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.
Lai vows to keep Taiwan print empire
Lai decides to keep the Taiwanese print business for good but still plans to sell the money-losing TV operation on the island
Lawrence Chung in Taipei and Sophie Yu
Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai Chee-ying yesterday said he would continue to run his print empire in Taiwan now that a NT$17.5 billion (HK$4.55 billion) deal to sell Next Media's combined print and TV assets on the island has fallen through.
The controversial deal was supposed to be completed by yesterday, but one of the Taiwanese buyers reportedly walked away at the last minute, prompting Lai to decide to keep the Taiwanese print business and to sell the money-losing TV operation.
"Since [I] wasn't able to sell it this time, there won't be any more sales ever again, or it would be unfair to my employees and readers," Lai told his flagship newspaper Apple Daily in Hong Kong yesterday.
Lai originally planned to sell the print and TV assets in a bundle to a consortium of four Taiwanese buyers, including Tsai Eng-meng, who heads Want Want Group, a leading snack food supplier on the mainland. Under the plan, Tsai would get a 32 per cent stake in the print assets costing NT$16 billion. But concerns over his pro-mainland stand sparked strong opposition in Taiwan against his attempt, especially as Tsai is known to also control several major dailies and TV stations on the island through his son, Tsai Shao-chung. Taiwanese regulators also demanded a review of the planned deal, promoting Tsai to put off the deal, according to local media.
Lai said he would do all he could to develop Next Media's print business on the island, especially the Taiwan edition of Apple Daily, which he said, could at least last eight to 10 years, despite the global decline of print media.
"Originally, I thought I could sell all the Taiwanese assets and take a break, but sometimes things don't work out as planned, and some things are always beyond our control," he said. He said that at first he only wanted to sell the TV operation and keep the profitable print business in Taiwan, but because the Taiwanese buyers only wanted to buy the print business, he finally decided to sell them in a bundle.
Lai said he would continue to sell the TV assets in Taiwan. He said the two major outlets of the print business - Apple Daily and Next Magazine - could reach a profit goal of NT$1.3 billion each year, which would help finance continued publication of the free Sharp Daily and Me magazine.