Debate rages over more primetime SBS ads

Minister moves forward on legislation for more primetime ads, despite protests it will create a fourth commercial network.


Last week Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced legislation to Parliament to increase advertising from 5 to 10 minutes per hour, giving it more flexibility for the lucrative prime time market without increasing its 120 minutes of advertising per day.

It is a move that has been protested by Free to Air commercial broadcasters, emotively claiming they are “subsidising” the change, but welcomed by SBS as it seeks to address funding cuts.

Turnbull, who is clearly preferring competition to face the impact rather than the Federal Budget, knocked back the FreeTV argument.

“SBS in advertising terms is a minnow in that market,” he told Parliament.

SBS claims the proposed amendment would allow it to deliver on the savings measure of $28.5 million over the next four years, as part of the $53.7 million in Federal Government funding cuts. It estimates the amendment would allow it to earn an additional $4.1 million in 2015-16, building up to $8.7 million in the fourth year but that without the passing of the legislation, the broadcaster would be unable to fully deliver this savings measure.

FreeTV has rejected their costings, against the backdrop of a flat advertising market and fragmenting audiences.

There are also fears the changes could mean product placement for lifestyle and entertainment formats.

Lobby group Save our SBS has commandeered former ABC presenter Quentin Dempster and ex ABC / SBS presenter (now Foxtel presenter) Margaret Pomeranz as ambassadors for its joint petition with GetUp! against the legislation. It now has over 60,000 signatures.

Save Our SBS President, Steve Aujard says more primetime advertising will create a fourth commercial network by stealth.

“If passed, SBS will look no different from commercial TV. It will broadcast 14 minutes* of disruptive commercial breaks per hour, mostly in primetime and sport,” he said.

“Despite some 50,000 people signing a petition against the bill, the government is still putting this forward. There will not be a debate when the Minster introduces this.”

Quentin Dempster said, “More adverting and now product placement is not what SBS should be about. On-set product placement will remove the independence of probing journalism and restrict what presenters may say.

“SBS is a remarkable legacy of the late Malcolm Fraser, established not to strive to look like commercial TV, but as a specialist broadcaster and the Australian commercial networks hardly need another competitor for precious advertising dollars, particularly at a time when global players have video streaming access to Australian households from which they derive user pays fees. Few contribute to local content creation and most use tax havens.”

Steve Aujard also questions SBS’s delivery on its Charter.

“In two comprehensive studies, one of 2,044 viewers in 2013 and another of 1,733 viewers in 2008 – after reading SBS’s Charter – three-quarters of SBS viewers nationally (71.6% in 2008 and 72.1% in 2013) said that since SBS TV introduced in-program advertising it is less faithful to the Charter now than it used to be. This strongly suggests that any increase in advertising in any part of the schedule will worsen SBS’s ability to adhere to its Charter obligations,” he said.

But SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid says revenue supports its ability to deliver on its Charter.

“The Charter is at the heart of SBS and any revenue raised through advertising and sponsorship goes directly to enabling the organisation to protect its investment in Australian content and deliver on its Charter obligations, recognising that SBS competes in a highly competitive media market on a fifth of the average budget of the other Australian broadcasters.

“To that end, should this legislation pass Parliament, SBS would only implement additional advertising in programs and timeslots where the advertising return could genuinely aid our ability to invest in Australian content. It is incorrect to assume that SBS wants to or is able to move to 10 minutes of advertising in every hour of prime time, should this legislation pass, as that would be impractical given the demands of the schedule and our advertisers. We understand the need to be sensitive to our audience in implementing any change.”

Malcolm Turnbull has also warned unless legislation is passed by the end of June, SBS will need to axe programs or services to address funding cuts.

*including promos

9 Responses

  1. SBS needs more ads to be more self sufficient. They just can’t expect to be propped up by the government every year. More advertising will bring in more quality shows like Vikings and Fargo and that will increase ratings and revenue. SBS will cease to exist if nothing changes. They can’t keep running through big losses everyyear and expect the taxpayer to bail them out.

    1. What “big losses”? What “bail[ing] them out”?

      You’re painting it to look like SBS routinely over-spends, under-performs, then expects the government to pay off their debts for them. That’s not the case.

  2. Aujard claim that this will create a fourth commercial network by stealth is just bonkers. SBS are already a commercial network which also happens to receive public funding, there is no stealth here. It’s not clear why he thinks that four commercial networks is so much worse than three and a half.

    Dempster bringing the recently-passed Malcolm Fraser’s name into this is in rather poor taste.

    If allowing SBS to sometimes show a whole 10 min of ads in an hour means more Vikings, Fargo, and Scandi dramas of the quality or The Killing and Borgen, then I’m all for it.

    1. SBS holds the same category of license as the ABC, namely ‘A’=National(I use the word “Category” because “Class” implies quality which, of late is missing from much of SBS’s output). This type of licence means Non-Commercial! Thus SBS is in flagrant breach of its licence conditions. Perhaps what should be done is to lower the category to ‘C’=Community with the station operating as a charity(not-for-profit) with 5 minutes per hour of “sponsorship acknowledgements”, just the same as applies to community radio. And enforce this rule strictly.

      1. You may recall what the current government has done with the “Community” licences (outside remote areas) recently 🙂 I’m not sure you want the same thing for SBS.

        Also, requiring community radio ads to say “x is a sponsor of” only makes their ad breaks less interesting.

  3. I’ve been in agreement with Pomeranz when she’s taken a stand against censorship, and supported some of Get Up’s campaigns but they’re backing the wrong horse here. I don’t know whether they misunderstand what’s being proposed or simply have a pre-conceived ideological position from which they won’t be be budged.

    SBS won’t be increasing the total amount of advertising throughout the day but will be permitted to shift some non-primetime ads to primetime. I have no idea what Dempster is referring to when he says that “On-set product placement will remove the independence of probing journalism and restrict what presenters may say”. Is he claiming that SBS World News presenters will be brewing up a Liptons tea or drinking Pepsi on-camera? Or will Insight be sponsored by McDonald’s and investigate the evil’s of deep-fried chicken? Ridiculous.

  4. The three commercial networks share advertising revenue of $3b per annum. To complain about SBS bringing in a couple of million extra is petty. It’s not the big three’s money, it’s money spent by advertisers that they have to compete for.

    SBS still needs to promote its shows in primetime so it can’t replace all promotions with paid advertising.

    And exactly how are are going to save SBS by cutting its revenue? More lunacy from Get Up!

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