SBS adds five new language services as migration delivers new audience

SBS is rolling out five new digital language services, including in Telugu and Bislama, as the public broadcaster strengthens its offering for new migrants.

Services in Malay, Oromo and Tetum will also be launched in September.

“Our need is only growing,” director of SBS audio and language content David Hua said.

The new services were selected after SBS conducted its Language Services Review, a process which drew from the 2021 Census, considering a prospective community’s size, recentness of arrival in Australia, English proficiency, and/or high needs including those seeking asylum.

SBS Telugu executive producer Sandya Veduri and David Hua, SBS’s director of audio and language content.
SBS Telugu executive producer Sandya Veduri and David Hua, SBS’s director of audio and language content.Credit: SBS

In Australia, 59,406 people speak Telugu, a language native to the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, as of the 2021 census, rising from 34,433 in 2016.

Meanwhile, speakers of Vanuatu’s national language Bislama are a rapidly growing in the country, rising to 1,631 people in 2021.

“[The review] is a very thorough process that SBS engages in every five years to determine our language footprint, and we do it because we want to be as reflective of the Australian community as it changes,” Hua said.

The new services come in response to Australia’s “unprecedented” levels of South Asian migration the broadcaster said, which has now decommissioned its Albanian, Bulgarian, Finnish, Romanian, Slovak and Slovenian services, which it said no longer meet the selection criteria.

Existing content for these programs will stay online for an extended period, however.


Much like the ABC, SBS is moving towards a digital future, though it has not taken actions as significant as making staff redundant to do so.

It is a challenge for every media organisation “to be able to maintain its relevance”, Hua said, pointing to the recent rebranding of SBS Radio to SBS Audio as an example of measures taken to cater to digital listening habits.

Bislama and Telugu migrant communities are on average younger than the wider Australian population, and are high users of social and digital platforms, Hua said, with the opportunity to reach audiences around the country enhanced by having on-demand listening experiences, rather than via traditional mediums.

“One where people can catch up and listen when they like, and one where people can actually distribute to other members of the community through social media platforms by sharing audio podcast files and to have discussions on social media platforms, especially.”

SBS Mandarin and Arabic newsreaders Rena Li and Ali Bahnasawy with managing director James Taylor.
SBS Mandarin and Arabic newsreaders Rena Li and Ali Bahnasawy with managing director James Taylor.

“We’re very proud of the work that we do, and SBS’ charter and mission is around social cohesion and servicing multilingual and multicultural Australians. I think what’s really important for us is our remit and need is only growing.”

“We speak to our audiences, and it is great to have this focus on languages in particular, telling the stories of multicultural Australians which is in fact, the stories of Australia.”

Declining ABC audiences across flagship programming across television and radio have been easier to track, servicing the needs for a wider audience, while SBS offers more than 60 language services, catering to many communities.

SBS launched WorldWatch, its sixth TV channel in 2022, which managing director James Taylor said would be “small, but important”, in provide better news services for smaller, but growing audiences in Australia.

The channel aggregates international news bulletins from broadcasters such as South Korea’s YTN, France’s 20 Heures and Portugal’s RTP, though it still continues to serve a very marginal audience.

With the absolute reach for its language services capped, in the case of Bislama at 1,631 people, Hua said the size of the audience isn’t the measure of success, rather reaching as high of a proportion of those it is for.

“I think that’s something as Australians we should all be really proud of, that we actually invest in our people, and we want people to be able to succeed in the Australian context, whatever that might look like for them.”

The Telugu service’s executive producer, Sandya Verduri moved from India five years ago and says she looks forward to providing a trusted voice for the Australian-Telugu diaspora, as well as helping build the vital connections and understanding needed for social cohesion.

“Already we’ve published podcasts and articles on topics that range from practical everyday information for living well in Australia to heart-warming human interest stories about our local community.”

The Market Recap newsletter is a wrap of the day’s trading. Get it each weekday afternoon.

Most Viewed in Business

Source: Thanks