“We’re Not Intellectually Wanky”: SBS Supremo Michael Ebeid

Michael Ebeid - SBS Managing Director

B&T grabbed 10 minutes with the ever-charming SBS CEO Michael Ebeid, where Ninja Warrior, media reforms and love were all discussed. Okay, maybe not that last one. Here’s the chat condensed to easily digested nuggets…

John Bastick
Posted by John Bastick

SBS is doing so many fantastic shows at the moment, it must be frustrating everyone’s watching Ninja Warrior over at Nine?

Look it is frustrating when you see how much work goes into them. A lot of our (SBS’s) stories are about human interaction, so we’d naturally love more Australians to see them; particularly the documentaries we’re doing about helping us understand each other better.

Is that being a bit intellectually wanky, though? In reality, the average Aussie wants MasterChef and Ninja Warrior?

You could say that, but we’re not about being intellectually wanky because it’s about humans and human connections, be they news, documentaries or drama, it’s about the human connection and understanding each other better. For us it’s all about… our audience wouldn’t see it as intellectually wanky at all… we want to connect with people in Australia who have an inquisitive mind, who want to understand the world, to explore the word, its cultures, its people; they’re the sort of audiences that come to us. Our World News is in a league of its own. We don’t just cover the news, the headlines, we talk about why did that bomb go off? What does that mean to our Australian audiences? What does it mean for the communities in this country that come from those countries, and we go into that depth, that analysis, and that really adds value to people’s lives.

Where do you see SBS sitting in the current media zeitgeist? Your detractors would say you should merge with the ABC, the free-to-airs don’t want you taking any more of their ad dollars; plus, we’ve got new media reforms on the way… It’s confusing times?

Right now I’d say I am very glad that I am the CEO of a niche network that is very targeted on what it does and what it delivers; as opposed to running a media organisation that is very general entertainment because they’re all the same at the moment, they’re all doing very similar stuff and SBS is truly doing unique content that no one else is doing…

But Seven, Nine and Ten have to chase the ratings, the ad dollars…

Yes, but that’s the very reason we’ve been very successful this year, we’ve seen an increase in our numbers in both audience reach and share because we offer something different to what everybody else is doing. And one thing we always try and do at SBS is to try and make sure our content is always truly unique, we don’t want content that everybody else has got, and so to be able to offer Australians an alternative is what’s really helping us.

You were a strong candidate for the ABC job [before Michelle Guthrie was appointed in December 2015]…

No, there was a lot of media speculation about that, and the fact is I wasn’t actually a candidate at all.

Do you think that SBS probably doesn’t get the recognition it deserves?

I’ve never judged our success by our overall market share. I judge our success on a couple of other things. One is our reach, because we’re reaching 14 million Australians every month. People don’t necessarily come and watch us night, after night, after night, hour, after hour, as they might do with Seven or Nine. They come to us for certain programs and that means we’re engaging with more Australians than we ever have been in our history. Go back five years and our reach was eleven million and it’s now 14 million, so that’s three million more Australians watch SBS every month than they did a few years ago. The other thing that’s been amazing is SBS On Demand. Because our shows aren’t live, reality TV, competition based, our shows you can watch On Demand when it suits you and not when our schedulers tell you. Two million Australians are registered users of SBS On Demand, we’re delivering 20 million video views every month, and that’s a huge figure. On our anecdotal research, to compare that to our TV reach of about seven or eight per cent, with On Demand we’re getting about 20 per cent or more of all cathch-up viewing in Australia. Take away ABC Kids, because we don’t have any kids’ content, then it’s more like 30 per cent.

Advertising on SBS? The government wants you to be more self-funded, Labor doesn’t, while the free-to-airs would prefer you had no advertising at all. Your stance on that?

Let me clarify that. Firstly, it was never SBS asking for more ad time, it was the government that wanted to give us more ad time because they wanted to reduce our funding. Look, our audiences accept that we have five minutes of ads every hour because they know that the money goes back into production, it goes back into SBS and that means we can do more things. The government then decided to withdraw that legislation, that was their decision, and we’re quite happy working with the five minutes of ads an hour. This year we’ll generate over $100 million of our own commercial revenue and that money enables us to do a lot more Australian commissions and we want to tell more Australian stories and our ambition is to try and increase our Australian content from where it is today, but we need more funding to do that.

The media story of 2017 has been the shenanigans over at Seven with Worner and Harrison etc. Your views on that? Has that proven fortuitous for SBS in any way?

That’s something I’m not going to comment on, ha, ha, ha!