By Julian Bajkowski
The Federal government has pressed ahead with a controversial move to allow commercial advertising on government websites after the Bureau of Meteorology called for expressions of interest to supply advertising services as part of a one-year trial.
Tender documents reveal that the government regards the potential market of weather watchers to represent a bonanza of eyeballs and estimates that BoM’s website “is visited by a large proportion of the Australian public each day that access over 2.8 billion pages annually.”
While the creation of a new advertising market is certain to appeal to many mass-market advertisers, it also carries real potential to undermine existing revenue streams for commercial news and general interest web platforms that now display BoM supplied weather information.
The entry of the government into the realm of commercial web publishing is unpopular with existing profit driven content providers because it increases competition for finite advertising budgets when many mass-market media companies are retrenching staff.
At the same time, government advertising in national newspapers for federal public service jobs has been largely cut in favour of advertising employment opportunities on government websites, dealing another blow to traditional publishing.
An as yet unanswered question about the BoM trial is whether advertising will be expanded to other parts of the government if it proves to be financially successful, as many people expect it to be.
A crucial element of the BoM web advertising trial is that money raised will flow directly to Treasury and consolidated revenue rather than back to the weather bureau.
But number of public servants have privately expressed misgivings to Government News about Treasury being the ultimate beneficiary of advertising on government web property.
Some caution that an unavoidable temptation will be created for advertising to be extended to other agencies and so-called 'dot.gov.au' domains once the money starts to flow.
Obvious targets for aspiring advertisers include the Australian Taxation Office or superannuation-related web properties which represent a potential goldmine for financial services advertisers.
Education portals could also be fertile ground following the creation of the My School website, along with agencies within the Human Services and Health portfolios, including Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.
One marketing consultant to government, who did not want to be named because of restrictions on speaking to the media, suggested that common sense needed to prevail and that some kinds of advertising were “naturally more complementary” than others.
One example cited was that it made sense for ads for travel insurance to sit closely by travel advisories from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Conversely, there would be little chance of lawyers plying their trade on Centrelink, Medicare or the Child Support Agency’s sites.
However the idea of government property carrying advertising is far from new. The Department of Immigration for many years allowed advertising inserts to be placed in its paper forms from the likes of shipping companies. At the same time, it refused ads from migration agents.
Perhaps the best known example of selling advertising on government property is public transport where entire companies are dedicate to redecorating buses and train carriage interiors to carry sponsored messages.
In New South Wales, transport authorities this year gave the green light to allow advertising on the side of CityRail rolling stock.
Some companies, like JCDecaux, have also specialised in the rollout of a hybrid of transport infrastructure and advertising where the cost of upkeep is offset by advertising.
Expressions of interest for advertising on BoM’s website must be submitted by close of business today.
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