Torstar president and CEO John Boynton said at the media firm’s annual general meeting in Toronto on Tuesday that he will focus on transforming Torstar Corp. into a “journalism and data company.”
“At Torstar we are known for the excellence of our journalism. Now we have added data,” he said, noting that data is a resource that should differentiate the Toronto Star’s owner and help it to build a more sustainable business model. “When you look at most successful digital companies, data is really at the core of almost all of them.”
He added that the Torontobased media company, which owns several daily and more than 80 weekly newspapers, along with news websites, apps, and shares in a number of digital-only properties, will focus its efforts on building a stronger data infrastructure to bolster both its advertising and subscription revenue.
“Transformation is all about developing a more balanced revenue mix,” Boynton said. “This is critical because legacy print revenue continues to slide for all news organizations, not just us.”
He added that “data and audience are at the core to shifting Torstar from mass media to highly targeted, productive performance media to compete better for advertising.”
Earlier, the company announced that it saw a 50 per cent rise in paid digital subscriptions in the first quarter, as the company continues to build its digital strategy with offerings including a partnership with tech giant Apple.
Torstar had a net loss in the first quarter of $7.4 million (9 cents per share), up from a loss of $14.5 million (18 cents per share) in the same period of 2018. The results also included a one-time gain of $18 million in digital media tax credits.
“We continued to make good progress on our journey towards a digital future that combines the power of data with our deep roots in journalism to develop new and growing digital subscription and advertising revenue streams,” said Boynton, who is also publisher of the Toronto Star.
During the first quarter, Torstar entered into a partnership with Apple which will see Star content made available on Apple News +, Apple’s new paid subscription service, which launched in late March. The Star receives a share of Apple News + subscription revenue.
In a conference call with analysts after results were released, Boynton said it was still too early to tell the exact impact of the Apple partnership.
“I think it will take multiple quarters to see what our share of the revenue is going to be,” Boynton said.
The company also said it ended the quarter with over 15,000 digital-only paid subscribers on thestar.com, up from almost 10,000 at the end of 2018. It also ended the quarter with over 112,000 registered users on their community news sites or almost 5% of the households. Torstar also revealed that it is testing a full rollout of a subscription service in one of its community markets.
In 2018, Torstar began a major national expansion of its Metro newspapers, providing enhanced original news content to customers in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax.
That content is among the offerings now available on thestar.com. Content of thestar.com has been further strengthened with Torstar’s 2018 acquisition of iPolitics, an Ottawa-based specialized provider of in-depth coverage of federal and provincial politics and policy developments.
The company saw $22 million in print advertising revenue for its daily papers in the first quarter, down from $29 million a year ago, while print advertising in its community papers fell to $19 million from $22.8 million. Subscription revenue rose slightly to $29.6 million from $29.5 million.
“We remain pleased with the performance of our subscriber revenue and flyer distribution revenue which represent a significant portion of our revenue base … These categories are a source of strength for us as we focus our efforts on growing new digital revenue streams while managing declines in print advertising,” Boynton said.
Torstar ended the quarter with $52 million in cash and cash equivalents, and has no debt.