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Précis of a study of 2044 viewers of SBS television on advertising, Charter, relevance and other matters

Earlier this year, Save Our SBS undertook a study of 2044 viewers of SBS television. Those studied came from every State and Territory. More than a third were not born in Australia. The findings of the study form part of a detailed submission to the SBS Community Advisory Committee & the SBS Board. The full submission may be read in HTML or PDF format. Five recommendations are made.

The study found that SBS had not been inclusive of a significant portion of its television (SBS ONE & TWO) audiences, giving preference to advertisers over audiences. The majority believed that advertising ought to have no place on SBS saying such should be left to commercial broadcasters instead. Although 90% were reluctantly prepared to compromise with advertising before or after a program, only four percent were accepting of breaks in their current form – within programs.

Viewers believed the main television arm (and corresponding internet service, On Demand) was no longer like that of a special broadcaster, and a poor cousin to commercial TV focused on advertising dollars to the detriment of programs and the Charter. They said the commercialisation of SBS over the past six years had damaged the SBS brand and its relevance. SBS was perceived as suffering under the cloud of a former management and Board not listening to viewer concerns. Despite this, there was a yearning for SBS to re‑establish itself in its own unique way as a strong multicultural and special broadcaster without appearing reliant on advertising and free of commercial influence or interference.

The tone expressed by many was that SBS refused to own the problem caused of its own making or respond in any meaningful way to the virtually unanimous community disapproval of in‑program breaks, and the carrying of certain kinds of (loud, hard-sell, non-innovative and unethical) advertising.

The community was dissatisfied with the current interpretation and practical application by SBS of the phrase “natural program breaks” and an unfair complaints process that SBS adopted post the introduction of in‑program advertising – that effectively disallows a formal complaint to be considered under the Codes of Practice in the application as interpreted by SBS of a natural break.

The study found that 95.1% of viewers “did not support SBS maintaining all commercial breaks in their current form” (broadcast & digital), and 91.7% said “most in‐program advertising breaks look forced or artificially contrived and it would be misleading to describe these as natural program breaks". The submission says, "It would seem that the current criteria for placing a break within a program and the SBS definition of a natural program break is grossly out of step with that of the wider community".

To read the full submission, click HTML or PDF.

The majority of those studied said SBS was less faithful to the Charter and now less relevant since in‑program advertising began.

The 102 page submission urges the SBS Board to change the direction of SBS and explains what is required to satisfy community concerns.

Recommendations made include: SBS developing a plan to phase out in-program breaks, the Board redefining natural program breaks to be more in line with community standards, amending the Codes of Practice to include a definition of natural breaks so that consumers may access a fairer complaints process via the industry regulator – the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), increasing the quota of programs presented in languages other than English (LOTE) in early prime time, and recovering that that makes SBS special. The submission presents substantial evidence as to why each recommendation ought to be implemented.

The comprehensive study was open to any interested person with internet access. Slightly more than one‑third of the 2044 participants were not born in Australia nor were their parents. Half of the participants were born in Australia of Australian parents. The remainder were either Australian born of at least one parent not born in Australia or not born in Australia but at least one parent was Australian born.

The submission reports on the findings of 15 multiple choice questions and includes comments submitted. It contains 13 key points and makes five recommendations to SBS.

The full submission is worth reading and is available in HTML or PDF.



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