Head to Head / Will Changing Mabat's Time Slot Bring Back the Viewers?

An interview with Israel Broadcasting Authority Chair Amir Gilat.

For a very long time now there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the current goings-on at the Israel Broadcasting Authority and about its future. Unbearably long negotiations with its workers committees have been going on for over two and a half years with the goal of coming up with a reform plan. This plan - part of which has already been approved by some of the committees - is due to lead to the departure of hundreds of IBA employees, the signing of new work agreements with those who remain, and a serious upgrading of infrastructure. Yesterday there were also indications that there will be a change in content as well at the IBA, as part of the reform. Barring any last-minute changes, for example, it appears that "Mabat" evening news program viewers will have to get used to a new time slot - 8 P.M. - which will mean head-to-head competition with the news shows broadcast on the commercial channels.

IBA chairman Dr. Amir Gilat, 47, assumed his post in July, after a period of almost two years when the position was vacant. He is also the signatory to the planned reforms.

gilat - Michal Fattal - December 27 2010
Michal Fattal

Amir Gilat, what is behind the change in "Mabat"'s time slot?

I am now determining the new broadcasting policy. The IBA plenum and I have decided on anchors for various news and current events programs, dramas, documentaries, cultural and children's programming. Last Thursday, we discussed the news for the first time and it was decided to move "Mabat" up. The idea is to create a series of broadcasts at fixed times, which viewers will become habituated to watching. "Mabat" will be at 8 P.M.: Viewers will know exactly when it will be aired, and this will mean competing with other news programs; 8 P.M. has been set as the time when you watch the news in Israel. Also we want to make more room for prime time. At the moment, when "Mabat" is aired at 9 P.M., the prime-time hours of Channel 1 start at 10 P.M. This way we will be able to move things up and begin broadcasting non-news shows at 9 P.M. The plan is to schedule each evening after the news an "Israeli strip" - each time in a different genre: one time drama, another time documentary, another time culture, and to offer a quality, Israeli alternative to game shows and reality shows.

Aren't you worried about the competition?

We have two advantages, the first being that we are a public channel and have no commercials, and the other is that we have an excellent news team. The reason we are pushing off the move until spring is to give us time to rethink the "Mabat" format. We are thinking about how a news program should look in the current era, when viewers know before 8 P.M. what the day's events were. Our intention is also really to develop broadcasts in the new media. Not just television and radio, but also to enable quality viewing on the Internet and over cellular networks, so that the public broadcasts will reach viewers in every possible way. This too is something that will take place already in 2011, assuming that the reform is passed.

You spoke earlier about the new prime time on Channel 1. In 2009, the data showed that of all the IBA's budget, approximately 1 percent was invested in purchasing programs - just NIS 7 million. Such a move would obligate you to change the figures.

The moment we decide on the broadcasting policy and how many hours we plan to invest in each genre, we will know how to divide the budget differently. In the framework of the reform, we have been required to change distribution. If the reform is indeed implemented soon, then already in 2011, the IBA will invest NIS 65 million in TV productions. This sum will gradually increase and at the end of the three years, and we will reach a point where we acquire productions to the tune of NIS 200 million [a year]. This is the goal of the whole process: to reduce spending on wages and increase the spending on programs to be screened.

But in the meantime, the Knesset's Economics Committee has not approved a plan to increase the funding the authority receives by increasing the IBA tax.

Unfortunately, that is true and we are searching for alternative sources of funding. It is hard for me to believe that after some of the [workers] committees signed or are close to signing [agreements], while others are in advanced negotiations, the reform will collapse because of funding issues. I'll say this clearly: There can be no revival of the authority without the reform, and it will be completed when the listener or viewer or Internet surfer feels it.

Assuming that the reform is implemented, is there really a chance that after so many years, viewers will come? Viewing habits, ratings and image are all very important elements in success. After so many years, is there a chance that these processes will succeed?

I believe so, certainly. After all, there are very good things about the IBA now, too. Many times there is a problem of image and public relations, but we believe that viewers will come back home. It is possible to take as an example the decision regarding "Mabat." We decided to move it to 8 P.M., among other reasons, in order to stop the shifting in the broadcast schedule. Today a program can run overtime and "Mabat" will then start late; the goal is to create an organizational culture where this does not happen. A time will be a time and a viewer will know exactly what time he will see a certain show. This is the first change."

Aren't you concerned that the place itself and the method that has been in practice there for so many years will be too much for you?

"I hope I will be able to continue with the same plans and with the same energy. I am actually very optimistic and think we will be able to succeed."

The start of the new schedule and "Mabat"'s shift are set for a short time before the current IBA director general, Moti Sklar, leaves. Do you know who the next director general will be?

The [new] timetable is scheduled to begin in the spring so we have enough time to shape and formulate it, and it is not connected to the current director general and in any case, the search for a new director general has not started.