SBS advertising

SBS has been one of my favourite TV stations for some time – good intelligent programming that would never be seen on any other free-to-air station. In the last place I lived, however, the reception was pretty poor, and I wasn’t able to watch SBS for about the past 6-12 months.

In our new place we’ve got great reception and I have discovered that they’ve introduced the practice of interupting their programs with adverts. Previously they ran ads at the end of each show.

Their old method of advertising was actually one of the really nice things about SBS – I didn’t mind the ads. Often left them running before or after a show I wanted to watch. I don’t know why, but the ads they ran also seemed to be less mainstream and a bit more interesting than the purely commercial stations.

Now that they have switched to inserting ads into their programming, it feels odd and intrusive. Something about it just doesn’t feel right. And the ads they’re running seem less refined. And some of the special-ness of the station has been lost.

I was going to write to them to express my concern when I spotted an ad on SBS last night that points viewers to this FAQ page. They’ve obviously had a lot of responses to warrant giving up a revenue generating spot to tell their viewers why they changed.

Under the section “Why has SBS introduced in-program advertising?” they say:

SBS must increase its funding base if it is to continue to produce high quality news and current affairs services and unique drama, documentary and entertainment content. As much as possible, SBS believes that this content must be original and reflective of the diverse nature of Australian society. This is how SBS will retain its relevance.

The current funding model (commercial and government funds) cannot guarantee this. SBS has not received an increase in government funding in recent years and, for the reasons explained below, the current commercial model will not deliver the needed extra resources.

They then continue:

Research has shown SBS consistently loses almost 60% of its viewers because of these extended breaks. Viewers simply change channels or switch off due to the long gap between programs. It is no wonder that the commercial networks have all but eliminated between program breaks in an effort to retain viewers.

So the lack of government funding, and the unwillingness of their viewers to put up with ads means that they’ve reverted to the tried and true, yet highly annoying, method of the commercial networks.

The funny thing is I’m now more inclined to switch channels during their programs – something I never used to do. And often I’ll end up on another station for a while watching their. I wonder what their research says about standard viewing patterns in terms of audience drop-off during ad breaks? (I suspect that one of the reasons the Ten network puts in little 10 second spots telling you it’s a short ad break – so you’re less likely to switch channels.)

I’d love for the government to step up funding to avoid this. Or for someone to come up with a great idea for generating additional revenue for SBS outside of this method of advertising. But unfortunately I don’t think either will happen…

It’s a shame – and I can’t help but think that SBS is now on a downward slope towards programming for advertisers in order to secure additional revenue. I certainly hope they maintain their commitment to “produce high quality news and current affairs services and unique drama, documentary and entertainment”. Otherwise I fear they might find their audience dwindling faster than the rate they find new revenue opportunities (just like all the other networks).

Update 2007-01-30: mebbe this thread of Doc’s will present some interesting food for thought.

  • Great post Grant, some really interesting thoughts. I was pretty annoyed when I saw the ads in the middle of shows on SBS – ad-free shows were one of the joys of SBS! I understand the commercial pressures SBS is under, but I think moves like this are a bit risky. The more it becomes like commercial stations, the less reason there is for it to be funded (or exist) at all.

    I wonder in any case if commercial stations are going to rethink how many ads they have, given they’re increasingly competing with ad-free DVDs of TV series and movies.

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