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Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 30 May 2013

Budget Estimates Thursday 30 may 2013 - Environment and Communications Committee

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you for coming, Mr Ebeid, and thank you for your answers to questions that I put on notice about the transition of NITV into SBS, among other things. That looks to me like it has been a very successful transition. What can you tell us about the trends in the number of viewers that NITV has had since being brought into the SBS stable?

Mr Ebeid : Obviously, going from a pay-TV-only channel to a free-to-air channel has increased their viewership significantly. I do not have the reach figures with me at the moment. I think the reach figure is around 1.1 or 1.2 million, but I will have to check that. We know that we are appealing certainly to the broader community as well, which is one of our hopes-that it is a channel not just for Indigenous Australians but for all Australians to really get a good view, a window, into Indigenous culture and stories; and that has been working well as well.

Senator LUDLAM: Great. Would you check those figures and provide them to us?

Mr Ebeid : I will get them to you, yes. I know that the channel does vary from evening to evening in terms of its share, depending on its content, obviously. It does range sometimes up to about 0.6 per cent of a share, which is terrific for the channel.

Senator LUDLAM: It would be good to see it benchmarked against the SBS main channel. How many staff in total does NITV have on board? I think you said 43 in your answer to my question.

Mr Ebeid : That sounds about right.

Senator LUDLAM: So no changes since then. I think it is nearly six months since the transition occurred and your answer to my question referred to a review. Would you update us as to what form that review will take.

Mr Ebeid : Just to clarify, regarding the six months, the actual integration happened last July-it started on 1 July last year-but the channel did not launch on the free-to-air network until 12 December. So it has been on air for 12 months, but NITV as a group have been collocating and working within SBS for coming up to 12 months.

Senator LUDLAM: That is a useful clarification. My six-month figure was more for when they actually went live on the free-to-air channel.

Mr Ebeid : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: What is the status and the structure of the review?

Mr Ebeid : As a normal part of our budgeting cycle, as we do with the rest of the areas of SBS, we are having a review of how they have gone for the last six months. Just before we launched the channel, we spent quite a bit of time getting right around the country and talking to a lot of the community and stakeholders of the channel to understand some of their thoughts, concerns and hopes of the channel. We will be doing that again in the coming months-going back around to see how we are doing and what the feedback is from the community and the production sector and working out what we can do better with the channel. We are also looking to do some audience research work around what our audiences are thinking and feeling about the channel. That audience metric work is something that we would also do with SBS 1 and 2 and our radio networks-we do that from time to time. That will all form part of the review of NITV, to work out what we need to do better going forward.

Senator LUDLAM: Will there outside evaluation rather than just an internal review?

Mr Ebeid : It is an internal review that will be taking in a lot of external thoughts, opinions and input.

Senator LUDLAM: I turn now to what is probably one of your least favourite subjects-but I guess that is what I get to do-which is in-program advertising on the station. When SBS introduced in-program advertising in late 2006, SBS justified the disruption of programs with the commercial breaks on the basis that the revenue from in-program ads would be used to commission Australian content. In a media release issued by your predecessor on 1 June 2006, in notice of that particular change, it was stated:

Since advertising was introduced in 1991, SBS has directed all advertising revenue to program making and the commissioning of programs from independent Australian filmmakers.

It has been revealed within the last financial year that only 37 per cent of television advertising dollars were used to make Australian programs. I just wonder when that policy changed.

Mr Ebeid : Where did the 37 per cent figure that you have quoted come from?

Senator LUDLAM: An answer to question No. 2386, subquestion 11, from 19 October 2012, I think in response to the last estimates round or the one before last. That would have had the minister's name on it, I suspect, rather than yours. The figure that actually came out was TV advertising revenue of $46 million, of which $17.4 million was used to commission Australian content. So clearly there has been a bit of a shift over time.

Mr Ebeid : I will have to take it on notice and come back to you on that. From our accounting perspective, we certainly do not divide up our commercial revenues to say what percentage of that goes to television production. I will need to have a look at where that came from.

Senator LUDLAM: That is okay. It is question No. 2386 and, if you do not have that in front of you-

Mr Ebeid : Yes. It does sound odd to me.

Senator LUDLAM: What sounds odd to me is that there was clearly a policy and the policy has clearly changed. Whether there is direct hypothecation or not, the station is clearly not spending anything like its total advertising revenue on Australian content production.

Senator LUDLAM: Having now together outlined this issue, my question is whether SBS would be willing to revert to its former policy. You might like to take that on notice as well.

Mr Ebeid : Yes. What I would say on that as a general thing is that, over the last five years or so-or I suppose more than that; since that policy was made, it would be nine years-our costs across the business have increased dramatically. We have also invested in new online and digital services which have needed to be funded. I dare say that a fair percentage of our advertising revenues have also had to be diverted to fund our digital and online platforms. So it would be almost impossible to revert to that 2006 policy of saying a blanket 100 per cent of all TV advertising would go to Australian production. I do not think that is realistic, because our costs have increased dramatically across the board. For example, taking on the additional languages in radio has cost the organisation a couple of million dollars more a year. That all needs to be funded. The revenue that we get from advertising goes towards all parts of SBS; it is not specific to just TV production.

Senator LUDLAM: I am certainly not contending with you that SBS is not facing funding pressures-everybody in the room agrees with that-although the lift in the last budget was extremely welcome. It is just that there was a policy expressed and at some point it changed. I wonder whether there was an announcement that perhaps we have missed or whether it has just quietly slipped over time.

Mr Ebeid : Certainly, as I say, it is not a policy decision since I have been there, but I will have a look at what has changed.

Senator LUDLAM: I suspect it would have predated your arrival. If we go back through successive budgets, we will find it has been slipping probably since that first year. If it is of value, I have a copy of the question that I can table for you.

Mr Ebeid : I will grab that at the end, thank you.

Senator LUDLAM: My next question is really around the March amendments to the SBS Act, in which advertising for SBS digital media services was deregulated. There do not appear to be any restrictions there. I wonder what policy SBS is applying to digital media streaming, catch-up programming and that kind of stuff and whether ads are only placed in natural program breaks, or whether the same logic that is applied to your scheduled programming also applies to your streaming service.

Mr Ebeid : You are absolutely right; there is nothing in our act that does limit our advertising on our online services. However, we have taken a view internally to apply similar guidelines for our TV as we do for our online. In fact, it would be less at the moment. We would have only a couple of pre-rolls, for example, and mid-rolls of programs in our online service, whereas we would have more than that on our television service.

Senator LUDLAM: Is it likely to be less overall?

Mr Ebeid : Yes. Overall, I think it would be less because when you are sitting in front of a mobile device or a PC, that time is obviously exaggerated. Sitting through five minutes of ads, I think, would be a bad service for our audiences. We obviously do not want to be providing a bad service, so we have taken a view internally that we would certainly not exceed-and we are using the same rules that we are applying on TV to online.

Senator LUDLAM: If there are any metrics lying around that you could provide to us on that-

Mr Ebeid : Yes, that is easy. We do have metrics on that and I can provide them to you.

Senator LUDLAM: I will leave it there; thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Mr Ebeid, I thank you and your officers. We will now suspend until 11am for a short break.


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