Senator Helen Kroger – Estimates question about SBS broadcast of ‘The Promise’

photo of Senator Helen Kroger
February 14, 2012

Questioned SBS presale arrangements for the broadcast of the ‘The Promise’, expected revenue from DVD sales, and the selection criteria for purchasing this type of program.

You can see why there is the number of people who wish to ask questions on the level of concern about this production. I will follow up with just a couple more comments, then. Firstly, when you are assessing the quality of content and quality of script that you were referring to and it is a subject based on a particular take on history, do you engage historical experts to give you input into assessing that quality?

Whole interaction with Mr Michael Ebeid (SBS Managing Director) and Mr Bruce Meagher (Director Strategy and Communications, SBS) during Senate Estimates (Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Portfolio).

Senator KROGER: When you say you had a presale arrangement, what is that based on?

 

Mr Ebeid : It is usually X thousand dollars per hour of production, and there would be a cost on the total value of the production. We would have paid very roughly in the average figure of what we pay for a normal hour of that sort of drama.

 

Senator KROGER: And how much was the production?

 

Mr Meagher : We will have to take that on notice.

 

Mr Ebeid : Yes. I probably would say that that is also commercial in confidence because we would not talk about what we pay for any of our productions in an environment like this, but we might be able to give that to you.

 

Senator KROGER: If you can, that would be good. How would it compare to other productions—other series?

 

Mr Ebeid : In terms of cost?

 

Senator KROGER: Yes.

 

Mr Ebeid : I checked. It was right in the middle as an average hourly cost. We are talking thousands, not tens of thousands. We are not talking a lot of money.

 

Senator KROGER: Since I am not involved in the media industry, could you give me an example of another production of a series that it would equate to?

 

Mr Ebeid : Most dramas—say a two-hour drama—might go for anywhere between about $8,000 and $20,000 for an acquired piece of content.

 

Senator KROGER: Okay. You mentioned to Senator Ryan that you have produced DVDs of the series. How many DVDs have you actually produced to date?

 

Mr Ebeid : That I could not tell you.

 

Senator KROGER: Could you take that on notice?

 

Mr Ebeid : I can make a note of the numbers, yes.

 

Senator KROGER: And I presume, then, if you organise the production of DVDs you have an estimated forecast of what profits you will make from that.

 

Mr Ebeid : Yes, there probably would be.

 

Senator KROGER: Can you provide us with that?

 

Mr Ebeid : Sure.

 

Senator KROGER: So you have no idea how many DVDs you expect to sell?

 

Mr Ebeid : I honestly have no idea. I have not asked that question. We do sell a lot of DVDs a year.

 

Senator KROGER: I appreciate that; but, given the sensitivity of this particular production, I think it is pertinent.

 

Mr Ebeid : I am happy to get you the figures. Might I also add, while we are on the DVD, that the DVD is widely available around the world, including on Amazon, so it is available from many other sources as well.

 

Senator KROGER: What is the selection criteria for purchasing a series such as this?

 

Mr Ebeid : First and foremost is quality. Quality is very high; and, indeed, this production was acclaimed as one of the best produced and highest quality dramas. When we go through a lot of our dramas—particularly with SBS, where we try to do a lot of foreign film as well—we try to get a balance from different parts of the world, different topics and different issues, and our acquisitions team would try to keep a balance of a lot of those genres.

 

Senator KROGER: When you talk about quality, are you talking about quality of the production itself?

 

Mr Ebeid : Yes.

 

Senator KROGER: Quality of the content?

 

Mr Ebeid : Yes.

 

Senator KROGER: What other aspects are taken into account there?

 

Mr Meagher : I think one of the things would be the script and the stories, which obviously goes to what Mr Ebeid is saying. One of the things about this story is that it is a very complex and nuanced drama driven very strongly by characters, which is part of the reason why we would say it does not fall into the stereotyping area. The characters themselves, whether they are the Jewish characters, the British or the Palestinians, are actually quite complicated individuals in difficult circumstances responding in different ways. I think that level of dramatic interest and scripting is very important.

 

Senator KROGER: So the controversial element of the story was critical to the decision-making process and purchasing it?

 

Mr Ebeid : Certainly when they purchased the program, which would have been about 18 months ago, that was a key consideration. When I spoke to our acquisitions team they were quite interested in the controversial nature of the program. It was telling a different perspective on a difficult issue, and they felt that it was important to get—as we often try to do with all sorts of subjects—a different perspective on what might be mainstream.

 

Senator KROGER: You can see why there is the number of people who wish to ask questions on the level of concern about this production. I will follow up with just a couple more comments, then. Firstly, when you are assessing the quality of content and quality of script that you were referring to and it is a subject based on a particular take on history, do you engage historical experts to give you input into assessing that quality?

 

Mr Ebeid : Certainly not for a drama, but for a documentary we might consult some. I would say, on average, probably not.

 

Senator KROGER: Given the controversial nature of the content of this, did you consider consulting any of the community group stakeholders and getting their feedback on it before it went to air?

 

Mr Ebeid : No. We would not normally do that.

 

Senator KROGER: You never do that?

 

Mr Ebeid : No, we would never do that.

 

Senator KROGER: Final question, then, though I will put some questions on notice. Given that, to put it in your words, it was a production that went to air that was very controversial, would you make the same decision today if you had the hindsight that we have today?

 

Mr Ebeid : The production was purchased before I became managing director, so I was not part of that decision-making process, but would I make the same decision? I probably would, yes. There is a very good reason for that: we went through our codes and made sure that it was not racist and that it was not negatively stereotyping. We know that that was the very similar conclusion that Ofcom in the UK found as well, and that was also part of our thinking before we broadcast it.

 

Senator KROGER: Thanks.

Link to full Hansard transcript.

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