The departing SBS chief Michael Ebeid shows ABC how it works



For the second week in a row, an Australian public broadcaster loses its CEO.

But unlike Michelle Guthrie of the ABC, Michael Ebeid chose the timing of his departure from SBS and he left the organization considerably less restless.

Ebeid officially resigns as director of SBS at the helm on Monday after 7½ years. At that time, he launched SBS On Demand, which now has more than 5 million registered users, founded the National Indigenous Television, Viceland and Food Network channels, secured rights for the FIFA World Championship and the Tour de France, almost doubled advertising and sponsorship revenues to over $ 107 million and joined the Order of Australia for his efforts.

The 52-year-old, who leaves for a higher executive role at Telstra, may say that his most memorable day was in the orbit when Australia won the Eurovision Song Contest.

"Everyone had told me for years that we were crazy to even suggest it," he says The Australian Financial Review.

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"The more people told us that we were not part of Europe and that we would never do it, the more we wanted to do it, so that was a nice day." Eurovision really embodies what we stand for: bringing together cultures. "

Ebeid, who started out in the commercial world as a manager at IBM and then Optus before joining the ABC for three years prior to his SBS role, goes to Telstra to lead his division. And he says he will not be lured back to the public broadcaster because of the vacancy at the top of the ABC.

"I am rather passionate about where the technology is going," he says. "I think there will be a lot of progress over the next two to five years and I am very excited to be part of that."

New SBS culture

Ebeid is credited with reversing employee morale at SBS, with a level of engagement jumping from 44 percent to 77 percent and winning Canberra, after the broadcaster managed to secure a small amount of funding at the same time as ABC's budget this year. was cut.

He says that when he joined SBS "there was a feeling of deflation in our workforce that the ABC got all the attention, got all the money, had all the cool bells and whistles".

"We have now changed the culture to be a very dynamic and challenging brand that has an exciting content and is quite creative and innovative, given the fact that we do not have much money."

Ebeid is leaving at a crucial moment for SBS, which still needs to mention its replacement, just as the government investigation into the competition neutrality of the national broadcasters takes place. The investigation was part of the government's deal with Pauline Hanson's One Nation to receive government reform minister Mitch Fifield's reform package last year and follows years of lobbying at News Corporation and other media companies complaining about increasing competition from public broadcasters in the online space.

However, Ebeid does not expect problems for SBS from the assessment.

"It is not surprising, given the commercial pressure on many of the networks they would want to stifle any competition, and the public broadcasters are an easy punching bag for that," he says.

"Our legislation allows us to compete and advertise, we can have commercial companies and invest in commercial activities, that is all part of our charter, we do not do anything for which it is not intended."

The study will examine whether it is appropriate for public broadcasters to offer commercial networks based on rights to sporting events and programs such as The Handmaid & # 39; s Tale, which was a resounding success for SBS, which encouraged users of the on-demand service.

ABC unrest

"When we bought it, nobody knew it would be as successful as it was," says Ebeid. "We look for things that other networks might not do, it exceeded everyone's expectations."

The unrest at the ABC in the past week and investigating whether there has been any editorial interference, after disclosures said former chairman Justin Milne Ms. Guthrie to dismiss ABC journalists, has changed the political dynamics of the research.

"I think the government will have to be much more careful when it comes to public broadcasters," says Dennis Muller, senior research fellow at the Center for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

"They will be much more cautious about how they receive and respond to the research on competitive neutrality."

Yet he says that the timing of Ebeid's departure was "unhappy" because he was a "determined staff member". The government also conducts an efficiency assessment of the ABC and SBS.

Margaret Simons, associate professor at Monash University, says that one of Ebeid's key successes was managing the relationship with the government. While the ABC had effectively cut its budget earlier this year, SBS managed to secure just over $ 14 million of extra money.

"This can certainly be attributed to the fact that Ebeid worked in the Canberra corridors and advocated SBS," says Simons.

That was not without his challenges. Ebeid points out that since he was head of SBS, there were five prime ministers and four communications ministers. "You have to tell your story every time that happens, but part of the job is of course talking to all sides of politics because you never know when there is a change," he says.

Commercial approach

"Since 70 percent of our funding comes from Canberra – 30 percent comes from our own sources – it's very important to have good relations with Canberra."

Nevertheless, Ebeid has chosen a more commercial approach to running the channel. He launched three new channels, including a 24-hour food channel and one in collaboration with the youth media company VICE.

Perhaps the biggest coup d'état for SBS during the Ebeid regime was the sale of the FIFA World Cup rights to Optus in a sub-license agreement, but then he could show all the matches because of the streaming problems of the telecommunications company. Rather than get criticism for the sale of the rights in the first place, SBS was the hero, who came to the aid of the sports loving public by offering cover.

One of the biggest controversies Ebeid managed during his time at SBS was the dismissal of sports reporter Scott McIntyre about his anti-Anzac Day tweets. He took legal action against the broadcaster for unreasonable dismissal, which was settled outside the court.

Ebeid, who was born in Egypt and moved to Australia at the age of three, is openly gay, and proudly throws statistics on diversity at SBS. Almost half of the employees speak a language other than English at home, 43 percent were born abroad, 13 percent identified themselves as LGBTIQ and more than half of the leadership team is female.

"When I was a child who grew up in Australia and I wanted to watch television, I would never see someone with brown skin on TV," he says.

"I have learned at a young age how the regular media can make you feel very absorbed in society and it can also make you feel very excluded.

"My personal experiences have grown up and have somehow experienced prejudices, whether it's the color of my skin or my sexuality, I think I've really been convinced that people understand the benefits of diversity."


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