money on an investment in the corporate bonds of SMI Holdings, a major TV producer and a co-owner of a large mainland Chinese cinema chain.

Since mid-2019, TVB's trading position worsened due to the ongoing political protests in Hong Kong.

TVB's news coverage has been accused of a pro-government and pro-Beijing bias that has caused it to lose audience share and advertisers. In some quarters it has been nicknamed CCTVB, a suggestion that it is the mouthpiece of Chinese state-owned broadcaster China Central Television. TVB has consistently denied that its coverage is too conservative.

TVB's CEO, Mark Lee said in the memo that advertising, television broadcasting, newspapers and other media have been adversely affected by ongoing protests. "The social unrest shows no signs of abating. It is impossible to predict when social order will be restored and the economy will recover. In the face of this severe situation, all enterprises must take appropriate measures to ensure the business sustainability and retain core capabilities," he said.

In the digital space, 17-territory streaming platform Viu, which is backed by Hong Hong's PCCW group, is reported to have begun winding down its Indian operations. Indian media have reported that Viu has told its local employees of the changes.

"While India may represent a market with large potential, it is also a complex and challenging market where there is yet to be a path to sustained monetization that is commensurate with the investments required. Therefore, we are pausing on making additional investments in India. We are responsibly prioritizing our investments into Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South Africa where we have established a leadership position, furthering our commitment in markets where we have achieved rapid growth in a sustainable fashion," a Viu spokesman told Variety in an emailed comment.

India's streaming market is one of the largest and most competitive in the world, the battleground for huge local platforms including Disney's Hotstar, Sony Liv, Zee5 and Eros Now, as well as international players Netflix and Amazon. A preliminary assessment of Viu's freemium-model activities in India, would suggest that they were too small and not local enough.

Other platforms have changed tack in order stay in the market. These include Hooq, which became an aggregator of Hollywood content for that territory alone, and Netflix which is experimenting with discounted mobile-only subscriptions and other cut-rate loyalty schemes. - Agencies
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