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News and Current Affairs

In 2019-20, SBS pursued issues and told stories that spoke directly to the concerns of all Australians, through trusted high-quality, in-depth journalism and comprehensive coverage of major events. SBS continued to play a crucial role in reporting and investigating issues in the public interest – from Australia and around the globe.

2019-20 was one of the most significant years for major national and global news events since the end of the second world war.

SBS kept Australians informed about Australia’s devastating bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and its global health and economic impacts, and the death of George Floyd in the United States and the ensuing global and local demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement (Black Lives Matter).

SBS’s News and Current Affairs (NACA) teams delivered in-depth analysis and reporting to provide Australians with new and different perspectives, with audiences responding to SBS’s trusted coverage in record numbers. Trust in SBS News increased by six percentage points in 2019-20.1

COVID-19 required a rethink of the way SBS gathered, produced and delivered stories, with restrictions on travel and gatherings significantly impacting the news stories and current affairs programs.

SBS NACA adapted quickly and effectively to maintain the highest quality storytelling across all programs and platforms.

Insight brought in guests remotely via satellite and other delivery technologies, while Dateline reshaped its program by utilising video journalists in lockdown overseas . SBS took advantage of international partners such as ABC America and CNN and developed new arrangements with agile news content providers like the Feature Story Network to provide the depth of coverage SBS audiences expect.

It was vital to ensure audiences remained fully informed as the pandemic unfolded, so in addition to regular programming, SBS provided live coverage of regular briefings provided by the Prime Minister and senior health officials.

SBS delivered extensive in-language news and information about COVID-19 through its dedicated COVID-19 portal in 63 languages, as well as its radio services (see SBS Radio and Language Services). The news teams supported that effort, particularly ensuring coverage was available in Mandarin and Italian in the early stages of the pandemic.

Format changes introduced to the evening bulletin of SBS World News early in 2020 included a greater focus on finance reporting. This proved timely, as sporting events were cancelled and the state of the economy became of vital interest.

SBS invested in its reporting team around Australia, appointing journalists in the Northern Territory and Tasmania, expanding SBS’s presence with reporters in every state and territory.

SBS World News

SBS World News achieved its largest television audiences in more than three years as viewers sought comprehensive, informed and balanced coverage of the huge global and national stories over the past 12 months.

Ratings for the weekday evening bulletin in 2020 were 12 per cent higher than last year and nearly 6 per cent up on 2018. In the 25-54 demographic, audiences increased 19 per cent. Growth for the weekend bulletin was even greater.2

Although COVID-19 restrictions impacted SBS’s story-gathering capabilities, several measures were implemented to ensure that coverage was not compromised, including a greater level of cooperation with other Australian news media providers.

Coverage of the health and economic impact of the pandemic dominated bulletins. SBS also investigated the consequences for migrants, refugees, international students and those on temporary visas, to ensure a point of difference in its reporting and it provided relevant information for the benefit of diverse communities and all Australians.

In May 2020, the death of George Floyd sparked global protests and rallies, and riots in some American cities. With limited resources in the United States, SBS was reliant on agency and affiliate support to bolster SBS reporting.

Prior to the pandemic, the news cycle was dominated by the worst bushfire season in decades and prompted many deployments around the country. A core element of SBS coverage highlighted the contributions of community groups and individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, as part of the relief and recovery efforts.

The SBS World News digital team achieved significant audience growth by refining output, implementing a strategy that best showcases SBS’s editorial distinctiveness, and providing detailed explainers on important issues for diverse audiences.

Unique visitors increased by more than 27 per cent3 and the launch of Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) articles has been key to higher engagement.

Consumption hours surged over 50 per cent and, while chapter views fell substantially following autoplay of videos being switched off, time spent per visit jumped 35 per cent.4

SBS also achieved strong results on third party platforms, with triple the number of SBS News views on Apple News, 235 million views and 16 million total interactions on Facebook, and a 260 per cent increase in Instagram followers with a 44 per cent rise in new followers.

SBS livestreams during both the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic offered an essential service to followers, and SBS On Demand viewing of SBS World News bulletins doubled.

Aside from creating news and feature content for the 68 SBS Radio language programs, in 2019-20 SBS News continued to provide audio bulletins on demand and feature podcasts. The average monthly podcast downloads for SBS News increased 95 per cent compared with the previous year. For further information about the SBS Radio offering, see SBS Radio and Language Services.

The Feed

2019-20 was another year of transition for The Feed, shifting formats from a one-hour weekly show on SBS VICELAND to a half-hour weekly format on SBS.

The move to SBS saw The Feed become part of SBS’s much respected and awarded Tuesday night current affairs line-up. The Feed is enjoying ratings success in its new 10pm timeslot, with more than half its episodes exceeding ratings targets.

In 2019, The Feed broadcasted the second-highest rated episode in the show’s history: “Struggle Street – Six Months On”, attracting 128,000 viewers.5

On digital, The Feed continued to perform strongly with average monthly unique views across SBS platforms up 10 per cent year on year, and Page views on The Feed site section increasing 15 per cent to 500,000 per month.

The Feed gained further acclaim in June 2020 with Marty Smiley, Pat Forrest and Jack Tulleners winning the Young Walkley award for “Visual Storytelling” for their story on the Christian Democratic Party, while Ella Archibald-Binge was awarded the Young Walkley for “Long Form Feature or Special” category for her piece on stolen wages.

Where Are You Really From?

After season two was nominated for a Walkley and a Media Diversity Award, Michael Hing went back on the road for season three of the documentary series Where Are You Really From?, exploring issues central to SBS’s Charter, including diversity, identity and inclusion.

The third season of this in-house production premiered in June 2020 over four episodes, unlocking the stories of migrant communities in Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. The first two episodes of season three aired in June 2020 and achieved on average audience of just under 200,000 viewers per episode. Four in five SBS viewers believed the program helped promote cultural diversity.6

Insight

Insight again proved to be one of SBS’s strongest and most consistent performers, despite the immense challenges of producing more than a dozen episodes under physical distancing restrictions.

The average weekly audience was 317,0007 and, while down slightly on the previous year, this was achieved in an increasingly competitive environment.

Insight television audiences exceeded 350,000 viewers on ten occasions during the year and surpassed 400,000 on three. The highest rating episode was “Age Gap Relationships,” which attracted nearly 460,000 viewers.8

Encouragingly, larger numbers are watching Insight on SBS On Demand with the standouts being “Family Estrangement” with 116,000 video chapter views and “Age Gap Relationships” with 97,000.9

Insight aligned with SBS flagship programs and events, including “Deadly Future”, broadcast in NAIDOC week, which showcased young Indigenous achievers; “Coming Out To God”, which tied in with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras; and “Belonging”, examining the migrant experience, which coincided with the SBS series Who Gets to Stay in Australia?.

While Jenny Brockie continued her distinguished run as host, other SBS talent also presented Insight episodes throughout the year, including Rachael Hocking (NITV), Janice Petersen (SBS World News) and Marc Fennell and Alice Matthews (The Feed).

Dateline

In the second half of the reporting year, Dateline rose to the unprecedented challenge of continuing to deliver original and engaging international current affairs stories under global lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19.

Despite these complexities, Dateline produced compelling storytelling with more than half of this year’s episodes surpassing 200,000 viewers and seven exceeding 250,000.10 Dateline created programs in the most innovative ways, with producers utilising local crews in Los Angeles, Paris, Moscow, Peru, Germany and the UK, reinventing the way it filmed people under physical distancing rules.

As an example, “COVID-19: Saving LA’s Homeless” was shot inside the largest homeless shelter in Los Angeles, on notorious Skid Row, and showed the vulnerability of the homeless during the pandemic. This ground-breaking 30-minute story was filmed and edited in just ten days and attracted 250,000 viewers.11

The three highest rating episodes for the year were broadcast during the lockdown period, including the most watched program for 2019-20, “How Italy Has Changed”.12

Other successes were Evan Williams’ investigation on drug trafficking in Fiji, Janice Petersen’s reporting on Singapore’s highly regarded education system and Marc Fennell and producer Will Reid’s coverage of the Hong Kong anti-government protests. This episode “Hong Kong: Behind the Frontline” won a Gold Medal at the prestigious New York Festival Awards.

Small Business Secrets

Small Business Secrets returned to explore how business owners were coping after the Australian bushfires, with the team producing an SBS World News special, From the Ashes.

This was one of nine Small Business Secrets episodes in 2020, in addition to weekly news stories across digital, radio and television, featuring many migrant, refugee and Indigenous business owners achieving success or dealing with economic challenges.

SBS Current Affairs – Digital

SBS continues to commit increased resources to the production and delivery of current affairs content across owned and third-party digital platforms.

SBS focused on creating original content to sit adjacent to its three flagship programs, Insight, Dateline and The Feed, ensuring each was part of evolving public conversations on issues beyond the television content. Focus on the SBS Charter remained critical, with more in-language output and closer collaboration with SBS’s Audio & Language Content (ALC) team.

SBS piloted a program to have social videos from Insight and The Feed available with captions in Arabic and Simplified Chinese. This content was far-reaching with the video on “Age Gap Relationships” captioned in Simplified Chinese receiving 465,000 views and another on “Burnout” reaching nearly 200,000 views.

WorldWatch

WorldWatch is a vital service providing distinctive and regular news services from the homelands of many Australians, in their own language.

It also offers unique perspectives on global news events from international news organisations in English, including BBC, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, PBS NewsHour, China Global Television Network (CGTN) and ABC America’s World News Tonight.

WorldWatch broadcasts 50 international news bulletins on SBS and SBS VICELAND from 42 of the world’s broadcasters and in 38 languages other than English (LOTE). Up to 20 hours of WorldWatch news is broadcast each day across SBS and SBS VICELAND.

The 38 LOTE bulletins, and most of the English bulletins, are available online on SBS On Demand and on SBS’s language websites for a minimum of seven days after being posted.

Footnotes

  1. SBS Brand Pulse; June 2020.
  2. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.
  3. Adobe Analytics, SBS Production, Chapter Views + Unique Visitors; 01/07/2019 - 30/06/2020.
  4. Adobe Analytics, SBS Production, Chapter Views + Unique Visitors; 01/07/2019 - 30/06/2020.
  5. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.
  6. The Exchange; Where Are You Really From? S2; July 2019.
  7. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.
  8. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.
  9. Adobe Analytics, SBS Production, Chapter Views + Unique Visitors; 01/07/2019 - 30/06/2020.
  10. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.
  11. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.
  12. (TV) OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, 01/07/2019-30/06/2020, Sun-Sat 1800-2400, Combined Average Audience, Total Individuals + People 25-54, Consolidated 28.