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SBS re-branded but still has ads. Why?

A few days ago SBS-TV re-branded itself. Their logo changed. SBS will continue to emphasise its commercial approach but with a new look.

This is the second time SBS has re-branded in a little over 12 months. Just over a year ago SBS World News Australia changed the set and adopted a more tabloid and commercial style of news presentation. Long time news presenter Mary Kostakidis ended up departing the broadcaster.

The idea of a multicultural, non commercial public broadcaster is now but a memory of the past. Will there be nothing special remaining?

The re-branding this time is more than just a change of logo. There has been an partial attempt to make the program play offs leading in the commercial breaks and the return to program appear somewhat smoother than before however this does nothing to lessen the very obvious intrusions into program for advertisements. The advertisement interruptions still show no regard for the viewer. The ‘look’ of each promo within the ad break is different from before with pretty coloured little sparkles on screen which are superimposed again lower frame on return to program.

There has been an overall softening of the ‘look’ but the advertisements interruptions remain ‘unnatural’. SBS is still creating ‘forced breaks’ in program.

There is nothing unusual about changing the look and the feel of a TV station however it’s an expensive exercise and done cautiously.

It’s almost unheard of to re-brand any broadcaster in May. The re-branding of SBS comes only weeks after the reappointment by the SBS Board of the Managing Director, Shaun Brown, the man responsible for the commercialisation of SBS.  Normally January would be the preferred month to re-brand.

Re-branding is done as part of a marketing tool, when an organisation is failing or had failed.

SBS is an associate member of Free TV Australia (formerly the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, FACTS). This is somewhat ironic considering that SBS does not hold a commercial licence and is a publicly funded tax payer broadcaster that was originally never intended to have ads. Due to a perceived discovered loop hole in the law, although never tested in a court, in late 2006 SBS-TV began interrupting television program for advertisements. So what’s all this got to do with a change of brand?

Simple. Now that SBS has made the decision that it wants to become even more reliant on income from advertisements, and considering that there was a massive public objection to their move of late 2006 to interrupt program for ads, they now needed to re-brand. The fact is that SBS-TV has been loosing audiences since their decision to interrupt ads and therefore their entire experiment with advertisements has been complete flop.

SBS may be hoping that a new look will win back lost viewers. However SBS-TV has failed to address the underlaying issue that viewers, especially of public TV, do not like ad break interruptions in program.

The SBS budget is about $190M per annum from the federal government. We understand that SBS may have generated about $8M net ($10M gross) in extra revenue per annum after they changed their advertisements acceptance policy in 2006. Previously SBS-TV would only accept a particular type of ad. Artistic, non-hard sell type ads were okay but now they will accept virtually any type of ad. At the same time SBS changed their policy to accept any type of ad, they also began interrupting programs for advertisements.

The decision to re-brand is a desperate move on the part of SBS to attract even more advertisers.

A month ago (on 8 April 2008) Save Our SBS handed to the Minister’s staff a petition signed by more than 7000 people who wanted an end to the ads on SBS. Only 5000 signatures were sought. People heard of the petition by word of mouth and email. Save Our SBS has been assured that the Minister has read the petition and will issue a statement shortly. Follow up meetings have been promised.

Subsequently a number of petitioners have emailed Save Our SBS since the petition was handed to the Minister’s office wanting to know the outcome and if something will be done via legislation to prohibit SBS-TV from interrupting programs for ad breaks. Some people have also emailed the Minister and sent a copy of their email by CC to Save Our SBS.

One such email came from a John Tate who we have never met. A separate email was sent with permission to publish.

The author addresses the Minister somewhat informally as “Steven” and makes reference to an email he received from Senator Conroy “prior to the federal election” (November 2007). The email that the author refers to was in response to a joint campaign run by the two separate organisations: Save Our SBS and Friends of the ABC under the banner ‘The Coalition to Restore Public Broadcasting’. In the final week before the election, Senator Conroy’s office, Kevin Rudd’s office, and, ALP Campaign Information Services sent more than 1119 identical emails to those who participated in objecting to ads on SBS and other matters. A copy of that email, being the one that the author below refers to, can be read at this link https://saveoursbs.org/archives/165

The email below sums up the sentiment in the community conveyed to Save Our SBS.

—– Original Message —–

From: John Tate
Sent: Monday, 28 April 2008 1:16 PM
To: ‘minister@dbcde.gov.au’
Cc: ‘Save Our SBS’
Subject: Advertising on SBS

Hi Steven,

Prior to the federal election you told me in an email that:

Labor has opposed and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce in-program advertising. SBS maintains that they can put advertisements into their programs without there needing to be a change to legislation. Section 45 of the SBS Act 1991 provides for advertising only during periods before programs commence, after programs end, or during natural program breaks. Accordingly, Labor is concerned that the SBS’s action may place it in breach of the Act.

Fortunately, your party won the federal election on many promises including your promise to reverse the advertising decision on SBS.

Unfortunately I have not seen or heard any word from your Department on this issue.

Last year when SBS was asking for public comment on their new advertising proposal, I submitted this email to SBS:

Shame on you.

Not only are you destroying the very nature of a public broadcaster, you are destroying the natural flow of many good programs on SBS.

When the government allowed SBS to advertise, I believe they never intended that programs be interrupted as you are currently doing.  You are also using the same annoying pop-up advertising technique that the commercial stations use.

Enough is enough for me.

Until the current or next federal government changes the rules governing SBS, my family will no longer be watching SBS programs with adds.  Add appears, station gets changed.

Please go back to basics.

My viewing of SBS has declined over the last 12 months and when I do view a program, whenever an add appears I change the channel.  Often I do not return to SBS.

Also, SBS claimed that the new funding stream would increase the variety of programs.  I have not seen any evidence of this (although I don’t watch as much SBS).  Some programs, such as Dateline, thankfully are still being produced however for how long who knows.

I would like you to make an undertaking to honour your election promise and getting rid of the in-program add breaks, and hopefully fully fund SBS to eliminate advertising completely (even though Labor instigated advertising in the first place).

Always hopeful.

John Tate

—– Original Message —–

From: John Tate
Sent: Tuesday, 29 April 2008 5:33 PM
To: ‘Senator.Conroy@aph.gov.au’
Cc: ‘Save Our SBS’
Subject: FW: Advertising on SBS

Copy forwarded in case email not received.

Please send a written reply (either email or post to ██ ███ ███, █████, ███ , ████).


John Tate

Clearly people now want the government to act on its pre-election promise that “Labor opposes and continues to oppose the decision by SBS to introduce in-program advertising“. Senator Lyn Allison, leader of the Democrats, presented a private members Bill to prohibit the interruptions into program and for a return to the placement of advertisements to between programs only. Such a scenario would require support of the Senate where the government does not have the numbers. Any legislative amendment to the SBS Act would need support from the opposition parties.

Now that SBS has re-branded itself, yet again viewers have been sold off to their advertisers. There is no sign that SBS will voluntarily cease the ad break interruptions in program. Our once great, special public broadcaster has ended up just like another commercial network. What’s special about that?



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