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Budget outcome: SBS own worst enemy

There’s been a lot of backslapping all round. If you read SBS’s and Minister Conroy’s media releases about funding SBS in the budget, things could not be better. Offering no criticism, SBS welcomed an increase of a measly "$20 million" over the next three years and SBS’s Managing Director, Michael Ebeid articulated a clutch of corporate speak. The similarity between the Minister’s and SBS’s talk is remarkable.

Looking at the figures and rhetoric, it seems that SBS and the government are happy with the direction and funding model of SBS as public service broadcaster. A closer look at the figures, as well as what SBS has become, reveal a very different picture.

To say SBS will receive a $20m increase as the Minster has claimed, is not the full picture.

The real figure is $3.7m above estimates of last year. Last year after the budget announcement, SBS said it would receive $565m for 2013-16. The government now puts the figure at $568.7m. That’s an increase of $3.7m – not $20m as claimed by the Minister.

No doubt the government and SBS will argue last year’s figure of $565m was only an estimate and in reality it ended up being closer to $549m. Either way, SBS remains underfunded.

It appears that Mr Ebeid and Minister Conroy are singing from the same song sheet. Both claim to have a commitment to public service broadcasting but the reality is something else. Government funding for SBS is woefully low, about one-fifth of other broadcasters but Mr Ebeid boasts "SBS is a lean and agile hybrid broadcaster".

It is no wonder SBS received such little increase. Spouting the benefits – as they see it – of commercialism, why would any government boost their funds? In this respect, SBS are their own worst enemy. Last year the broadcaster was granted a 27% increase over four years. But they took the money and kept the ads. As long as SBS is happy to slide further down the commercial path, government funding will remain inadequate.

Examining SBS’s content, it would appear that the Network is happy to proclaim a commitment to public service broadcasting, but viewers’ see the opposite. SBS 2, for example, has welcomed their new sponsors, KFC and James Boag’s beer, as well as a host of others who are allowed to disrupt the content to get their message across – at the expense of the viewer. Meanwhile the SBS Board remains asleep at the wheel, ignoring the SBS Act which requires they develop guidelines "on the kinds of advertisements" SBS will broadcast.

In his media release, the Minister could not resist but to fire a broadside at Shadow Minister, Malcolm Turnbull – who apparently ‘has admitted he would cut funding to the ABC and SBS’ – affirming the ‘Gillard government’s support of SBS, ensuring it is adequately funded’.

Minister Conroy took the opportunity of this budget to present Labor as the guardians of public service broadcasting while painting Mr Turnbull as a grinch like figure who is going to steal all the presents in the form of spending cuts. Save Our SBS has found no such statement from the Coalition claiming spending cuts to SBS should the Coalition form government.

Essentially SBS and the Minister have issued statements about the budget that amounts to a heap of rhetoric, not only lacking substance but allowing the very scenario to happen that they accuse the Opposition of wanting.

Save Our SBS submitted if not an end to advertising, at the very least an end to disrupting programs with them. It is high time SBS got on board and argued the case for appropriate funding and support from the government to meet this aim. All we have from this budget is what SBS and the Minister are best at: words, mere words.


36 comments to Budget outcome: SBS own worst enemy

  • Samantha

    Entirely predictable. I agree with everything in the article. It was only a matter of time before SBS would feel the full brunt of their own stupidity. Does SBS not understand that when they ramped up their commercial side ultimately their message became ‘we need less government funding’. This combined with the state of the economy made Wayne Swan’s job a whole lot easier. The sad truth is SBS is now unwatchable. It’s up to the SBS board to reverse this sad outcome because clearly the management hasn’t and won’t. Just get rid of the advertisements within the programs and only then will your credibility be restored.

  • antino si

    the money is little. that is why SBS problems has. of course they should not have ads always and that makes SBS problems worse for money radio and tv. i not like ads

  • Alissa

    This is most significant. Thanks for the background info. But I want to remark on a few general things about the website. Style is wonderful, the articles really easy to read. Good job.

  • Frederick

    If the article is suggesting that sbs did not request funds to move the advertisements back to where they used to be, away from the programs, then that makes me wonder if perhaps finance is not motivating the decision to keep the advertisements inside the programs. Is sbs more interested in looking commercial, just for the sake of it? That’s how this now seems.

  • Tony Hillier

    The increasing commercialisation of SBS is unconscionable. At the very least, programs should not be fractured by crudely placed ads, like the TPG one that is considerably louder in volume than the others!

  • Maria

    SBS, along with its long-ago move to advertising, has been profaning its charter for many years. Its move to remove foreign language content away from prime time slots shows the disdain it had / has for foreign language content, and also shows it did that because it didn’t think foreign language programs would sell advertising.

    Since advertising on SBS, we’ve seen the dumbing-down of news and current affairs, a scramble to find the most banal and insipid programs in the hope to appeal to advertisers, and foreign language content moved from SBS 1 to SBS 2.

    It’s not like SBS has just lost its way, it lost its way something like more than 10-15 years ago. It makes a mockery of its own charter, has little to no integrity, and has made dull and lacklustre the wonderful jewel it once was.

  • Adrian

    Sad to see such a broadcaster placing more store on dollar income than providing quality programming.

  • Alex Wood

    Undoubtedly the Ad breaks in SBS are irritating and make me do something else until better broadcasting resumes. At the start & end of programmes they are far more likely to have me watching and in a better frame of mind to be receptive to ads. Financial considerations are part of life for all of us, but so is a pleasant experience, so please continue to pursue the original placement of ads, as above.

  • Laurence See

    When SBS or ABC run ads DURING programs I mute the TV and do something else to ignore ad content.
    Friends do same, so advertisers should realise they are wasting money. Often it is so annoying that we switch channel or turn off. Govt should support ad-free, independent broadcast to encourage public education.

  • Marie Fisher

    I agree wholeheartedly with Maria. SBS was a jewel that is no more. Unless it can rise again like a phoenix from the ashes of commercialisation, I will continue to watch only ad-free ABC, when there is something worth watching, and when there’s not I’ll read a book. But oh! I do still miss the wonderful old SBS.

  • Mia Campioni

    The original idea of SBS has been undermined for many years, and indeed the content is increasingly dumbed down, even to the extent that SBS2 is a total washout. Keep going like this and we will loose the most important part of public broadcasting in the world!

  • Rodney Lynch

    Since the introduction of advertising onto the S.B.S., there has been a dumbing down of news, and current affairs. This is typical of commercial stations which want to please their bosses, the advertisers. When the S.B.S., and the ABC too, dump those annoying ads onto us DURING the programs I use the mute button on the remote control. Advertising interruptions to our programme viewing are so very annoying. I know that the S.B.S. management is doing what the commercial advertisers tell it to do, but I can not understand why the ABC spoils our radio and television programmes with advertising intrusions. Commercial advertising on the S.B.S. is one reason why Liberal, and Labor will be going to the end of my ballot paper in the fast approaching federal election.

  • Darce Cassidy

    I would like to take issue with Smantha’s post where she wrote “Just get rid of the advertisements within the programs and only then will your credibility be restored.”

    Advertising within programs disrupts and degrades the viewers experience. So while there is good reason to oppose advertising within programs, we should not forget advertising BETWEEN programs also distorts and degrade the picture – although in a more subtle way.

    Advertisers want to get into viewers heads. They want the DINKS (double income, no kids) and other affluent demographics. They value some viewers more than others. They want the big spenders. Not necessarily just the millionaires, but large groups with disposable incomes. They want big audiences – not small communities with little English. They want viewers with a disposable income – not the unemployed, people on welfare or people on temporary visas.

    If you have little in the way of disposable income the advertisers are not interested in you. When broadcasters become reliant on the advertisers they will also lose interest in you. And this holds true no matter whether the adverts are in programs or between programs.

  • Advertising on SBS will not go away , particularly in the current economic climate. However, if they must be shown show them at the beginning and end of the show. Not in the middle.

  • Alan Dow

    It is a pain to see the once-great broadcaster SBS now reduced to mindlessly mimicking the look and feel of commercial TV. I say mindless, because commercial TV stations make at least token efforts to match up their ads and their program content. Not so SBS, whose crass inclusion of unsuitable ads has several times caused me to switch off programs altogether.

    Yes! You ruined the whole experience with your dumb ads. Of course those advertisers are now included in my list of what never to buy.

    I used to watch the ads on SBS, when they were in between the programs. I watched with a sense of gratitude to the advertisers, for supporting a sane model of TV broadcasting. Not any more.

    Under the present regime, the wreckers are not only wasting their money, but they’re ruining the channel for everyone else – and that includes the ethical advertisers as well as the viewers. I wonder how long it will take before the advertisers themselves figure out what a raw deal they are getting.

    It is quite obvious that the problem at SBS comes from the top of the organisation. It won’t change until the right people are put back in charge.

  • Murray Scott

    We tear our hair at advertisements on SBS and the ABC’s excrable self-advertisement. The true commercial channels are simply unendurable regarding content as well as ads.

    Our household has been forced to resort to a technical solution; time shifting all our viewing with a PVR so ads can be skipped with the FWD Jump button. It’s worth the expense and the half-hour delay in The News … try it!

    What’s more, tell SBS and ABC what you are doing so they (and the SBS advertisers) understand that ads are not worth showing or paying for.

  • Bill Hart

    Anyone who believes that Advertising/Sponsorship comes without “conditions” is more than deficient in common-sense. Free to air broadcasting can only be valid if unconditional financial support is provided. Unless we are in Orwellian’s “1984-land” it behoves the government to provide this support as proof that they, the Government, have the interests of the people at heart and are not pushing their own agenda. Both the SBS and the ABC are guilty of pushing the party line of the left leaning elements of our society. I look forward to a reversal of this situation but am not holding my breath. As we speed towards self destruction I see The Red Headed Liar Bird having her Trills broadcast willy nilly while TA is ridiculed regularly for espousing truth and common-sense.

  • Anne Kotzman

    I too mute the TV when SBS or ABC run ads DURING programs and I do something else to ignore the ad content.
    All my friends do same, so advertisers should realise they are wasting their money. Often it is so annoying that I switch channel or turn off altogether. The Government should support ad-free, independent broadcast to encourage public education.

  • Bruce Grime

    the article was spot on, but you can hardly blame the managing director for saying things in agreement with the minister. after all the minister is ultimately his boss, so he has to say in public what his boss wants him to say. the SBS board is another matter. their job is to stick up for the SBS and all that it stands for, so they should be more proactive in getting rid of the ads in the programmes.

  • John Tate

    Sorry SBS but you have lost a viewer due to the ads.

    Given the lack of funds, close down SBS and transfer funds to an ABC channel.

  • None of the stations are taking advantage of the digital format. Subs foreign language film subtitles should be separate and selectable. I have almost given up watching sbs , it’s now just like 7 or 9. The fibre optic will soon be at my place enabling me to give up FTA tv.

    Get rid of the board and elect a new one. If there is no money ask for viewer donations. I can put up with 5 mins of suitable adds between program’s if they are informative and low pressure.

  • Robert Cope

    I’ve frequently said, “If I had to only watch one TV channel, it would be SBS.” I’m pleased to see this interest in properly curating this valued resource. Thus, I applaud the many helpful opinions. Yes, Board, pay attention.

  • Arthur Mooney

    Both the SBS and the ABC follow the Party line of the two right wing Parties which take turns in governing the country. Neither the Liberals or Labor are prepared to get rid of commercial advertising, because their friends in big business do not want them to do that. We, the users of the ABC, , and S.B.S. services, have to keep putting pressure on them.

    Although the ABC denies it, I do believe that its interruption to programmes with self promotions are designed to soften us up for the day when it also dumps commercial advertising onto us. That will be done with the assistance of its friends in Parliament who will make the necessary change to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act.

  • Maurice Wilkinson

    Advertising has ruined SBS in two ways, by dumbing-down the content and disrupting the viewing. With the decline of the ABC, I had become more dependent on SBS 2; now it is unwatchable. Off to the library instead.

  • Joan Coxsedge

    Why does Conroy think he can get away with treating people like idiots. Surely he must know he’ll be sprung. When ads were introduced, it was a downhill run. Once upon a time, SBS gave us diversity and quality programmes, whereas today…

  • Rodney Lynch

    In his comment above Murray Scott said, “What’s more, tell SBS and ABC what you are doing so they (and the SBS advertisers) understand that ads are not worth showing or paying for”. I have been doing this for a while now, and I have sent to the ABC a copy of my previous comment which appeared on this site on Friday, 17 May, 2013 at 15:07. We need to keep the pressure on the S.B.S. and the A.B.C.

  • Eva Cermak

    In addition to dumbing down, reducing foreign language content, advertisements – often of the most screeching sort, we are annoyed by the frequent inane comments by one of the news presenters, so we too now hardly ever watch SBS, once our primary TV channel.

  • Jonathan Silberberg

    Ads during the program are annoying, but not a serious limitation. I’m far more concerned at the implications for programming when advertising dollars are alongside . . .

    Will the viewing demographic be seen as consumers or customers, 10 years from now?

  • Ian SPENCE

    I agree with ROBERT COPE – if I could only have one channel, I would choose SBS. UNDOUBTEDLY. I watch it far more than I watch the other channels, and generally find the programs much more interesting, though there has been a move towards dummer programs in recent times, which I deplore. But I NEVER watch SBS live (thanks to the advertising). I ALWAYS record it and slip through the ads. Not perfect, but the next best thing.

  • Fabrizio Casotti

    Back in the days of the VHS cassette video recorder I refused to watch the commercial television channels, because they were relentlessly bombarding us with ridiculous advertisements every ten minutes. When I am watching a TV programme I do not want an advertisement to suddenly, and rudely interrupt my enjoyment of the TV programme. I do not want to be told about funeral insurance, dog food, or yet another new car on the market. I did however, watch an occasional movie, but they were pre recorded onto a VHS video cassette tape so I could fast forward at high speed through the advertising garbage. These days all my TV programmes are automatically pre recorded, so that I can watch them at a convenient time, and so that I can fast forward through the advertising intrusions. I should not have to do that, because the Federal Government should be fully funding both of its broadcasters, the S.B.S. and the A.B.C. I am sending a copy of this comment to the Australian Association of National Advertisers, so that those advertisers can see that we do not want their advertising on our S.B.S.

  • John

    I can put up with the ads between programs, almost like ABC does with its own self promos between programs. It seems we are doing more recording of SBS programs and watching later and fast forwarding through the ads. Thanks for the detail on the budget.

  • JKW

    “Free to Air” has become a misnomer. Is it now a case of “He who pays the piper calls the tune”? Limited self-promotional advertising at beginning and end of programmes is just bearable. Commercial advertising every fifteen minutes is intrusive, banal and so repetitive that one quickly tunes out and/or mutes the sound. SBS2 now seems aimed at a narrower demographic – and I no longer fit! (I wonder if it has attracted more viewers in any demographic?) SBS1 has not lifted its game to include the more interesting and stimulating programmes, which used to be on SBS2. Hence, my SBS viewing has markedly declined.

  • David

    It seems to me that as advertising content increases so will the tendency to record rather than watch programmes live. With consequent fast forwarding through or editing out of ads is there any point to advertising. However while government funding remains low SBS is likely to want to retain the advertising income and not point out such a weakness. Also, for that reason SBS, would probably be reluctant to research the extent of recording against live viewing.

  • Antoinette J

    I can’t afford a recording machine and even if I could, it is wrong to say ‘problem solved’. As long as all you recording buffs are happy to just sit back and record away, you miss the point. Of course I mute the sound but it is still a distraction and an interruption to do so. The S.B.S. should not be interrupting our programs period. No ifs buts or maybes. For years the S.B.S. ran its finances in a much leaner state than now I imagine and did the right thing by not advertising in any programs. To say ‘lets just record’ you deny enjoyment to people like myself who cannot afford, and will never be able to afford a recording machine. In doing this you let the S.B.S. get away scott free of its obligations. Don’t settle for recording a program as an answer. It’s not.

  • Andrew

    I only watch on-line now. I’ll get a digital TV when SBS takes the ads out of their programs.

  • Jason

    SBS ruined online viewing with ad breaks too.

    Where can you now go to watch quality uninterrupted TV? Not commercial TV, not pay TV, not SBS. Nowhere, except for the ABC.

    If SBS want to rely on a 1950’s way of thinking and run a TV station by selling advertising, they are nuts. Those days are dead and buried. Get with it SBS.

    Stop ruining our viewing with your ad breaks for your clients. I can’t stand it and I don’t.