Tham Loke Kheng to take on Mediacorp CEO role from Shaun Seow

Mediacorp has appointed Tham Loke Kheng (pictured) as its CEO and board director, effective 1 September 2017. She takes over from Shaun Seow, who will remain as executive director, Mediacorp, until 30 September 2017 before joining Temasek.

Tham is an industry veteran with extensive media experience, especially in content and marketing. She has held senior management and leadership roles in terrestrial free-to-air TV, Pay TV and broadband services in leading Asian operators in Singapore, Taiwan and most recently, Hong Kong.

She started work in 1988 at Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now known as Mediacorp, where she spent eight years. She has also served as president of Taiwan Broadband Communications and as head of NOW TV, the largest Pay TV operator in Hong Kong at different times.

The move follows news of Seow's departure in April to join Temasek’s telecom, media & technology investment team, which includes Mediacorp in its portfolio. Prior to the appointment, Seow held the CEO role since July 2011 and has held various leadership roles across the company’s TV, radio, print and digital businesses. He was also part of the core team that started Channel NewsAsia in 1999.

Ernest Wong, chairman, Mediacorp said that Tham was appointed after an extensive search. He added that she was a natural choice to lead Mediacorp as the company focuses its efforts on capturing audiences and advertising revenue in a disrupted media industry.

“Mediacorp is national broadcaster and commercial media and entertainment company rolled into one. Tham understands both Mediacorp and the Singapore audience and has gained extensive commercial experience in the region. With a passion for media coupled with well-honed media skills, she is more than ready to lead Mediacorp in meeting the challenges ahead," Wong added.

“Returning to Mediacorp is a truly meaningful homecoming for me. My passion for media was discovered on Caldecott Hill and I am truly excited to be able to lead Mediacorp into its next phase of development, as the company evolves from a free-to-air broadcaster to a diversified, digital-first media organisation," Tham said.

Most recently, the company partnered with Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to create a new digital advertising marketplace using programmatic solutions. The two media companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the joint venture, tentatively named Singapore Media Exchange (SMX). The alliance will be managed by an independent team led by a CEO to be hired.

In March, Mediacorp appointed Parminder Singh as its chief commercial and digital officer. Singh joined Mediacorp from Twitter, where he was managing director, Southeast Asia, Middle East and North Africa and India. Singh’s role combined what were previously two separate positions in the company and follows a series of recent hires reflecting Mediacorp’s move to bolster its digital capabilities.

Lead business transformation and tackle disruption

When asked about what a new focus should be for the new Mediacorp CEO, media industry veteran and former editor of TODAY, PN Balji, said that the new CEO needs to be someone who is bold.

“The new leader also has to be allowed to have that gumption to do something different and look at things from a totally different perspective. That perspective can mean breaking up the company into different segments if necessary,” Balji said.   To be able to do well and reap profits, Balji added that the media company also needs to look at changing its business model.

“Disruption is coming with players such as Netflix. The new CEO must be able to tackle this disruption and be able to look at what exactly the user wants – and giving it to them the way they want it,” Balji added.

In addition, the new CEO must have sharp business sense and be courageous for change and transformation. This means being a businessman/businesswoman first, and then being brave enough to admit that the current model may not be working.

“The next question is how he or she would be able to get the buy in from stakeholders and the government,” Balji added.

Also weighing in on the matter was Lawrence Chong, CEO of Consulus, who added that Mediacorp needs to be prepared to consolidate, cull brands, and present itself as a place of great content. In addition, it needs to behave less corporate or functional.

“It needs to stand for something surprising and great. It also needs to focus and be a place where great talent from entertainment and news come together to tell the untold stories of ASEAN,” Chong said.

Acumen for content and partnerships

When asked about the skills needed for a media company CEO, Chong said that the obvious answer is digital. He added that Mediacorp has been making strides in digital.

“But the key to success as a media company such as Mediacorp is not distribution but content. Success will be about how it can create content which is unique and attractive,” Chong explained. He added that Mediacorp already has a foundation in creating quality content through channels such as ChannelNews Asia and Channel 8, which have a regional following. Together with Mediacorp’s experience with TODAY, which he claims is an "incisive publication", the potential is huge.

Chong explained that the new CEO must have a good eye to acquire and develop good content, find the partners and have awareness of the trends. But overall, he or she needs to lead with a great strategy in content.

“If you look at the Netflix playbook, it is on to something unique and this is what Mediacorp must be prepared to do. It needs to go big, invest in good stories and create unique content,” Chong said. While a broader strategy is going digital, another focus for Mediacorp should be striking partnerships with others to produce good, emotional content which resonates with audiences in the region.

“Stories are where the money is, followed by ad revenue. The distribution business will work and subscription will rise,” Chong added.