SBS questioned over “natural” breaks

On 25 May 2009 at Senate Estimates, the Greens spokesperson for Communications, Senator Scott Ludlam questioned the Managing Director of SBS, Mr Shaun Brown as to how the broadcaster could justify forcing breaks into programs that were never intended to be interrupted. BBC programs and cinema release movies were the examples cited.

Brown took exception to the expression that SBS had forced breaks into these or any programs. However he did admit that SBS interrupted programs that were never produced for commercial breaks. Brown insisted that SBS only had natural breaks which is permissible under the SBS Act. However the Act does not define natural breaks, so under their Codes SBS invented their own Guidelines. The SBS definition has never been tested in the Courts.

At Senate Estimates Brown said that the SBS definition of a natural break was a “global” definition.

Brown’s statement is not globally true.

It is true that some similarity can be found with the UK as to where it is acceptable to place a break but there is no reference to such break being described as a natural break.

Back home, commercial television in Australia was de-regulated in the mid 1980’s. Commercial television licenses were originally granted under the old Broadcasting & Television Act. There was never a legislated definition of a natural break. Commercial broadcasters may now place breaks of any length, where ever they desire but SBS does not hold a commercial licence. It is a public, tax payer funded broadcaster.

In 2007 SBS forced 6000 breaks into programs that were never intended to be interrupted, as such we maintain they were not natural. Certainly they annoyed viewers.

Brown also told Senate Estimates “We now place only one 30-second spot on the top of the hour.”

But anyone who watches SBS-TV regularly knows the break between programs are longer than 30 seconds.

Breaks in programs on SBS run 2 mins and breaks between programs vary in length but are usually also about 2 minutes. Was Brown telling a fib to Senate Estimates when he said they now have “only one 30-second spot on the top of the hour”? A “spot” is industry jargon for a commercial but you could be forgiven for not knowing that because the total length of the break, including promos and advertisements is usually closer to 2 minutes and sometime longer. It is rarely just 30 seconds.

In defending SBS interrupting programs for commercial breaks, Brown has always maintained the line that the breaks were around 8 to 10 minutes between programs under the previous model where programs were not interrupted. In a media release on 1 June 2006, when SBS had been preparing to move to the now current model, Brown said: “These lengthy breaks – sometimes up to 10 minutes – are clearly unpopular with viewers. The new structure will reduce the lengthy, between-program breaks currently in the SBS schedule” and in discussing the then future model of interrupting programs, in the same media release, Brown said: “For half hour programs, there could be two short advertising breaks of 60 seconds duration and for one hour programs, there may be three short breaks, each no longer than 90 seconds duration”.

Regular viewers of SBS-TV would know that under the previous model the break between programs were rarely 8 to 10 minutes, except very late at night, for example at close of transmission. Although under the old model, SBS-TV often ran 4 to 6 minute breaks between programs, it is now obvious that viewers preferred that approach instead of the current model of interrupting programs.  Under the present model half hour programs have two, 2 minute breaks (not 60 seconds as foreshadowed) while one hour programs now contain three, 2 minute breaks (not 90 seconds as stated).

Is Brown a master at manipulating statistics?

Transcript of Senate Estimates

The questions and answers asked by Senator Scott Ludlam in the May 2009 Senate Estimates may be read in detail at: however if you would prefer to read the full Hansard transcript of the May 2009 Senate Estimates visit:;adv=;db=;group=;holdingType=;id=;orderBy=;page=0;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F12031%2F0003%22;querytype=;rec=;resCount=

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