(TOC resident statistician Leong Sze Hian speaking at Hong Lim Park Speakers Corner against CPF policies. Screen capture: Youtube)
The Online Citizen has recently submitted the necessary forms to MDA as required under the Broadcasting Act to undertake not to receive foreign funding as part of the management of the site.
TOC is the latest socio-political site after The Independent Singapore, Mothership.sg, and Yahoo Singapore to register itself in order to remain online. Now-defunct Breakfast Network has ceased operations after its editor decided not to register itself with the authorities.
Yahoo Singapore was relatively positive with its decision to register as it moves them one step closer in getting media accreditation that could allow them to receive official government press statements and be invited to government press conferences. Monetary concerns has never been an issue for Yahoo Singapore as it has a strong branding since it started off as a web portal. This translated to a strong readership base.
TOC appears to comply with MDA’s request grudgingly because it felt its growth was inhibited by MDA’s “excessive” foreign funding concerns. Clearly, TOC statements have suggested its difficulties in securing local funds for sustainability and profitability.
For the uninitiated, I will briefly explain how websites owners get their income.
Traditionally, websites (known in the industry as Publishers) earn revenue through some common ways: Web Banner placements, Advertorials, Electronic mailers, flat rate.
Web banners are standard IAB sized banners placed on strategic spots to promote advertisers’ products. Publishers can be paid by the number of times specific banners appeared on their site which is measured by every 1,000 impressions – this is known as the Cost-Per-Mile (CPM) model. Alternatively, publishers can be paid by the Cost-Per-Click (CPC) model, that is number of clicks the banner receives. Advertisers usually dictate the model to be used. The publisher and advertisers tend to transact through a marketing agency.
(Hardwarezone is running a Canon campaign. Screen capture: Hardwarezone.com. )
As for advertorials, it is writing pieces to promote advertiser’s product. Some websites specifically denotes that certain posts are advertorials but some websites kept mum. It is up to readers to access the slant of the post to decide if the product is worth buying.
Electronic mailers is the unethical way of selling your readers’ registration data to 3rd party data horders for them to hawk to marketing agencies. It is irrelevant due to the timely enactment of Personal Data Protection Act.
Flat rate is simply placing a web banner promoting advertisers’ product for a time period for a fixed fee.
When advertisers approach marketing agencies to launch their web advertising campaigns, they already have the target audience in mind and the sites they want their advertisements to appear on. For instance, telcos may want their web advertising campaigns to appear on Hardwarezone.com due to its readers’ demographics and interests. Car dealers may want their ads to appear on Sgcarmart.com due to its readership profile.
By understanding advertiser’s mindset, TOC’s concern with their own sustainability is apparent – Why should banks or telcos want their ads & branding to appear on socio-political websites such as TOC? What is the demographic of the readers on TOC? Can viewing an article that discusses the short-fall of PAP translate to a credit card sale? How do advertisers justify ROI on their marketing dollars? Ditto for TRemeritus.com
If the TOC readership consists of Singaporeans critical of PAP policies and its ‘non-western standard’ illiberal democracy model, then who are those who would advertise on TOC to reach out to these group of readers? I suspect they are NGOs, Human Rights Groups or local political parties. TOC is perceived as a political website hence they are not attractive to local advertisers (i.e: Banks) with deep pockets.
However, Yahoo Singapore has established itself as a lifestyle & entertainment web-portal with news on different topics and not dedicated to socio-political analysis. Similarly, Mothership.sg is perceived by the public as a lifestyle website; it will gather advertisers’ interest if its readership continue to ascend.
Instead of being overly concern on how the PAP perceives them and think that PAP detests them, TOC should start putting in efforts to re-shape their image for long term sustainability (and profitability).
I remember a site Publichouse.sg that had good investigative pieces that focused on social problems faced by Singaporeans. That site had brought up underlying issues or Singaporeans who fell through the cracks caused by PAP policy mishaps but cleverly avoided divisive political discussions and boring political rhetoric. It even had a two-part interview with then-Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing. It was a brilliant touch. But it is a pity that the site went offline.