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.

Climate change debate gaining traction

The Age: Govt ‘spends on ads, not climate change’. Glad to see Labor capitalising on an argument some have been making for a while.

The papers are awash with climate change related articles. A very good sign indeed. But the front page of The Age made me smile with this one:

MORE than six in 10 Australians are dissatisfied with the Howard Government’s response to global warming — and are prepared to pay extra to cut greenhouse emissions.

An overwhelming 91 per cent regard global warming as “very” or “somewhat” serious, a ACNielsen/ Age poll has found. But people believe renewable energy is a better solution than nuclear.

(Emphasis mine) Given all the spin and bluster around nuclear, I’m really glad that people are seeing through it. And for once the right question was asked – not if nuclear could be viable and whether or not they accept it, but whether nuclear is preferred over alternatives.

Perhaps this is the wake up call the government needs? Still not holding my breath – but wow! The coverage has been amazing. Now to leverage that and turn it into lasting action…

This cartoon takes the cake though – published with the Age article above:

Cartoon in the Age - 7 Nov 2006

Spinning in Iraq

The Australian: Saddam sentence sparks clashes.

Police were battling supporters of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad last night when clashes broke out in the Iraqi capital immediately after the ousted president was sentenced to death.

Police exchanged machinegun fire with insurgents in the capital’s rebellious northern Azamiyah district, an area dominated by hardliners from among Saddam’s fellow Sunnis.

Sometimes the spin is subtle… In the first para, the author says “supporters of Saddam Hussein”. Second para, they become “insurgents”. The inference – that the “insurgents” in Iraq, responsible for the violence and bombings, are the last of the “supporters of Saddam Hussein”. The logical extension: the death of Saddam will see the insurgents off.

The idea that the remaining insurgents are Saddam supporters has long been discredited – especially by journalists like Robert Fisk who have been on the ground in Iraq. The anti-US sentiment in Iraq, fuelled by the lack of a clear timetable for withdrawal, continues to build support for the insurgents – the resistance (possibly a more appropriate term?) is not going anywhere.

The Bush administration, and the press, will continue to push this idea for some time to come. The inferences will become more subtle, but no less problematic.

Thoughts on Bono

It seems Bono can do no wrong lately. I haven’t really bought into the hype surrounding his recent interview with Andrew Denton (which I’ve heard is “really good”). I am going to see the band – to fulfil a promise I made to myself nearly 10 years ago when I missed their last tour – but I’m not a real big fan of their last few albums.

However, I was killing time yesterday and came across this interview when I was rustling through a paper left at a local cafe. I had a bit of a read, and this passage stood out for me.

“Intimacy is a great word. A lot of people are listening to music through earphones [these days] and you know, you’re whispering into people’s ears. It is a very intimate relationship and I think the place where it flowers is, of course, at these shows. You realise that people are not screaming their lungs out for you – I’ve kind of known this – they’re screaming for themselves. And they’re screaming for the moments they attach to those songs, the lives. Our songs tend to be with people at either the best of times or worst of times. When things are going normally, I’m not sure people listen to our band very much ,” he said, laughing again.

I mentioned this to Ang, suggesting that it was a pretty humble response to the kind of hysteria that he probably witnesses at shows and elsewhere. Ang wondered aloud if it was just an act?

And so a great discussion ensued. It really challenged me to think about how we idolise people.

I figure that Bono has worked out that some people do hang on his words. That doors open for him that are not open to many people. That what he says has massive influence on people (whether that influence is warranted is open to debate). And with all that I get a sense that he recognises this as a great responsibility – and therefore measures his words and uses the airtime he gets to put forward ideas that may otherwise be lost in the noise of the media.

Some other questions that came up: why do we/how can we idolise people when we don’t even know them? Is the hype around U2 the hype around Bono? Is it true, as he suggests in the interview, that the band wouldn’t work if one of the members stopped playing? Does he warrant the attention – is there something truly special about this one person? Are his words any more valid than the next person’s? Is it all an act? (I personally don’t think it is – there seems to be a consistency in what he’s been saying the past few years that would be hard to maintain unless it’s authentic.)

Anyways, the conversation challenged me for a lot of reasons, and I wanted to share some of the thoughts around it – I don’t quite know why. What do you think?

“Orwell watch”

Scott Rosenberg has an interesting take on the Saddam Hussein trial verdict: Saddam trial Orwell watch.

I have other thoughts on the verdict (something about the fact that many other crimes will go untried, truth will not be found, the death penalty should not be celebrated etc.) but not the time, nor the energy to expand.

Nuclear power

Well, it seems the PM’s hard work convincing the Australian public that nuclear is a good idea is – people believe (of course I take these poll results with a grain of salt, but it’s still a little unsettling). Feel free to add your voice to the poll…

An Inconvenient Truth

WWF had an advance screening of An Inconvenient Truth last night at the Dendy Opera Quays. We had around 250 people come to the night, and by all accounts it was a successful night.

For those that missed it, Dendy is running preview screenings at various cinemas this week – they’ve got more info on their website.

On the second viewing I still had the same minor qualms I had the first time round, but I did pick up on a few things more clearly this time. I do wish they’d modified the closing credits to reflect each local release (“write to your MP” rather than “write to congress” for example), but again, that’s a minor thing.

I do really hope that a wide audience gets to see the film, although I suspect the sceptics will remain sceptics given Margaret Pomeranz’s odd response to the film on last night’s At the Movies.

Despite giving the film four stars, she apparently (I’ve heard this second hand – would love to know if there’s a transcript somewhere?) says she wants to see an unbiased presentation and that we should get an unbiased body to report on it.

Update 2006-09-12: David posted a review that, among other things, includes Margaret’s statements.

In the film I think Gore goes out of his way to cover off all the typical objections in an unbiased manner. In one part of the film, and last night this stuck out as the most important point, he demonstrated that a review of roughly 10% of all the scientific studies (one assumes these would be reasonably “unbiased”) showed that none of them contradicted the fact that global warming is happened. That’s right – 0%.

And yet media reports of the global warming suggested that there was still some doubt about global warming 53% of the time. Little wonder, then, that people are confused.

Would Margaret consider the findings of NASA, the IPCC, or the U.N. unbiased? ‘Coz they all accept global warming as a real problem that needs action. Hopefully, over time, that message will break through the confusion.

Update 2006-09-12: David also suggests why Margaret asks the question:

…people are used to social documentaries that concentrate on conflict – where people from two very different viewpoints are interviewed and their opposing views and stories presented. Documentaries do this because they want to appear to be balanced (though they rarely are) and perhaps more so because playing up the conflict creates drama and interest.

When that format is absent from a movie, I think people naturally ask whether they’re being told the whole truth. I guess it’s also because climate change science is presented popularly as much more controversial than it truly is. I would have liked to see Gore engage some of the main opposing arguments a little more – even if they don’t truly deserve airtime.

Well put – much better than I did 😉 I thought some more about this on the weekend too, and I actually came to the conclusion that I’m glad Margaret asks the question – for a couple of reasons.

The first is that hers was an honest reaction to the film. I live in a bubble of sorts where I’m exposed to the science and frustrated by the so-called “sceptics” and media skew (see above). So it’s important that I hear what Margaret has to say to pop that bubble and get me back to reality – as well as giving me some insight as to the issues other people are likely to come across when watching the film.

The second is that she’s obviously been touched by the film and is thinking about the issue. Her awareness has been raised and I suspect she’ll dig a little deeper, and hopefully will find the evidence she felt was lacking in the film.

I think that second point is amplified with David’s final comment:

It certainly gets people thinking and talking about the issues. Our Saturday night was spent talking climate change, Kyoto and politics until the early hours of Sunday morning – not the usual Saturday night fare.

If that’s all the film does, I think it has been a done a tremendous service.

Bloggers attempt to bridge the gap

MTV: Israelis, Lebanese Blog To Each Other As War Rages [via Doc Searls]

Both sides of the political fence often claim that the mainstream media misses their side of the story. During conflict we often hear from the political leadership, be it those involved in the conflict or those outside of it. And conflicts are often presented in black-and-white/with-us-or-against-us arguments.

I think the article Doc points to shows how people, having found a voice through weblogs, can bypass the media to some degree and demonstrate that there is an alternative to war.