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Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 25 May 2010

Senator LUDLAM-Welcome back. I think you spoke in your opening comments-and I came in a little bit late-about the internal review that you are undertaking at the moment. Did that get a bit of a mention?

Mr Brown-No, it did not. I did not talk about the internal review. Do you mean the strategic review that management and board are currently carrying out?

Senator LUDLAM-I guess it is the same one. You mentioned it last time we were here on 8 February and I think you had only just started. I am just wondering if you can provide us with an update of where that is up to.

Mr Brown-I can tell you that the board and management had a two-day strategic session. We followed that up with a further session earlier this month and we have got more discussions planned for our board meeting in late June. The hope and expectation is that at the end of that we will have determined the strategic plan for SBS, which will lead to a corporate plan with the public document that we submit to government.

Senator LUDLAM-This strategic plan is internal but the corporate plan is submitted to government and to the parliament?

Mr Brown-That is correct.

Senator LUDLAM-When would that document finally be expected to arrive?

Mr Brown-Our hope is that it will be in July. Sign-off of this is obviously very much in the board's hands-appropriately so. If it goes according to plan then we would expect the board to sign-off in late June and for the documentation articulation of this to come through in July and be submitted to the government and parliament some time early in the next financial year.

Senator LUDLAM-Last time I asked you a bit about the SBS equivalent of iView, of your online streaming service. Can you provide us with an update, particularly now ABC has begun captioning its iView service? I am just wondering whether SBS has similar intentions and how broad they are.

Mr Brown-I will take that on notice. I would make the point that while it is highly desirable and we recognise our obligations there, we have been unsuccessful in funding bids for captioning services now for about nine years of successive triennial funding bids. The funds for any expansion of captioning, particularly captioning that has to be specifically done anew, have to come from somewhere else. I will take on notice what our intentions specifically are with online.

Senator LUDLAM-I believe it was at the session of last October when the minister told us that the government was open to suggestions for amendments to the SBS budget before the conclusion of the current triennial period in 2012. Has that been one of your asks to the government over past funding rounds?

Mr Brown-I do not recall that as a specific request of government. Certainly I can recall two or three trienniums ago it was identified as a separate line item.

Senator LUDLAM-What can you tell us about traffic to the SBS website? How important is the streaming service becoming to you? Are there any numbers regarding how large your online audience is relative to your viewing population?

Mr Brown-A good question, and one that we are working on right now, is how do you develop a matrix of viewer and listener access to our services across an expanding range of platforms? There is a temptation to look at SBS and judge us by the number of metropolitan viewers of our services-those five city ratings that are trotted out. Of course we have far greater reach and penetration than that. Across regional Australia we have a bigger share than we do in metropolitan Australia and online there is a whole new audience, and on radio there is a significant audience as well. We currently are getting about a million unique browsers per month. That was a target that we hit in March, maintained through April and which we expect to do again in May. It rises significantly for special events, and it will rise very significantly during the World Cup and again during the Tour De France. Those are big drivers of traffic. Obviously we are as interested though in the more routine accessing of our services through our catch-up services, which is something in the region of about 80 per cent of our commission content.

Programs like the Logie award winning East West 101 and The Circuit are available on catch-up for up to a month. Those are heavily accessed but I do not have specific numbers on each title. The point really is less about our success today than about laying the foundations for a fundamental change in media consumption in the future. Those were the points I was touching upon in my opening comments and the reference to Google TV. The fact that convergence is really here-or about to be here, very close to-would indicate that we have to be capable of making our services connect with audiences on whatever platform they choose.

Senator LUDLAM-I do not know that we are going to get another estimates round this year but I just wondered whether it would be possible to provide for us on notice some sense of audience share, the break-up between your online audience of people who are not browsing but actually watching one of your titles as opposed to those watching on TV. I think it would be interesting to get a sense of what proportion that is. Senator Cormann covered most of the questions that I had on subtitling but I missed whether you identified whether, over the course of an average week, the amount of subtitle content would be going up, down or staying the same?

Mr Brown-The amount of subtitle content will progressively increase. Already I would suggest that we carry more subtitle content than we ever have in the past because of our second channel. That second channel is currently running at about 70 per cent in languages other than English. That is a level that we would like to maintain. We have earmarked this channel for being demonstrably multilingual. Our intention is-within our resources, which are limited-to invest again in SBS2 next financial year so that there is more original content on that in LOTE. The level of subtitle content will steadily increase.

Senator LUDLAM-I will leave it there. Thank you, Chair.

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