SBS mourns the loss of Top Gear: Sometimes you wonder about Australian politicians and broadcasters. Three times a year the Senate Estimates Committees meet and ask questions of public servants, government groups such as the ABC and Australia Post and SBS.

In fact the quizzing of the ABC has become something of a bloodsport as Opposition Senators quiz the ABC endlessly. Sometimes SBS is roped in. But not this month at Estimates. The question session lasted just six minutes and consisted of six questions.

SBS CEO Shaun Brown was asked if he wanted to make an opening statement: “No, I do not have a statement to make,” Brown said.

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If that’s the case (and it was odd not for Brown to be asked questions by the Senators, after the network lost the high rating, ad rich Top Gear to Nine) why did Brown’s head of TV, Matt Campbell, hold out the poor box in this media report last week?

“SBS Television’s funding position is ‘dire’ after losing its number one show Top Gear and attracting a less-than-expected increase in government funding late last year, according to director of television and online content Matt Campbell.

“While the ABC received a $136.4 million funding boost over the next four years to increase local drama and launch its new kids channel, SBS received an extra $20 million to increase new content. I’ve never had a tougher time trying to manage the budgets across my divisions … we have no money for online, we have no money for SBS Two,” Campbell told the Australian International Documentary Conference in Adelaide.

Campbell said the $4 million government increase allocated for this year was not enough to cover a sharp drop in advertising revenue, largely caused by the global financial crisis. “It really is dire,” he said.

The loss of UK motoring show Top Gear to Channel Nine late last year has also been a major blow for the public broadcaster, with Campbell warning producers that it now had less money to commission local programs.

“The loss of Top Gear is a serious issue for SBS and not one of my happiest moments in my TV career but that’s business. And sometimes it’s dirty business and that was particularly dirty business.”

And what was Campbell talking about there? The behaviour of BBC Worldwide and/or the Nine Network? — Glenn Dyer

The X wars: The X-Factor has sparked a war among two major commercial television networks in Australia. The fiercely competitive channels Nine and Seven turned up in London for a summit called by Simon Cowell and are champing at the bit for the entertainment vehicle. The show had a flop debut on rivals Channel Ten in 2005. But the arrival of home gal Dannii Minogue and the show’s planned US export make it highly desirable now. Nine’s director of production and development Andrew Backwell, Seven programmer Tim Worner and Sony Music chief Dennis Handlin made the trip to meet Cowell. Sony Music, according to reports, would provide X-Factor winners with recording deals.

Cowell told the Australian parties the show had to be made “my way or the highway”, according to a source.

“He said that any other version would have to match his production values and his uncompromising vision, which would cost at least $A20 million for 21 hours of television. Seven made a very aggressive play for it and Channel 9 was very interested but more conscious of the cheque they would have to write – but one way or another, expect it to be on air around February next year.”

FremantleMedia, which owns the X Factor‘s Australian distribution rights, said through a spokesman: “Given its success in the UK and the announcement of its launch in the US, we would love the opportunity to produce it in Australia.” — Monsters and Critics

Vox Pop of the Day. Nt News. Again. And about f*%#ing time…

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US ABC network cuts a quarter of its staff. Along with the great and convulsive changes that have come to the news business these last few years, here’s another big one: The ABC network has announced plans to cut 25% of the workforce at its news division. For more than a decade, the networks have been pruning back what were once the world’s most well-funded news organizations. But the cuts at ABC are of a different magnitude. They either mean that ABC is, finally, exiting the news business, or that the entire basis of news programming has changed. — Newser

The ABC’s sekrit rural expansion plan: APN News & Media chief executive Brendan Hopkins has accused the ABC of hiding behind “the purse strings of the taxpayer” over the public broadcaster’s plans to create a network of websites for rural Australia. Mr Hopkins told The Australian yesterday that the ABC Open project in regional and rural areas should be subjected to “more accountability” and claimed its growth plans could lead to unwarranted cost pressures. — The Australian

The implications of the Facebook patent: On Tuesday, Facebook was awarded a major patent for “Dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network”. This is a huge deal for a number of reasons, most significantly that it grants Facebook the opportunity to pursue other social networks which are infringing on their patent. Included in the patent are additional claims including feed filters, feed advertising, searching the feed, and more. — All Facebook

PETA gets cheeky with Woods: Animal-rights group PETA plans to unveil within the next few weeks a “cheeky spay-and-neuter” billboard featuring Tiger Woods — without the golfer’s blessing. The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals is searching for a local advertiser to put up a billboard in Windermere, which will include an image of Woods and text:

“Too Much S-x Can Be a Bad Thing … For Little Tigers Too. Help Keep Your Cats (and Dogs) Out of Trouble: Always Spay or Neuter!” — The Orlando Sentinel

How apps will change elections: The importance of social media in politics was made clear by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run. But there is a new frontier of Web 2.0 technologies that politicians and political groups are slowly starting to embrace: the smartphone app. These apps have the potential to reshape how politicians communicate, raise money and get out the vote. The biggest player on the smartphone app stage is Apple’s iPhone. But the BlackBerry, Android, Palm Pre and other smartphones are likely to play a growing role as well. — Mediashift, PBS

Tips for young players Melissa Massello is the 31-year-old “Stealfinder in Chief” at Shoestringmag.com, an online magazine for people who want to live a frugal but socially responsible and healthy life. She manages a loose federation of freelance contributors, many of whom barter their services, while writing more than 5000 words each week and also handling the business affairs of the bootstrap operation. With 140,000 monthly visitors, Shoestring is beginning to turn the corner towards profitability. Melissa’s background is in newspaper journalism, but she has successfully navigated the transition to the online world. — Newspaper death watch

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