Company expects digital operations to generate stable revenue in 2017.
New Torstar Corp. president and chief executive officer John Boynton has laid out the “four anchors” supporting a transformation underway at the publisher of the Toronto Star.
“Already we’re a very different business,” Boynton said after the company’s annual general meeting in Toronto on Wednesday.
He said the path forward starts with a “deep customer-centric obsession” followed by the second anchor based on journalistic excellence that fuels change while engaging consumers and clients, in turn generating profitable revenue.
The third is the “advanced data-driven competency” needed to prosper in a digital, mobile and time-pressed world. Enterprises that succeed in this environment tend to have at least one thing in common, he said: “Those that are great do really, really well with data.” The final anchor is a culture that is “selfless, focused, agile and collaborative.”
“This is not a rounding out of the edges,” said Boynton, who was appointed to the roles at Torstar on March 31 after the retirement of former CEO David Holland (Boynton is also publisher of the Star). “This is thinking differently.”
He said Torstar has the benefit of “very, very deep roots” in Toronto and smaller markets across the province that have been served by the company’s newspapers, along with a “lot of information about our customers. We have a lot of people that are close to the ground, close to the communities,” he said.
With a background in marketing, data and business transformation, Boynton is conducting a review of Torstar operations and assets with an eye to better aligning strengths with customer needs. “Everything is on the table,” he said.
Boynton added, however, that it is too early to discuss specific plans for key assets including VerticalScope, a Torstar majority-owned digital property that owns and operates more than 600 online forums and premium content sites across North America.
He called VerticalScope the company’s largest asset and a “nice, steady, high-growth business” that is on a positive trajectory.
Faced with ongoing and industry-wide declines in print advertising revenue, the company expects digital operations to generate relatively stable revenue over the rest of 2017 on continued growth at thestar.com and in local advertising at the Metroland community sites, partially offset by continued declines in other areas.
The company in its first-quarter earnings report Wednesday posted a net loss of $24.4 million or 30 cents per share, versus a net loss of $53.5 million or 66 cents per share a year ago. Its adjusted loss per share was 22 cents in the period, an improvement of 18 cents from an adjusted loss per share of 40 cents in the first quarter of 2016.
Adjusted EBITDA was $2 million — up $2.7 million from the prior year.
Boynton said Torstar is EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) positive and is aiming for a cash flow neutral position. He added that a lack of balance sheet debt buys time to execute a careful review of the performance of assets that include career site Workopolis and interactive tablet app Toronto Star Touch.