Possibility of ABC/SBS Merger

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I figured this speech from Mark Scott (ABC MD) today was worth discussing here, just from the somewhat radical (yet not unfamiliar) proposal he made to merge the ABC and SBS (article link below).

Now I’m prepared to put my neck out here and say that I think what he’s proposing is potentially a good idea, if done right. There is a lot of duplication, and even competition, between the networks, exacerbated by (in my opinion) SBS’s need to attract advertisers during primetime viewing.

The purpose of SBS should not be to rate high figures - it should be to service the minority ethnic communities in our society. This purpose has been bastardised somewhat by its screening of commercials, which makes it reliant on this revenue, which then makes it target a broader and less diverse audience than it otherwise should.

The SBS service, delivered as a multichannel of the ABC, would be free to provide for its multicultural audience. It would be free to air LOTE-content during prime time slots should it desire, and would be free to focus on its reason for being - to service multicultural Australia.

NITV being delivered as part of the current SBS suite of channels is a good example of how it could work. While I accept in part the argument from some that being subsumed by the ABC could see it lose its relevance, I think the current path the television side of the broadcaster is on, that process is already well underway. While programming like The Feed, South Park or Mythbusters might appeal to someone like me as a young male white Australian, does it really have a place on our national multicultural broadcaster? Somehow I think this might serve a better purpose being on the ABC or a commercial network, leaving the SBS to look after the audience it should be.

So what I say does not seek to undermine the SBS, but rather promote its initial reasons for existence. We are as culturally diverse a nation as we ever have been, and I believe we should have a broadcasting service that caters to that significant component of our community. I simply believe with the current SBS model this cannot be achieved, and through rationalisation by way of a merger between the two national broadcasters, if done right we could return the SBS to the place in our society that it should be.

As I said, I don’t expect all that much agreement on this, but I’d like to kickstart a debate. I’d be interested to hear some thoughts on this

So are we talking about merging of the spectrums or just using the single spectrum that ABC have to accomodate SBS?

Definitely agree. There needs to be an emphasis on doing this right, and I’m not convinced we have a government that can steer this in the right direction yet.

Television
On DVB-T platforms, I’d re-allocate the existing SBS spectrum - in the capital cities, to future DAB+ usage - and combine the services thusly on the existing ABC multiplex.

  • LCN 2/21 - ABC: Retaining existing service, incorporating English-language SBS programming
  • LCN 22 - ABC2: Retaining existing service, incorporating SBS2 programming
  • LCN 23 - SBS: Retaining existing service, scaled back to world news and foreign language programming in primetime
  • LCN 24 - ABC News 24: Retaining existing service, some SBS current affair flagships moved here
  • LCN 25 - ABC Kids: A mixture of ABC Kids (06:00-19:00) and ABC3 (19:00-06:00) programming, similar to the former ABC Kids/Fly TV set up.
  • LCN 26 - NITV: Retaining existing service.

Ideally, these services would all use MPEG-4, hence why they’d all fit onto one multiplex.

Radio
Radio is much tougher to make changes to, due to the variety of services covered by both existing broadcasters on both analogue and digital platforms. Using Melbourne as the example, we currently have

  • 621 - ABC RN
  • 774 - 774 ABC Melbourne
  • 1026 - ABC NewsRadio, and
  • 1224 - SBS Radio 1
    on AM, with
  • 93.1 - SBS Radio 2
  • 105.9 - ABC Classic FM, and
  • 107.5 - triple j
    on FM.

I’m going to have a think about how best to reduce services where possible. Ideally, 93.1 would be spared for perhaps SBS Chill, or even PopAsia.

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I agree that these are the reasons why it should happen.

I don’t feel that the ABC and SBS trip over each other at all. One is full of interesting international content, the other full of crappy second-rate Aussie programs like Catalyst etc.

SBS welcomes report into rural and regional broadcasting

SBS today welcomed the Communications and the Arts Standing Committee report on Arts and the News to Rural and Regional Australia.

The report commends SBS for the programs and services it is providing for multicultural Australia. Recommendation 16:

The committee recommends that the Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation remain separate entities. The committee commends the SBS for its important work in providing specialised multicultural broadcasting according to its charter, and in broadening its audience through general interest programming. The committee believes the SBS addresses a fundamental content gap within the Australian broadcasting space, while operating as a highly efficient organisation.”

SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid said: “SBS plays a vital role in providing distinctive content for our increasingly diverse society. The findings and recommendations in this report show the Committee believes in the value of having a dedicated media organisation with the special purpose of helping Australia progress as a successful multicultural society, which is even more relevant today than it was 40 years ago when we were first established.”

The report also notes the role of SBS in delivering television, radio and online content to rural and regional areas, and a heightened need to be responsive to the content needs of the increasingly multicultural communities outside of the major cities.

As well as noting the important role of broadcasters in delivering news services to Australian communities, the Committee also commended SBS for delivering the arts to audiences across Australia and the broadcast of special events to enable significantly wider audience access to unique performances.

My thoughts on a proposed ABC/SBS merger - since I floated it in other threads…

  • Merge ABC and SBS/NITV as one organisation, let’s call it Media Australia.
  • NITV is taken out from under SBS’s operations and given same status as ABC and SBS.
  • NIRS merged with NITV
  • Community television also comes under MA’s jurisdiction. New stations established where they were closed.
  • MA becomes the official emergency broadcaster - commercial stations take the lead from MA, if shit happens they drop off and MA takes over.
  • MA becomes the parliamentary broadcaster - Sky News told to fuck off. State parliaments to also be covered.
  • MA becomes international broadcaster - Sky News and commercial operators told to fuck off.
  • MA establishes its own playout operations, mandated to sell 50% of MediaHub.
  • Offices combined wherever possible. Possibly relocate SBS to Melbourne and NITV to either Brisbane, Darwin or Alice Springs
  • One news department shared across all 3 networks with specialists employed where possible and feasible.
  • Commercials removed from SBS and NITV
  • Triple J and Double J closed and/or sold.
  • Management operations combined into ONE group across all of MA.
  • Regional operations to be improved, including the possibility of regional TV news being reintroduced if commercial operators continue to treat their regions like shit.
  • TV channels re-organised as follows:
    2 - ABC1
    20 - ABC1 HD
    21 - ABC1 timeshifted
    22 - ABC2 - daytime is repeats of last night’s ABC programs. Primetime is programs aimed at younger audiences.
    23 - ABC3 - ALL kids programs moved here, with pre-school programs from 9am-3pm, and school-aged prorgrams 6-9am and 3pm-9pm.
    24 - ABC News
    3 - SBS1
    30 - SBS1 HD
    31 - SBS1 timeshifted
    32 - SBS2 - merger of World Movies and Viceland. Commercially oriented programs removed.
    33 - SBS3 - SBS Food combined with more DIY and educational programs
    4 - NITV
    40 - NITV HD
    41 - NITV timeshifted
    42 - State lower house
    43 - State upper house
    44 - Community television (state based)
    45 - House of Representatives
    46 - Senate
  • Radio TV channels all moved to triple digits
    200 - ABC Local
    201 - RN
    202 - ABC News
    203 - ABC Classic
    204 - ABC Jazz
    301 - SBS Radio 1
    302 - SBS Radio 2
    303 - SBS Radio 3
    304 - SBS Arabic 24
    305 - SBS PopDesi
    306 - SBS Chill
    307 - SBS PopAsia
    400 - NIRS
    401 - State radio reading service
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I agree with a lot of that but no need to create another name like Media Australia. Just keep it all under the ABC umbrella.

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There’s a reason for that - and it’s more PR related than anything to be honest.

If you kept the ABC name, it looks like the ABC has taken over SBS. That may not go down well.

In reality, I’d be aiming for one organisation taking over both ABC and SBS, and using them as brands.

Therefore, a new name - Media Australia.

There would be a lot of outrage but people would eventually get over it. The other option could be merging the ABC and SBS names to create ABS - Australian Broadcasting Service.

But ultimately, I’d rather they keep the legacy ABC brand and logo.

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I’m not 100% sure as to whether or not the ABC & SBS should be merged.

Sure, if someone was to say something like “ABC COMEDY & SBS VICELAND should be merged” I’d probably agree with them. But things like SBS Radio, NITV and the individual News and Current Affairs departments? It’d probably be better if those retained some level of editorial independence.

I do rather like the idea of having community TV and parliament channels available to all Australians, along with shunting all radio stations to the triple digits.

Won’t happen.
Two completely different broadcasters now, one still mostly public broadcaster and the other a full-on commercial broadcaster now. Two completely separate cultures now, unlike back in the early days when they were both public broadcasters, it would have been so much easier to merge.
Being that so much SBS content is dependent on commercial dollars (including all of its sport), that content would be not survive a merger with ABC with its commercial free charter.
If anything, SBS would most likely be split with TV being sold off and SBS Radio to be housed within the ABC.

Hard nope to basically all of that.

SBS has problems - that the need for commercial revenues push it off charter - but none of the above are effective answers to those problems.

Merging news operations would cause a reduction in media voices at a time where so much damage to media diversity has already occurred. SBS has a role to play in providing a media voice for those from underrepresented communities, and reporting on stories that simply don’t get told on the mainstream ABC - brought about by the ABC’s different charter requirements on being a broad appeal service.

Meshing Community and Government media is equally bad, you can’t have ‘Community’ media that’s controlled by a government owned entity. NITV should have stronger operational independence from SBS, to ensure that it still reflects the needs and voices of the community - subsuming NIRS makes no sense. If there’s operational support they can give eachother sure - but community is community and should remain so.

Merging all the kids programming on to one channel? So there’s no pre-school in the morning? There’s just no need for it when ABC children’s programming is a counter to commercialised childrens programming on commercial multichannels - meeting the needs of different age groups effectively is important.

ABC ME could be used more effectively in the daytime - but that’s no reason to just throw out the logical split between ABC ME and ABC Kids.

And I wouldn’t be in any doubt - you don’t merge the ABC/SBS to invest more in programming - you do it to slash the budget under “efficiencies”.

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If anything, NITV should be on the spare sixth channel allocation on the the proviso that community/HPON television has access to the spectrum. Might only be a small handful of services for a time (which can be consolidated once DVB-T2 is introduced) but it’s not as if the concept of temporary multiplexes is new.

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I like this idea

One of the biggest arguments to ABC/SBS consolidation would be them sharing a single multiplex - significantly cutting transmission costs. I can’t see NITV moved to the 6th channel spectrum for that reason - no one’s going to pay the outlays for splitting it off.

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Could you fit all of the current channels in one multiplex though? Would they need to cut channels?

Yeah, you’d need to slash a lot. But I’d not be shocked if that isn’t something the Government has floated.

A less horrible suggestion would be to do that in order to also allow for the spare multiplex to become a DVB-T2 one, so the HD channels would shift over there to free up the space for ABC/SBS to share on one.

The justification for that would be to kickstart a second digital dividend without the outlays of rolling out a temporary 6th channel broadcast.

Having a well-funded government-backed broadcaster makes a lot of sense - but it has to do it in an environment that allows for competitive neutrality.

I’m not convinced that merging ABC and SBS in their current states and given the current climate will actually deliver that and maintain the current level of service.

If set up correctly, I dont think it needs to reduce voices - rather it would better direct the voices. SBS’ strength is being able to communicate to multicultural communities (especially LOTE) and their “generalist” news coverage isnt great, while the ABC does a much better job at this kind of content. Some kind of tie-up between the two newsrooms could improve things greatly.

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The SMH speculates that the only way SBS would move in with the ABC in Sydney and Melbourne is if they were forced to merge by the government. The ABC is keen to share some resources with SBS which could be achieved by being located in the same buildings. SBS apparently sees a shared building and shared resources as the forerunner to a merger.

Separately, ABC and SBS put out a joint tender for captioning services and have had discussions about having a joint playout centre. Whether that means SBS joining Mediahub or a new venture is not mentioned.

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