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From the Chair and Managing Director

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts
Parliament House ACT 2600

Dear Minister,

On behalf of the SBS Board of Directors, we are pleased to present the Annual Report of Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS) for the year ending 30 June 2020.

This Annual Report was approved by a resolution of the Corporation Directors on 26 August 2020 and has been prepared in accordance with the relevant requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991. It also assesses the organisation’s performance against the SBS 2019-2020 Corporate Plan.

This year has been like no other. Australians have experienced an unprecedented need for trusted and reliable news and information, and a desire to feel connected in times of disruption and physical separation. As one of the country’s most trusted media brands1, with a unique ability to reach Australia’s diverse communities, SBS has played a vital role in responding to these needs. Through our multiplatform offering in more than 60 languages, in 2019-20 SBS continued to be an essential service, delivering distinctive content and news to keep Australians informed and safe.

News and information about the severity of Australia’s drought conditions, and the associated bushfire risk, were a continuing focus. As the bushfire threat became real, SBS communicated key safety information in multiple languages and reported on the devastating loss of life and property, and the toll on regional communities and volunteer firefighters. SBS also amplified inspiring stories of individuals and diverse community organisations giving back, and shared insights into how business owners were coping.

In early 2020, Australians faced the transition from a national bushfire emergency to a global pandemic – a once-in-a-century event that has disrupted and reshaped the health, economic and social strands of life, both here and abroad. SBS will be a vital tool in Australia’s ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the crisis began to escalate, SBS launched its Multilingual Coronavirus Portal in just four days, with an unparalleled capacity to deliver critical updates and health information in 63 languages, on a rolling basis. SBS promoted the ‘stay home’ messaging, dispelled myths and deepened community understanding of key issues. SBS Radio gave audiences direct access to health experts via talkback in their own language, and brought comfort by encouraging people to share tips to stay connected with family and friends. SBS also worked closely with the Federal Department of Health to deliver essential health and safety messages through its ‘Coronavirus Explained’ videos in 59 languages.

NITV News provided critical updates on the impact of COVID-19 and issues facing Indigenous Australians, including concerns about those living in remote communities. SBS was the only Australian television news bulletin providing comprehensive daily

coverage of the pandemic’s impact across the globe – particularly focusing on the homelands of many of our largest migrant communities. The impact and value of SBS’s trusted news coverage was evident, with record audience numbers and digital traffic to our language services, as well as SBS World News.

COVID-19 has also had a major impact on Australia’s creative industries, including the production sector. As the pandemic developed and restrictions were put in place, SBS programming was impacted in a range of ways with events cancelled, local and international productions temporarily halted, and restrictions in place. SBS has been working closely with its many partners to continue work on productions where it has been safe to do so, and has also invested in the development of projects to support the sector. The Eurovision Song Contest is an example of SBS’s agility, finding new ways of working and producing alternative programming to allow the annual celebration, loved by so many Australians, to continue despite the event itself being cancelled for 2020.

Beyond the impact of COVID-19, SBS’s total audience is growing. In 2019-20, SBS reached 11.9 million Australians each month2, despite linear audiences declining across the market. At the same time, SBS engaged more Australians on its digital platforms, with more than 70 million hours of programming streamed on SBS On Demand3 and registered users climbing to 8.3 million.4 SBS’s digital video consumption as a share of its overall video consumption is the highest in the Australian free-to-air television market. Digital is growing at a rate faster than the linear decline, meaning SBS is connecting with more people than ever before.

June 2020 marked 45 years since the first multilingual messages hit the airwaves on 2EA and 3EA – two small radio stations that would become SBS. SBS’s founding belief remains true; that all Australians, regardless of geography, age, cultural background or language skills, should have access to high-quality, independent, culturally-relevant Australian media, and be able to participate in public life.

SBS is a valuable institution, helping Australia become more inclusive and participative. We know inclusion yields economic benefits – for all. Research SBS commissioned from Deloitte Access Economics in August 2019 demonstrated that improving social inclusion could generate a $12.7 billion annual boost to the Australian economy.

Guided by our Charter, SBS delivers impactful content that raises awareness of important social issues. Observational documentary series like Filthy Rich & Homeless and Struggle Street returned in 2020, exploring challenges of poverty, homelessness and disadvantage experienced in our cities and regional areas, while Where Are You Really From? used first-person stories to explore the contributions of migrants to Australian communities, delving into issues such as racism, social integration, and financial and intergenerational struggles.

In 2020, SBS, and National Indigenous Television (NITV) in particular, played an important role in providing a place for First Nations communities to explore issues of race and equality reverberating around the world, a platform for having their voices heard, and a unique and vital perspective for all Australians. SBS and NITV news teams covered the global and local news stories. The Point examined the parallels between injustices in the United States and Australia, highlighting the deaths in custody of Indigenous people in Australia and other systemic institutional failures, and Living Black provided in-depth coverage and shared powerful stories from communities. SBS On Demand also curated a Black Lives Matter collection of programs and documentaries, exploring these topics further.

Storytelling is an important vehicle to enable people to feel empowered, included and connected. The Hunting5 explored the issue of online safety and was the most successful original drama series in the history of SBS, with a combined reach of 1.6 million. In partnership with the eSafety Commissioner, SBS Learn created discussion guides for teachers and families about cyberbullying and image sharing, to promote safe and positive experiences online, extending the impact of the series.

From football to cycling, SBS’s sports coverage continued to bring people together. In August 2019, SBS and the NBA partnered in a multiyear broadcast agreement, building on SBS’s deal with the NBL, making SBS the exclusive free-to-air home of basketball – one of the nation’s leading team sports for participation.6

In 2019–20, SBS continued to provide unrivalled services for the nearly five million Australians who speak a language other than English at home, with a strategic focus to
super-serve diverse communities with more multilingual content than ever before. Across SBS Radio services, audio content consumption grew by 43 per cent, with nearly 4.7 million audio plays per month, and SBS podcast downloads were up 51 per cent.7

In July 2019, SBS successfully launched SBS World Movies as a free-to-air channel, building on our legacy as the home of distinctive global cinema. We continue to increase the volume of subtitled content on SBS On Demand, enabling audiences whose primary language is not English to enjoy SBS’s original Australian stories, creating deeper relationships across platforms. In February 2020, SBS became the first media operator in Australia to offer in-language login and navigation, extending the utility of our language investment. Users are now able to log in to SBS On Demand in Simplified Chinese and Arabic on selected platforms, with more languages to come.

Our evolving multilingual offering is not only important for new migrants settling into life in a new country, it also supports the needs of a rapidly ageing population to ensure older Australians remain connected to Australian society, championing the benefits of multiculturalism and helping communities maintain and preserve their culture through language for future generations.

Beyond our content, SBS engages directly with the communities we serve. In 2019-20, we shared in key moments such as Lunar New Year, Ramadan and Diwali – with many events marked in new ways during times of physical distancing. SBS has brought more of our diverse communities’ experiences to wider Australian audiences, including as the official media and education partner of the International Federation of Athletes with Intellectual Impairments ("INAS") Global Games 2019, and as the broadcast and education partner of NAIDOC Week.

SBS authentically reflects contemporary Australia unlike any other broadcaster and is committed to exploring diversity on and off screen. We continued to work closely with industry partners in 2019-20 through initiatives including the Diversity Talent Escalator, Digital Originals, the R.I.D.E. (Respect, Inclusion, Diversity and Equality) Feature Film Fund and Pitch to Pilot which provide opportunities for professionals from underrepresented backgrounds and support the development of the next generation of diverse creative voices.

As we entered a new decade, we also farewelled outgoing Chair, Dr Bulent Hass Dellal AO, who we had the great privilege to work with. We thank Hass for his inspiring and passionate advocacy for SBS over the past 10 years, championing its role in Australia.

SBS is a truly unique, efficient and effective public broadcaster, more relevant in the current climate than ever before. As our nation recovers from the effects of COVID-19, and contends with important questions about contemporary Australia and its diversity, SBS will continue to provide our valued services to the community in innovative ways, telling stories otherwise untold, supporting cultural, economic and civic participation, and inspiring all Australians to experience the benefits of social inclusion.


  1. Roy Morgan Risk Monitor, April 2020
  2. OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS Network, Jul 19 to Jun 20, Sun-Sat, 0200-0200, Combined Average Audience + Combined 5min Cons Reach, Total Individuals, Consolidated 28.
  3. OzTAM VPM Database, SBS, Live + VOD, Jul 19 to Jun 20.
  4. Adobe Analytics (Janrain data); Registered Users.
  5. OzTAM + RegTAM FTA Database, SBS, Aug 19, Combined 5min Consecutive Reach, Total Individuals, Consolidated 28.
  6. Roy Morgan, November 2018: http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7800-almost-1-million-australians-now-play-basketball-201811090630.
  7. Adobe Analytics, Audio Play. Google Analytics, Total Events. Feedpress, Unique Downloads. Soundcloud, Listens. Spotify, Starts. Whooshkaa, Listens. TuneIn, Session Starts. Monthly Average between Jul 18 to Jun 19 vs Jul 19 to Jun 20. Streamguys, Stream Starts. Aug 18 to Jun 19 vs Jul 19 to Jun 20.