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SBS withdraws from Freeview service citing Federal budget cuts

In a surprise move, SBS has pulled out of the Freeview group, the sources at the broadcaster citing cuts to its budget as the impetus behind the move.

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SBS, Australia's multicultural public broadcaster, has confirmed that it is withdrawing from the Freeview digital television service.

The Australian is reporting that the broadcaster alerted Freeview to the decision yesterday, after initially briefing Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Freeview and FreeviewPlus are the names given to the services aggregating the Australian digital channels, along with the integrated HbbTV catch-up offerings.

SBS has issued a statement regarding the decision, citing the Federal budget cuts and the cost of Freeview membership as the reason behind the resignation. The Australian estimates Freeview fees to cost the broadcaster around AU$500,000 a year.

"SBS has today resigned from Freeview Australia Limited," read the statement. "Last year, SBS's funding was cut by the Federal Government by $53.7 million over the next five years. This funding reduction has impacted SBS's ability to comply with funding obligations associated with Freeview shareholding. Funding difficulties are unfortunately not able to be resolved at this stage, resulting in SBS's exit from Freeview."

The statement said that SBS would be willing to rejoin Freeview at a reduced cost "commensurate to its market size and funding limitations."

SBS says that the move should not impact on the "viewer experience." An SBS spokesperson further reiterated that SBS On Demand, the broadcaster's catch-up service, was still available across a broad range of devices and platforms.

The report in The Australian said that viewers would still be able to access SBS via Freeview unless the service removed the broadcaster from the line-up.

SBS has recently been attempting to find additional revenue streams in the wake of the budget cuts. A plan to change legislation allowing the broadcaster to show more advertising had been met with considerable protest from the Australian free-to-air channels.

In a media statement Kim Dalton, chair of Freeview, said the service was "surprised and disappointed" by SBS' decision.

"We are sorry to see SBS go but more importantly this is a big loss for SBS viewers who should be offered the opportunity to access SBS programming across all available platforms," said Dalton.

Edited 5.33 p.m. AEST: Added comment from Freeview

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