Next Media was founded by high profile businessman Jimmy Lai, known for his support for democracy and criticism of China. It introduced tabloid-style journalism into Hong Kong and Taiwan, with the hugely successful Apple Daily. The group made a rare misstep by entering Taiwan’s saturated broadcasting market. In October 2012 it agreed to sell its loss-making Taiwan TV unit and to terminate its video-on-demand (VOD) services, but the deal fell through in March 2013.
Next Media 'in strong position' after Taiwan TV sale
Sale of Taiwan television operations has left Lai Chee-ying with time to seek out the best offers for his Apple Daily and other print interests
Next Media is in a strong financial position after selling its loss-making television business in Taiwan and can take its time in negotiating the price of its print assets with potential buyers, industry insiders say.
Yang Chih-hung, former president of the school of communication at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan, said selling the television business was a good deal for Next Media chairman Lai Chee-ying. "Lai got rid of loss-making assets," Yang said, adding that there was no urgency in selling the printing business.
"Apple Daily and Next Magazine are profitable and influential," he said.
On Monday, Next Media agreed to sell its Taiwan television unit because it was unable to get a cable television licence. Its Taiwan television and multimedia operation made a loss of HK$1.17 billion during the year to March 31, compared with a loss of HK$459 million in the preceding year.
The company announced on September 4 that it was in talks with third parties to sell its printed media interests.
In the past financial year, Taiwan Apple Daily reported a profit of HK$197.5 million, a 7.6 per cent year-on-year decline, blamed on higher costs.
Yang said the newspaper had changed the way Taiwan print media worked with its wide coverage of close-to-everyday-life stories.
"Before there was Apple Daily, Taiwan papers put much of their resources into political reports. But Apple Daily showed us that perhaps most people don't care so much about the so-called important issues when they read newspapers."
Clement So York-kee, professor of the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said it was hard to speculate if Lai would totally withdraw from Taiwan and focus on his media empire on Hong Kong.
The media group halted trading in its shares yesterday morning, after the stock soared 20 per cent to HK$1.02 on news that a Taiwanese tycoon had offered US$430 million to take over the print business.
"It is completely media rumours, it's completely false," Mark Simon, assistant to Lai, said.
Taiwan's United Daily News said on Wednesday that Daniel Tsia of the Fubon Group offered US$430 million for Apple Daily, Next Magazine and other print media in Taiwan.
"Nothing happened. There is no deal," Simon said.
The Hong Kong-listed company later said the suspension was pending an announcement of price-sensitive information.
Next Media's share price has almost doubled since September but still well down on HK$1.55 when Lai launched Taiwan Apple Daily in May 2003.