Generation 40s – 四十世代

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New York Times數碼化出眾 報業稀寶

信報財經新聞
上善若水
2017-02-04

姚穎謙

新年伊始,本人謹祝各位萬事順遂,未來五年香港風調雨順、物阜民豐。

今次續談《紐約時報》(The New York Times)在社交平台上的處境。以每觸及1000人次的廣告成本計,相較直郵廣告(Direct Mail)的60元(美元.下同)、電視的28元、報紙雜誌的16元,社交媒體僅需少於2.5元;以Facebook專頁及賬戶發帖更是免費,成本優勢難以取代。傳統媒體廣告一直標榜能夠面對社會所有階層,主席及行政總裁Mark Thompson在第三季業績會上也指出,在有名氣的紙媒上登廣告是一種榮耀(prestige),不能僅從成本去考慮,但是社交媒體還可以透過大數據分析讀者偏好,可用以推廣傳統渠道上的內容,以視頻或即場播客(live podcasts)為紙媒加添色彩,反映優秀紙媒不視社交平台為洪水猛獸,反而以它作為攻城利器,以更快更準更廉價的方式把廣告傳給客戶。

如上文所述,《紐時》以發行收入高於廣告收益為榮,報紙電子化的成功,促成內容的有效配送(為了使新聞能觸及不同口味的客戶,《紐時》甚至會為同一篇文章,在不同時段配搭不同的標題),使它的品牌地位得以彰顯,而非像地位較為次要的報社般,淪為Facebook資訊或Google News中文字供應商的一員,也與當前的政治形勢有關。

抵抗特朗普強權的壁壘

自美國總統特朗普就任後,白宮與新聞界的爭拗不斷。美國傳媒更因為在1月11日的新聞發布中,CNN被當時是POTUS(總統當選人)的特朗普羞辱是假新聞(fake news),責難「你的機構爛極了」(Your organization is terrible)而同仇敵愾;1月25日,6名記者因為盡忠職守報道總統就職日以嚴重騷動(felony rioting)的罪名被扣押及指控,更使華府干預新聞自由之說甚囂塵上,美國新聞界史無前例地團結。據皮尤新聞中心所編的美國媒體習慣新研究(Pew’s new study of Americans’media habits,2014年)分析,《紐約客》(The New Yorker)和以唱反調馳名的網上雜誌Slate,是全世界自由主義者(liberals)最喜愛的傳媒,而《紐時》作為自由派的大哥,儼然是抵抗特朗普強權的壁壘(bulwark);作為龍頭大報,《紐時》的地位在此時更是無可取代。

以周四收巿價13.55元計,《紐時》巿值21.9億元,執筆之時第四季業績還未公布,然而大家對公司最關心的,莫過於其電子收益(digital revenue)中配送和廣告的增長。《紐時》只上市幾十年,巿值細小,但數碼化的能力無出其右;相比之下,影響力只限於當地的傳媒,市盈率更不足20倍。如果《紐時》是自由身,其實是極為超值,可惜紐約時報公司B股不在巿場上交易,董事局的控制權牢牢掌握在B股大股東、《紐時》的創始猶太裔家族Ochs-Sulzberger的1997 Trust手中,而且所有更改現行同股不同權架構的舉措均需要基本會內8位董事中的其中6人首肯,來自對沖基金的干預難若登天。

發行收入可觀 保障編採自由

此外,Ochs-Sulzberger家族視祖業不可棄,它的歷任高層均為家族中的成員(如綽號AG的Arthur Gregg Sulzberger、主理《紐時》VR(虛擬實境)和podcasts(播客)的Sam Dolnick、推動《紐時》付費牆(paywall)和訂閱服務的David Perpich等),使它的現行股價並不附有被科技龍頭吞併的免費買方期權(call option)。然而,《紐時》幾近是美國國寶,而且管理得宜(良好的企業管治包括基金會組成7人委員會一致選出所繼任並擁有挑選廣告、內容開發、編採、排版權於一身的發行人,確保勝出的家族成員具有能力、經驗及秉持家族的經營理念)。另一方面,長線基金都樂於持有:Fairpointe Capital LLC、BlackRoad Fund Advisors、The Vanguard Group, Inc.等的44%,加上墨西哥富豪的17%,已代表A股全部權益的六成,流通巿值因此只有不足9億元,在考慮「稀罕」溢價,以及《紐時》訂閱第一(subscription first)的策略奏效之下,2017年21倍P⁄E顯得相當合理,甚至是便宜。2017年預期自由現金流1億元,可用於網上平台、收購和內容開發,讓公司自給自足,加上不干預和長期持有的家族背景,發行收入可觀等要素,讓《紐時》的編採自由得以保障,內容質素不因商業化而受衝擊,難能可貴。

總括而論,紙媒的形勢即使堪憂,而且未來數年利潤增長緩慢,然而《紐時》高舉自由主義的旗幟,以榮膺普立茲獎117次的佳績領導群倫,讓頂尖的新聞工作者為了一工半職前仆後繼,使它持續散發着艷麗的光華。

公司既有優秀的經理人帶領,又有理想的自由現金流,使其數碼化策略水到渠成,可視為優質的另類長線之選。它的數碼化成功與否關乎整個行業,是傳媒界普遍關心的問題,值得關注。

作者為香港文化產業聯合總會財務總監


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From Trump’s troubles to Islamic State inroads, networks can destroy as well as build in a connected world

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-02-21
Niall Ferguson says a look at world news shows that the technology once hailed as a great force for building a global community has a dark side, pitting one against another

The world today is like a giant network on the verge of a cataclysmic outage. The US president tweets that his own intelligence agencies are illegally leaking classified information to The New York Times about his campaign’s communications with the Russian government, but he insists it’s all “fake news”. (Read that again, slowly.)

Meanwhile, having interfered in the US presidential election via WikiLeaks and an online army of trolls and bots, the Russians deploy a new cruise missile in breach of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and – just for good measure – send their spy ship Viktor Leonov to have look at the US submarine base at New London, Connecticut.

On the other side of the Atlantic, French and German politicians alike fret about Russian meddling in their elections. But the big story in Europe is the implosion of the 27-year-old YouTube star Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, whose recent tangle with anti-Semitism has led to the cancellation of his deals with Google and Disney. No, dear reader, I had never heard of PewDiePie either, which just goes to show we are old. Fact: his YouTube channel has more than 50 million subscribers.

In the Muslim world, it gets a lot worse. The self-styled Islamic State publishes an online guide to propaganda, explaining to its supporters how to use the news industry’s desire for “clicks” to launch pro-IS “media projectiles”.

A report on IS-run schools in Iraq and Syria reveals that children are being asked to calculate the number of Shia Muslims or “unbelievers” that can be killed by a suicide bomber. To help them find the answer, an IS terrorist blows himself up in Sehwan, Pakistan, killing at least 75 people.

And in East Asia? The Chinese government relaxes its censorship of social media, but only because unfiltered blog posts make it easier for the authorities to monitor dissent. In Seoul, the heir to the Samsung electronics empire is arrested on suspicion of bribery, the latest casualty of the corruption scandal that has engulfed the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, and her mysterious friend Choi Soon-sil, daughter of the founder of the Church of Eternal Life.

Meanwhile, in broad daylight, a woman allegedly poisons the half-brother of the North Korean dictator at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Her T-shirt bears the web chat acronym “LOL”.

Laugh out loud if you dare. Globalisation is in crisis. Populism is on the march. Authoritarian states are ascendant. How on earth do we make sense of all this? In pursuit of answers, many bewildered commentators resort to crude historical analogies. To some, Donald Trump is Hitler, about to proclaim an American dictatorship. To others, he is Richard Nixon, on the verge of being impeached.

But it’s neither 1933 nor 1973 all over again. Easily centralised technology made totalitarian government possible in the 1930s. Forty years later, it had got harder for the president to violate the law with impunity. Nevertheless, the media in the 1970s still amounted to a few television channels and press agencies. You cannot understand the world today without understanding how it has changed as a result of information technology. This has enormously empowered networks of all kinds over traditional power structures.

Networks were the key to what happened in politics last year. Russia’s intelligence network did its utmost to maximise the damage to Hillary Clinton’s reputation stemming from her sloppy email security. Attacks by IS lent credibility to Trump’s pledge to strip out “the support networks for radical Islam” in America and to ban Muslim immigration. Above all, there was the grass-roots network of support that Trump built using the power of Facebook, Twitter and the Breitbart news website.

It was this that defeated the “global special interests” that – according to the final ad of campaign chief executive Steve Bannon – stood behind the “failed and corrupt political establishment” personified by Trump’s opponent. Note here how one network attacks another.

The counter-attack by the US intelligence network has been impressive, claiming the scalp of Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn after just 23 days. Is Flynn the first national security adviser to have had contacts with a foreign power before an inauguration? No. Is there any evidence that he said anything nefarious to the Russian ambassador in late December? No, though he should have told the vice-president, Mike Pence, that he had discussed sanctions.

Is it proper that intelligence operatives are leaking information about Team Trump’s other contacts with the Russians to The New York Times? No. But this is how networks operate. They cut across the official chain of command that is the spinal cord of any state.

It all goes to show networks are transforming not only the economy – through viral advertising, targeted marketing and “sharing” of cars and apartments – but also the public sphere and democracy itself. Memes can spread even more rapidly than natural viruses. But the notion that taking the whole world online would create a utopia of “netizens”, all equal in cyberspace, was always a fantasy.

On Thursday, Facebook’s co-founder, chairman and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, posted a long defence of that ideal of an interconnected “global community”, arguing that his company’s role should be to promote “meaningful” local communities, to enhance “safety” (by monitoring content with artificial intelligence), to promote diversity of ideas, and to foster civic engagement – even at the global level. “As the largest global community,” Zuckerberg wrote, “Facebook can explore examples of how community governance might work at scale.” The example he cited was last month’s anti-Trump Women’s March.

The reality is that the global network has become a dangerously unstable structure. Far from promoting equality, it does the opposite, by allowing hyperconnected “superhubs” to emerge. Surprise, surprise, from Trump to PewDiePie, these turn out to be rather the reverse of saintly role models.

Far from spreading truth and love, the network excels at disseminating lies and hatred, because those are the things we nasty, fallen human beings like to click on.

As I write, Zuckerberg’s letter has been “liked” more than 66,000 times on Facebook and 2,400 times on Twitter. The following tweet was liked by twice as many people on Facebook and 35 times as many on Twitter: “Stock market hits new high with longest winning streak in decades. Great level of confidence and optimism – even before tax plan rollout!”

That tweet came from Trump. If, 20 years from now, someone asks you what finally crashed the global network, you’ll want to mention the @realDonaldTrump virus.

But remember: the flawed design of the network made the outage inevitable. And for that, Chairman “Zuck” is much more to blame.

Niall Ferguson’s new book, The Square and the Tower: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Networks, will be published in the autumn


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Why Hong Kong’s traditional media is alive and kicking in the digital age

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-02-20
Keith Kam says the reading habits of Hongkongers have definitely gone electronic, but surveys reveal that they are actually seeking out online versions of trusted paid newspapers, with their insistence on verified facts

The rise of social networks and online media, together with the recent closures of some newspapers and magazines, have made it a “harsh winter” for print media, as the Hong Kong Journalists Association put it. In fact, “print media is dead” has been the most common refrain concerning the destiny of media over the past two years.

But before asking whether print media has really entered intensive care or is on the verge of death, I think we need to clarify whether this “print media” refers to the traditional media, and whether it is limited to newspapers and magazines. The number of people buying newspapers may have gradually declined over the past three to four years, but the number of people who receive news from electronic newspapers has increased significantly, according to one survey.

Thus, Hongkongers’ news-reading habits have definitely changed in recent years. However, the websites they visited were mainly the electronic versions of the paid-for newspapers. This shows that we still tend to trust traditional media more for reports of news and current affairs.

Last August, the Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey of the Chinese University of Hong Kong surveyed 907 citizens aged 18 or above, to rate the credibility of the media as a whole, and 29 media organisations in particular.

Electronic media and paid-for newspapers received higher ratings than free newspapers and online media in general, and online media received on average the lowest score for credibility among different media channels.

Clement So York-kee, a professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at CUHK, compared the credibility ratings with traffic statistics from online media and found a positive correlation between the credibility of paid-for newspapers and electronic media, and the traffic rankings of their websites. This implied that the higher the credibility, the higher the web traffic.

Yet, when it comes to free newspapers and the online media, there was no correlation between credibility and traffic. Readers seem to consume instant news from free newspapers and tend not to have high expectations of the credibility of this or “instant information” from online media.

Many of the young generation who are active on social networks often scoff at traditional or mainstream media and yet, deep down, they trust them more.

In addition, looking back at the disturbing trends in the US presidential election last year, some believed that one of the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s defeat was the fake online news shared around social media sites concerning Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Interestingly, the Czech Republic, which is set to hold two key elections in the next two years, has already set up a special department to crack down on fake news. It seems the public is more aware of the scourge and has re-examined the credibility of the media and the role of traditional media.

It cannot be denied that, in recent years, traditional media has faced setbacks due to the changes in people’s reading habits and the economic slowdown, bringing numerous operational challenges and a squeeze on manpower, which limits its capability to publish the best content.

When it comes to credibility and reliability, it is still impossible for social networks or media organisations led by non-journalists to replace the traditional media

However, the way the traditional media handles news and information still strictly follows an inherent code and standards, meaning that facts are verified and rumour-mongering is avoided.

Therefore, no matter how negative the prospects for development of traditional media seem to be in the eyes of the public, when it comes to credibility and reliability, it is still impossible for social networks or media organisations led by non-journalists to replace the traditional media.

Of course, there is still room for improvement in the traditional media but, in the foreseeable future, we shouldn’t expect to see any sudden demise of print media.

Keith Kam is chairman of The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong


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Hongkongers need an independent public broadcaster to vent their frustrations

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-09-24

Albert Cheng

Albert Cheng says the sorry state of our digital radio service offers a chance for an operator to step in and create a truly public service that can help ease social tensions

All three commercial digital audio broadcasters have, one after another, surrendered their licences. Some pundits suggest that this spells the end of digital radio in Hong Kong. They miss the point. This is actually a blessing in disguise.

Digital Broadcasting Corporation, Metro Broadcast and Phoenix URadio have returned to the authorities a total of 13 wavelength bands designated for digital radio. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung is supposed to spend the next six months mulling over what to do with these resources.

This is a golden opportunity for Hong Kong to develop a genuine public broadcasting system that can allow civil society to flourish. Apart from the trio, the government broadcaster, RTHK, has also been given five digital audio bands. Taken together, these 18 digital channels can be used for alternative and innovative programming to make a difference.

Before Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, the colonial authorities came up with a bold plan to transform RTHK from a government department into an independent public broadcaster. The proposal, which aimed to enhance editorial independence and improve the management structure, was recommended by the then Broadcasting Review Board in the 1980s. In 1990, the government commissioned a study to look into the legislative changes needed.

Sadly, the plan was flatly rejected by a core group of RTHK people eager to cling to their generous civil service terms. This was selfish. Opponents of the plan should be held responsible for RTHK’s current sorry state of affairs.

Now, ironically, the failure of the three commercial digital broadcasters has presented Hong Kong with a second chance. The 18 channels should be assigned to a new independent operator. Only limited public funds would be needed to maintain the public broadcast service. All it would take is capital investment for a new public broadcasting centre. Unlike in the case of RTHK, taxpayers would not have to spend a fortune on wages and staff benefits to come up with programmes to fill the airtime.

Such a public broadcaster should only air content designed and produced by non-governmental entities, including student bodies, voluntary agencies, local communities, political parties, or anybody out there with a message to get across.

Ethnic minorities could come up with shows in their native tongues on topics of concern. The disabled and chronically ill could share their stories of adversity, while conservationists could promote how to keep nature healthy. Feminists, environmentalists, animal lovers, religious bodies, politicians of all stripes, you name it, would be entitled to be heard through a public digital broadcasting service.

An independent panel of respected community leaders could act under the law as guardians. Their intervention should be kept to a minimum, advising on how to prioritise the content generated by the airwave users. They would also need to maintain public morals and reject illegal content. There should not be any political censorship.

RTHK could have played this role, made possible by digital technology. The station’s management and its masters at Tamar have chosen not to do so. It is a shame that Hong Kong, as a metropolis of over seven million people, is served by only three conventional radio stations, most of whose output is, to put it politely, run-of-the-mill.

We should start planning for a Hong Kong public broadcasting service without further delay. The bad news is that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is not known for his tolerance of diverse views. He cannot be expected to find the idea of free public access to the airwaves palatable. The good news is that Leung’s days as chief executive are numbered. Any aspirants to the job must realise that suppression of voices is no longer an option for a society on the brink of exploding. A public broadcasting service is not just a nice-to-have option for Hong Kong; it would be a political lifesaver to help people vent growing grievances before they reach a point of no return.

Albert Cheng King-hon is the founder, ex-shareholder and ex-chairman of DBC.


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How Russia can help Hong Kong play a leading role as a digital content provider

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-09-22

Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon sees logical opportunities for the city in Russia’s e-book and print-on-demand success story, as well as its vision for an Asia-Pacific ‘common digital economy’

Any hi-tech future for Hong Kong will be based on the city’s inherent strengths, as well as a good choice in external allies. Hong Kong is unlikely, for example, to have much added-value input on driverless cars, one of the areas currently generating buzz. Similarly, it can be less than clear exactly what the city has to offer either Silicon Valley or China’s burgeoning tech sector.

Hong Kong is, however, a leader in business infrastructure with low corporate overheads, an attractive tax regime, good and low-cost communications, solid intellectual property protection and a respected court system. Its role as a financial centre is a direct result.

Money is today mostly just bits and bytes pushed around the world. But other things are also now mostly just bits and bytes: digital text, music and video, for example. Hong Kong is similarly a logical place to base digital content distribution and sales, especially direct to end-users outside the SAR. This hasn’t happened yet to any great extent, partly because much of the most valuable digital content is, among other things, tied up in English-language territorial rights agreements.

But this, like so many other things, will change.

Hong Kong has the infrastructure for this new industry but little of the necessary technical or industry-specific expertise. Where might it find it? American companies have enough problems juggling tax jurisdictions as it is. And it is hard to see Chinese tech experts sharing solutions – even if they had them in this area – with Hong Kong.
Print-on-demand doesn’t seem to have made the same inroads into Chinese publishing. But in Russia, it’s a different story

American tech companies from Google to Amazon have tended to bulldoze all before them internationally – with, however, a few notable exceptions. Those that have resisted have tended to be in countries with domestic markets large enough to generate the requisite economies of scale, and barriers to entry (language and economic conditions as well as regulation) high enough to allow domestic firms to develop. China is one, India another; a less obvious third is Russia. While the Russian tech world is not as distinct from America’s as China’s is, many of the leading tech businesses, from social media to books, are indigenous in Russia. Russia has its own specialist in “print-on-demand” books: integrated digital and physical systems which print one book at a time. In the West, this technology makes self-publishing possible. Publishers use it to extend the life of books that would otherwise go out of print while overseas publishers can use it to gain access to the main English-language markets without having to keep stock in-country. The physical printers are fully integrated via “the cloud”, both with databases of available titles and with the commercial front-ends selling the books. Network effects result in the industry being highly concentrated.

Print-on-demand doesn’t seem to have made the same inroads into Chinese publishing. But in Russia, it’s a different story. Not only does T8, the company in question, provide Russian-language books for the Russian market, it is also integrated with overseas services to produce and supply foreign books in Russia and vice versa.

Amazon is largely absent from the Russian-language market. And like China, Russia has no dominant end-to-end e-book ecosystem like that of Amazon/Kindle. Russian firms fill the vacuum; the business configurations end up diverging. E-book market leader LitRes also makes audiobooks and offers almost all titles via a new subscription service. Their main competitor is piracy.

That Russia produces tech-savvy engineers is not news; it is less well-known that it can also build and operate national-scale industry solutions at the intersection of the online and offline worlds that in turn integrate with similar systems elsewhere.

Nor is Russia as far away as it might seem. At the recent Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the government proposed the creation of a “common digital economy space” for the Asia-Pacific based in the region. One would have thought that if such a thing were to come about, there would be a leading role for Hong Kong. But it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to hold it for us.

Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books. He attended the recent Moscow International Book Fair