SBS’ push into sexuality-based content has been welcomed by ad-buyers, though some of the public broadcaster’s competitors in the space are understandably wary of the competition.

Last month, SBS soft-launched SBSexuality. Headed by former Star Observer editor Drew Sheldrick, the initiative will have him curating content from across SBS’ current output at a new “LGBTIQ” hub. The section is also commissioning fresh content, as part of SBS’ push into online content, being overseen by former Good Weekend and Monthly editor Ben Naparstek.

Much gay and lesbian publishing in Australia is composed of not-for-profit or niche publishers, many of whom have been struggling in recent years as new competitors stream into the sector. Last year, Star Observer nearly went under until supporters tipped in $75,000 to keep it afloat. Crikey has previously reported on the liquidation and revival of the mastheads of the other major publisher in the space, Evo Media. Many of the print publications have struggled to remain relevant as sexuality, as a topic of public discussion, becomes normalised, leading to less reliance on specific media outlets, and as digital upstarts start competing with the older players, forcing shakeups in the business models of many outlets.

Star Observer chairman Sebastian Rice tells Crikey that as a not-for-profit funded by ad revenue, the Star Observer lives and dies by its ability to attract advertising in an increasingly competitive market. He acknowledges having SBS in the space will inevitably provide a bit of “extra competition from our perspective”.

But he’s hopeful the Star Observer’s far more targeted positioning will continue to be attractive to advertisers. “I can’t imagine they’re going out to advertising partners and saying they can advertise to the gay community through this portal,” Rice said. “I can’t imagine they’re leading with that line. But that’s exactly what we do.”

Rice is also hopeful the growth in the ad market generally devoted to targeting gay and lesbian Australians will enable more publishers to survive in the sector. The Star Observer recently launched a quarterly luxury magazine, propped up by the increasing corporate ad-spend in the LGBTI market.

Ben Mulcahy, the managing director of gay and lesbian ad-buyer Pink Media Group, says the portion of the ad market targeted at LGBTI Australians still has some way to grow, if it’s to reach the size it has in the United Kingdom or America. “When marriage equality becomes legal, I expect we’ll see many more brands come into this space,” he said.

SBS recently lost a bid to have the Senate pass a motion allowing it to double the amount of ads in prime time. Given last year’s budget cuts, the broadcaster is keen to recoup advertising through developing more defined niche channels, which is part of the reason it has launched a new cooking channel. The push into LGBTI content can be seen in this context, though Mulcahy notes it also neatly fits the SBS charter.

“SBS does the Mardi Gras coverage — it’s going into its third year broadcasting it,” he said. “That’s been very successful for them. And because of their remit on diversity, [this expansion] really sits well within their strategy. I expect it’s more about that than it is about [making money through advertising].”

A spokesperson from Evo Media echoed the sentiment to Crikey. “From the [Gay News Network’s] point of view, we welcome SBS ‘s move into the LGBTI space as it provides another platform to raise the issues of our community and creates greater visibility for these issues. It’s particularly good news for members of our community who come from backgrounds where homosexuality may still be frowned upon to see LGBTI content on our multilingual multicultural mainstream media provider.”

There are currently 11 national magazines targeting LGBTI Australians, 10 major yearly events, and five major websites.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey