ABC, SBS get Oz budget boost

Government earmarks AUS$183 million over three years

SYDNEY -- Australia’s two public broadcasters The Australian Broadcasting Corp and the Special Broadcasting Service received a funding boost of AUS$183 million ($137 million) for the next three years, the bulk of which has been earmarked for more local production, the Australian government announced as part of its annual budget Tuesday.

The ABC gets an additional AUS$167 million for new initiatives over three years, the biggest increase for the ABC since its incorporation in 1983 and largely in line with what it and the independent production sector had been lobbying for. SBS, which last year made AUS $58 million in ad revenue in addition to its AUS$191 million in government funding, gets a more modest AUS$20 million over three years to produce up to 50 hours of new Australian content per year.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the additional funding for the public broadcasters “will provide an important economic stimulus to the Australian production sector and increase jobs in Australia’s creative industries."

The ABC’s new funding package includes $136.4 million to establish and run a digital terrestrial children’s channel, announced last month, and $70 million to boost the pubcasters local drama output to 90 hours per year, from its current base of around 20 hours.

Last year the ABC received a total of AUS$888 million in government funding, which remains in place.

The ABC has also been charged with building 50 “broadband hubs," around the country to develop user generated content and online communities, for which it receives an additional $15.3 million. 

But both broadcasters have been asked to more efficient use of their transmission and distributions services over the next 3 years, and the government has budgeted for AUS$11.4 million in savings during the period from the progressive closure of their analog TV signals as Australia moves to full digital TV switchover by 2013.

ABC managing director Mark Scott said the national broadcaster’s funding package “represents a significant down payment on the ABC's future as a media innovator."

"It ensures that in a testing media landscape, audiences can be confident that there is a home for quality Australian drama, with writers and producers given the opportunity to explore big and complex Australian themes, while families will find that the new children's channel will produce Australian programming that parents trust and children love,” Scott said.

However SBS managing director Shaun Brown said that while the additional $20 million was welcome it fell well short of what the multicultural broadcaster wanted to deliver future digital services.

SBS had asked the government for and extra AUS$70 million per year over the triennial funding period and warned last week that its ad revenues forecasts for this year had been cut back but AUS$8 million had been cut back and said it would have to start cutting production budgets and some jobs if additional funding did not come through.

“SBS has been feeling the effects of the economic downturn and is predicting a significant shortfall in commercial revenue in the next financial year. Coupled with only a modest injection to our triennial funding, it will be difficult to continue to deliver the services Australian audiences expect and deserve,” Brown said following the budget announcement.

He said the broadcaster will “try hard” to preserve it core services, but plans for other new services in radio, TV and online will have to be scaled back.

Nevertheless it will press ahead with the launch of a second digital channel, SBS Two, on June 1.