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SBS Radio and Language Services

In 2019-20, SBS Radio remained the world’s most linguistically diverse public broadcaster, delivering cross-platform services in 68 languages to the many Australians who speak a language other than English at home. SBS’s services are not just about helping new migrants settle, they also help people maintain and pass on their culture to future generations.

The dual national crises of the 2019-20 bushfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront the unique value of SBS’s multilingual news and information services. SBS became an essential source of coverage for the nearly five million Australians who speak a language other than English at home.1

Digital acceleration

The launch of 63 new language websites in August, and a continued focus on developing digital content skills saw record numbers of Australians engage with SBS Radio and online language content in 2019-20. Of the 3.6 million average monthly unique visitors to SBS Radio and language websites, local audiences grew 27 per cent.2

Continuing SBS’s drive to innovate, be audience-centric and service users on their preferred devices, the newly launched language websites were developed with a mobile-first design. More than 88 per cent of visits to language website content in 2019-20 were through a mobile device.3

Audio consumption saw accelerated growth in 2019-20 across SBS-owned and third-party digital platforms. More than 4.7 million audio plays and downloads were recorded on average every month – a 43 per cent increase on the previous financial year.4 More SBS podcasts than ever were downloaded, with over 2.3 million episodes per month accessed by audiences – an increase of 51 per cent year on year.5

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, audiences engaged with SBS Radio and language content as a trusted source of information. In March 2020, a record-breaking 2.8 million podcast episodes were downloaded in the month.6 The most popular SBS podcasts for the year overall were SBS French, SBS Italian and SBS World News Radio.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the SBS Radio app received record engagement with over 759,000 audio plays,7 with audiences seeking the latest COVID-19 news and information in their preferred language.


The Audio and Language Content (ALC) team’s coverage of COVID-19 began in January 2020, as first news of an outbreak in China caused concern amongst SBS’s Chinese-speaking audiences.

Spearheaded by local community and homeland coverage by the SBS Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Italian teams, ALC continued to assist audiences to make sense of the developments in February 2020 as the threat of the outbreak to Australia became apparent. From the outset, the language teams’ access to unique and distinctive perspectives enabled SBS to share important insights and explore the 'real-people' impacts of the outbreak.

ALC stories from this period included testimonials of Chinese, Korean and Italian- speaking Australians quarantined overseas. On radio, there was increased talkback for audiences to voice their concerns, discuss reactions in the community and share personal stories of people on the front line tackling the outbreak overseas – through interviews with nurses, doctors and researchers looking for safe treatments.

In March, as Australian restrictions commenced, ALC launched the SBS Multilingual Coronavirus Portal, a single destination for translated fact sheets and accurate news coverage in 63 languages.

The purpose of this ‘one-stop shop' was to make it easier for audiences to discover and navigate up-to-date health information, understand the restrictions and their purpose, dispel misinformation, and explore stories which provided inspiration and hope for audiences. As Australians ‘stayed at home’, SBS’s language teams helped audiences cope with the financial and psychological upheaval and provided important information to address concerns about school education, family violence and shopping safely.

Audience and stakeholder engagement with SBS’s multilingual and multiplatform response was immediate and positive, with 83 per cent of key SBS community stakeholders aware of SBS’s Multilingual Coronavirus Portal and 96 per cent of them finding it valuable or very valuable.8 Community organisations across the country, along with state and federal governments, reached out to SBS for assistance in delivering key messages to Australians who speak a language other than English and to access SBS's COVID-19 factsheets, explainers, news stories, videos and infographics for their networks and communities.

An example of SBS’s close collaboration with stakeholders was the ‘Coronavirus explained’ videos in 59 languages, where SBS collaborated with the Federal Department of Health to capture the key health and safety messages. As at 30 June, the videos had been viewed more than 600,000 times across SBS On Demand, ALC Facebook sites and the SBS Australia YouTube channel.

To generate awareness and assist audiences, ALC established a 'virtual' project team with SBS Creative Labs to produce multilingual infographics to complement online articles and share on social media. Produced in up to 63 languages, the infographics reinforced key messages such as the need for social distancing during Easter and Ramadan, travelling safely, domestic violence and the availability of COVID-19 testing.

ALC and SBS Creative Labs also created multilingual data visualisations to track COVID-19 statistics nationally and by state, together with a mapping tool which enabled audiences to explore the outbreak around the world. The visualisations were translated for ALC’s largest digital audiences - Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Nepali, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Vietnamese and English.

2019-20 bushfire coverage

News and information about the severity of the drought conditions around Australia, and the associated bushfire risk, was a continuing focus of SBS’s in-language coverage in 2019-20.

In preparation for the summer bushfire season, multilingual content was focused on two key areas - the need for individual bushfire plans and the health impacts of summer weather.

As the bushfire threat became real with fires across NSW and Victoria starting earlier than in previous seasons, SBS language teams responded with a story-led approach utilising audio, text, video and images to communicate the loss of life, the impact on animal populations, and the toll on regional communities and volunteer firefighters battling the blazes.

To complement breaking news and explainer content, SBS Radio coverage amplified unique and inspiring stories about individuals and community organisations who were ‘giving back’ to the wider community through volunteering their time and resources to assist those on the frontline, mending fences on rural properties, crafting mittens for injured koalas, and preparing food for emergency services workers and victims.

Activations and Community Engagement

SBS celebrated a love of learning languages and language retention with the fourth SBS National Languages Competition in 2019. To coincide with the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, SBS partnered with First Languages Australia to promote Indigenous language learning, delivering a significant increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entries.

Overall, 96 languages were represented through the entries (up from 82 in 2018). The awards ceremony was hosted in the SBS offices in Sydney with the winners and their families in attendance along with key stakeholders and Julian Leeser MP, Federal Member for Berowra.

SBS Radio engaged with audiences in their communities through community festivals, fairs, sporting events, stakeholder functions and community meetings across Australia. The first six months were busy with festivals including Diwali and the Moon Festival in October. SBS also attended the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra in late February 2020, engaging with many communities and obtaining interviews with key community members.

With the onset of COVID-19 in early March, all face-to-face engagement opportunities were postponed or cancelled, including Lunar New Year celebrations. The cessation of large public gatherings created an opportunity to reflect on key cultural moments through activations on SBS platforms, including competitions and lighter talkback on radio. This pivot to platform activations provided audiences with some light entertainment alongside the heavy news of the day.

Between July 2019 and February 2020, SBS undertook SBS community consultations. Five language communities were hosted in Sydney and Melbourne, to seek feedback about SBS’s language services and to gain deeper insight into these communities.

SBS Radio was also extensively involved in the biennial Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) Conference in Hobart in October. See FECCA Conference 2019.

SBS music channels

With millions of Australians working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in listening to SBS music channels - SBS Chill, SBS PopDesi and SBS PopAsia.

In March, SBS Chill was positioned as your ‘work from home’ radio station with a social, on-channel radio and TV promotional campaign. In total, more than six million stream starts9 were recorded in 2019-20 with audiences accessing SBS music stations via the SBS Radio app, SBS website, Digital Radio (DAB+), DTV and third-party audio aggregator platforms, such as TuneIn Radio and iHeart Radio.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016 Census.
  2. Adobe Analytics, SBS Production, Unique Visitors + Australian Unique Visitors; 01/07/2019 - 30/06/2020.
  3. Adobe Analytics, mobile devices, unique visitors.
  4. Adobe Analytics, Audio Play. Google Analytics, Total Events. Feedpress, Unique Downloads. Soundcloud, Listens. Spotify, Starts. Whooshkaa, Listens. TuneIn, Session Starts, Streamguys, Stream Starts; July 2019 to June 2020.
  5. Feedpress, Podcast Downloads; 01/07/2019 – 30/06/2020.
  6. Feedpress, Podcast Downloads; 01/07/2019 – 30/06/2020.
  7. Adobe Analytics, SBS Radio App, Audio Play; 01/03/2020 – 31/03/2020.
  8. The Exchange; SBS Community Brand Tracker: June 2020.
  9. Streamguys, SBS Chill + SBS PopDesi + SBS PopAsia, Stream Starts; 01/07/2019 - 30/06/2020.