Oz pubcasters under funding microscope

$1 bil budget increase prompts second look

SYDNEY -- Australia will conduct a two-month review of its public broadcasters before committing more than $1 billion a year in new funding for 2009, communications minister Stephen Conroy said Thursday.

The review, based on the discussion paper "The ABC and SBS: Towards a Digital Future," invites public comment on the changing roles of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and multicultural broadcaster the Special Broadcasting Service; the implications of new technologies; and the role of the broadcasters in informing and entertaining Australians.

Issues flagged in the discussion paper include whether some operations of the ABC and SBS can be merged, particularly in the areas of transmission and distribution, and whether the ABC could raise additional revenue through pay-per-view sales of its programming online.

ABC managing director Mark Scott said that the review is "an important and timely discussion in order to secure the future of the ABC," while SBS managing director Shaun Brown said, "It is vitally important that all Australians can benefit from the advances technology can bring and that there is both ubiquity of access and participation for all Australians -- regardless of where they live or what language they speak."

The ABC receives about AUS$879 million ($588 million) a year from the government and boosts that with revenue from program sales and other commercial activity. SBS this year received AUS$191 million and is allowed to carry limited advertising, netting it another AUS$50 million a year in revenue.

SBS has asked the government for an additional AUS$70 million a year to launch a number of new digital TV and radio channels, increase its levels of local production and build online language community hubs, among other things.