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December 1, 2003

SBS budget request keeps faith with digital expansion

From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Dec 1, 2003

By Cosima Marriner

Undeterred by the ABC's decision to abandon multichannelling because of a lack of funds, SBS is lobbying the Government for more than $10 million to broadcast extra digital channels.

The multicultural broadcaster has made digital expansion the centrepiece of its submission for the next budget. Keen to gain a foothold in the nascent digital TV market, SBS is seeking money to beef up its fledgling World News Channel and to establish a World Music Channel.

The station's managing director, Nigel Milan, refused to confirm the amount SBS had requested from the Government for multichannelling. However, it is believed to be broadly in line with the $10.7 million SBS sought last year.

In May, the ABC axed its two extra digital channels, ABC Kids and Fly, after the Government refused to increase its budget. This pitched the national broadcaster into a bitter wrangle with the former communications minister, Richard Alston, over spending, editorial bias and the handling of complaints.

The ABC is not releasing any information on its submission for the upcoming budget. But it is understood to have decided against asking for more funds for multichannelling, following the flat rejection of its last budget request for an extra $250 million over three years.

Instead, the ABC is believed to be seeking a renewal of special regional programming funding worth $17.8 million a year, which is due to expire in 2005. It is also after money to cover some minor programming cost increases, including closed captioning - the facility to display the text of what is being said on the screen.

Despite the ABC's disappointing experience with multichannelling, SBS is confident it can persuade the Government to fund the expansion of its own extra channels by demonstrating a clear commitment to the service. It also argues that enhancing the channels will spur the adoption of digital TV and ensure the station has a strong digital presence in the future.

SBS wants to add extra bulletins to its World News Channel, including specific schools programming and locally produced foreign-language news.

Its proposed World Music Channel would showcase music from all over the world and appeal to all ages.

Multichannelling accounts for 90 per cent of SBS's budget submission. It is also seeking a few million dollars for its website and for the creation of a second SBS radio station in all the capital cities (it has two each in Sydney and Melbourne).

In the last budget, SBS sought a cumulative increase of $112 million over three years.

It received just $16 million, primarily to help fund the purchase of overseas programs. SBS is believed to be asking for about $15 million for one year in the upcoming budget.

Copyright © 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.