Wednesday, April 17, 2024

THE HOYOS FILE: Sir Fred calls it a day


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IN THE 2015 financial statement for One Caribbean Media Ltd. (OCM), published recently in the NATION, there is a brief note at the bottom.

It is an announcement by Sir Fred Gollop that he is retiring as chairman of the group at the close of the annual meeting next month, having served for over 20 years as a member of the parent board. 

Of course, 20 years takes us back only as far as 1996 and we all know that Sir Fred was one of the founders of the NATION newspaper back in 1973. 

I’m not sure if his title was chairman at the start or whether the formal titles came later, but we can fairly state that he was not only one of the visionaries who put up their own money to start the newspaper, but he was in the trenches for every issue published from inception to now, with all the drama, bolts from the blue, political controversy and other island-shaking events that characterised at least the formative years of the Nation Publishing Co. Ltd. 

And, of course, for the last two decades he has also lived that life in parallel with regard to the Express newspapers and OCM’s radio and TV stations in Trinidad.

While I am confident the company will be able to move on successfully, since – thanks to Sir Fred and Harold Hoyte and the other stalwarts now retired – a great deal of effort was put into planning for the inevitable transitions over the years, it is still a watershed moment for the company.

Much will be written by others qualified, as I am not, to place on the record Sir Fred’s contribution to the newspaper, and how it became the flagship of a media conglomerate, first here in Barbados and then as part of the OCM group. 

For my part, I would not make any feeble attempt in that regard, but would just like to thank him for his outstanding service to our profession. All of us in the media business have benefited from his steady hand guiding the NATION and its subsidiaries and affiliates, because they stabilised the industry in Barbados and set the standards for others to follow.

Today, we have in the region a growing, very creative, fast-changing media sector that is rapidly embracing all the opportunities afforded by social media, and the NATION and OCM are having their own challenges in staying competitive. 

In fact, Sir Fred is retiring at a time which may be in some respects as challenging as the early years of the NATION, when it struggled to survive financially.

According to that same financial report, OCM Ltd earned a net profit for 2015 of the equivalent of US$12.9 million, which was 3.7 per cent below the US$13.4 million earned the year before. Similarly, the group’s total revenue for the year was the equivalent of US$81.6 million, down from US$84.9 million in 2014, a decline of almost four per cent. 

The group said ad revenue fell in 2015 but the shortfall was cushioned to some extent by the return on the group’s real estate acquisitions and OCM’s investments in digital and technology companies.

Read the most recent reports on the New York Times, the Washington Post, and almost every newspaper oriented media company in the world today, and it will in some ways sound just like the OCM report.

The Financial Times, which publishes the “Footsie” stock market index, was sold to the Nikkei stock market company last year but its parent kept its far more lucrative education publishing business.

The Guardian in the United Kingdom is sending home 250 people even as we speak. The New York Times sold off the Boston Globe and other publishing interests to shore up its balance sheet.

Columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman says he is writing a book about the root problem. We all know what it is: The world’s news consumers have migrated to their smartphones for their daily fix.

Friedman, however, reminds us that this all really began around 2007 when the iPhone was launched. Remember, it had the “real” Internet on it? Facebook opening to the off-campus public, Twitter’s arrival, other smartphone makers launching iPhone competitors and all of the other social media apps and tech like iPads all came just before or just after that June 29, 2007 iPhone launch.

Sir Fred alluded to the challenges OCM has been facing, noting that its performance “was accomplished in the face of profound changes in the media industry both globally and regionally and the economic environment in the markets in which OCM operates.”

How it will all work out in the end, nobody can say, but the basic problem is, of course, that falling revenues from newspaper sales and advertising are not being replaced at nearly the same level by Internet subscriptions and advertising.

I would have been glad to see Sir Fred at the helm for a bit longer, but he has certainly done his company and Barbados proud. In due course, we may hear what his full plans are, but for now, please allow me to wish him a very happy retirement, at least from the post of executive chairman of OCM.

To paraphrase President Barack Obama: “Sir Fred out.” (drops mic)


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