Michael Ebeid is the Managing Director and CEO of SBS (Special Broadcasting Services). He is the former Executive Director, Corporate Strategy and Marketing for the ABC.
SBS’s stated purpose is ‘To inspire all Australians to explore, appreciate and celebrate our diverse world and by doing so contribute to an inclusive and cohesive society.’ What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity for me is really about having an open mind, to understand other people, other cultures and other perspectives. At the end of the day diversity is what makes our world far more interesting, our society more interesting and our corporations more interesting. Many global studies show that having a diversity of thinking within corporations makes stronger businesses that outperform their market.
How do you execute on the commercial opportunity of diversity?
Ultimately it is about ensuring we are relevant to our audiences - and we target the various communities differently. We broadcast in 74 different languages. From an advertising perspective if you target those communities [in their own language] they feel like you have made a bigger effort to attract them, that you respect them and that you understand that their culture might be different. Those advertisers who take the effort to translate their ads definitely get a better result, and loyalty.
From an audience perspective, if you learn another language, no matter how proficient you might be, you still understand issues better in your first language. We broadcast in multiple languages so people can participate and feel included in our society. Many community groups come from countries where the national broadcaster is a state broadcaster, it is a propaganda machine and not to be trusted. We want to break down some of those stereotypes and make a connection with them.
Digital has helped, too. For example, previously, if you were an Italian listener and missed your Italian radio program at 8am, that was it - you missed it. But now with digital you can catch up online or on a mobile device via the on demand app at a time that suits you - so our usage has increased dramatically.
How would you describe SBS's audience?
Our SBS audiences are truly diverse. Our radio listeners tend to be very multicultural through the language programs. Our television audiences are multicultural but also traditional mainstream Australian audiences as well. Our audience base tends to be more highly educated, slightly higher income than the average in Australia. It tends to be people who are interested in the world, interested in world news and world events more than the average. From an advertiser perspective our audiences are quite appealing because they are hard to reach audiences - typically not people who would watch the commercial TV networks.
You're on 24 different platforms, more than any other network. What are the benefits?
Having SBS On Demand on all those platforms - digital platforms, mobile platforms, connected TVs, game consoles etc., is all about being where the audience is. We do that for a very simple reason, to extend the reach of our content. Because we are on all those platforms, we are now delivering over 15 million views every month and engaging with audiences that wouldn't typically have come to us on SBS or SBS 2. Some of our programs on SBS On Demand have never been on TV; it’s an entire library with about 5,000 hours of content - and it’s a free, legal library. It’s not a subscription-based model but supported by advertisers, which has worked well with our audiences. Our usage is far higher today than it ever used to be when we only scheduled content on linear TV.
Traditionally SBS and SBS 2 have tended to be slightly older, and slightly more male. With all these digital platforms we are getting slightly younger and more female, especially now we have launched Food Network.
It has been terrific for us to get that demographic who don't normally engage with us. Food Network reaches over 4 million viewers a month, of which about a million are people who don't normally watch SBS and SBS 2. We have been promoting Family Law, one of our drama comedies, on Food Network recently and of those million we had about 200,000 come to SBS’s main channel and SBS 2 to watch it. They were never SBS traditional audiences so it has been great to increase our reach that way.
Free-to-air television is diversifying its revenue streams. What have you been doing in this area?
Part of the push over the past few years to help SBS generate more of its own revenue is that we have been working with producers to sell some of our format rights. Go Back to Where You Came From sold in over 20 countries and the format rights have been sold to about 15 countries, nine of which have made the show in their own language. A lot of the food content we make in Australia is very appealing to countries overseas and food networks overseas. So that's been good for us as well.
Last year you had some audience growth. You're up 13.1 percent in ‘all people’, while the overall free-to-air market declined in viewing. What do you put that down to?
We've had to fire on all fronts to get that sort of terrific double digit growth year on year in a time that the market has been contracting. It's been a three pronged approach: first, content - making sure our content is very contemporary and differentiated from what everyone else is offering. Second - we’ve amped up marketing and publicity. Traditionally we have not spent a lot of money on marketing, so we had great shows that nobody knew about. Now we are doing a lot more marketing off network and that's paid dividends for us. The third prong is the schedule. We improved the schedule and navigation so that people can find our shows more easily. All those things put together has meant SBS is now more in the consideration set for the viewer.
You recently entered a deal with Optus to broadcast the English Premier League. Why SBS and what are you going to do differently?
The English Premier League (EPL) is clearly one of the world's best and biggest football leagues. We've wanted the EPL for a long time, we've been doing international football with the World Cup for over 30 years, and so it complements what we do. Football fans will get 38 games throughout the year, one game a week every year, instead of waiting for the World Cup once every four years.
From Optus's perspective, we are able to bring our football expertise and also share with them some of our World Cup content for their football offering for their customers.
Do you implement diversity in your hiring practices and if so, how?
We do like to make sure we have diverse teams, diversity is really important in the way we think, in the sort of discussions you have over a meeting table. For different viewpoints you need people with different backgrounds. When I say ‘different backgrounds’ I don’t just mean culturally, but also experience-wise and in terms of the sectors they have come from. There are things you can do to ensure you end up with a good diverse leadership team. If I’m working with a recruiter and they give me a short list from the outset with four white males, I will send it back and ask them a lot of questions. Ultimately we select the best candidate, but it is important to make sure the recruitment funnel is broad and representative. On screen, we are really proud that SBS reflects faces that you would see in the main streets of cities and towns around the country. We are the only network that truly reflects today’s Australia.
What are you most proud of?
Firstly, changing the culture internally and being an organisation that is far more achievement-focused. We are more commercially-minded than we were in the past; that has helped drive a sense of achievement in the organisation and allowed us to invest more into content.
The second thing I’d say is our relevance to Australia. I'm very proud of that, we’ve done that through content with broader appeal while still being on Charter. When you think about the fact that Australia is now culturally far more complex than it ever has been, SBS is more relevant today than ever.
People say to me, ‘Do you still need an SBS?’ I would argue that we need it more now than ever before because as humans we are afraid of what we don't know. If we can understand other cultures - our neighbours, our work colleagues - that helps with social cohesion.
And third, I am really proud of our digital transformation. SBS On Demand, our digital TV channels, the digital transformation in radio [podcasts etc.] has been great for our audiences, but also internally, for efficiencies in the back office. We have a cloud based playout facility; we've implemented a really good content management system. It is one thing to say you're on 24 platforms but if you don't implement that efficiently, it can be really, really expensive. We have been able to automate all our reformatting of content using digital transformation projects internally, so we've done a lot in the back office to achieve all the things we have spoken about today.