Mark Scott urges merger with SBS
Outgoing ABC managing director Mark Scott has urged the government to merge the backroom operations of the ABC and SBS in a bid to ease funding pressure on the two broadcasters, saying if a multicultural broadcaster was set up today it would not be created as a standalone media business.
In an address to the Press Club where he celebrated his time at the helm of the national broadcaster, Scott warned that SBS faced a challenging future battling other commercial media for advertising funding, and that bringing the two together would preserve the future for both and allow them to fill the growing demand for content – an element he said was now under real pressure at the ABC.
Scott’s comments expanded on his recent declaration to a Senate Estimates Committee hearing that the existence of SBS should be questioned and he called on the government to “have a grown-up conversation”.
SBS MD Michael Ebeid
“Clearly, both the ABC and SBS have loyal audiences. And those audiences were serviced in quite distinctive ways when each only had one TV channel,” said Scott in his address.
“But the model was created nearly 40 years ago. Many lifetimes in media terms, particularly in television.”
Scott said that SBS programming had moved away from its multicultural charter as it chased commercial income to underpin its reduced federal funding.
“If you wanted to create a new broadcasting service to serve multicultural audiences, you wouldn’t create an entire separate broadcasting organisation,” he said.
“If you were starting today, you would think carefully through whether the SBS advertising model is now sustainable given all the other opportunities available to advertisers and whether it makes the multi-lingual charter harder to deliver.
He said while SBS and the ABC had worked more closely together in recent years, the ability to do so as separate entities had reached its limit.
“By coming together, SBS and the ABC could still offer distinct brands under distinct charters. But it could be done without an entire separate back office, stand-alone buildings, studios and technology, IT, legal, finance, HR and corporate divisions – or a separate board. We could spend more of the funding serving audiences.
“But most importantly, while preserving SBS’s distinctiveness and identity in this way, bringing the public broadcasters together would save an estimated $40 million of the $1.3bn annual spend on public broadcasting.”
He said that it has been 30 years since the last assessment of a combined ABC and SBS and that if pursued, such a merger would provide even greater financial benefits to public broadcasting in the future.
“I don’t raise this, as some critics have suggested, because the ABC has failed to meet its own efficiency measures,” he said.
“This is simply incorrect. The ABC has committed to delivering the $250m demanded by Government and we are on track to do so. I raise it because it is a real public policy option that could preserve services and distinctiveness whilst delivering real savings for investment in the broadcasters.”
“I don’t raise this, as some critics have suggested, because the ABC has failed to meet its own efficiency measures. This is simply incorrect. The ABC has committed to delivering the $250m demanded by Government and we are on track to do so. I raise it because it is a real public policy option that could preserve services and distinctiveness whilst delivering real savings for investment in the broadcasters.”
Demanding a “grown-up conversation”, Scott said future leadership of the ABC, SBS and the government must look into the potential of a merger.
“These future matters will be for others to deal with and I hope they take up the challenge,” he said.