While there has been excitement at Mediaweek about the January return of the A-teams to FTA TV breakfast shows and 10’s early start to 2020 with I’m A Celebrity, one network that doesn’t slow at all over the summer break is SBS.
This month SBS has been able to not just boast 10 new series, but it was able to talk about its top 10 new series. Among the new content were shows coming to its suite of linear TV channels plus new content to SBS On Demand.
That new content included a second season of cross-cultural weddings in Australia, Marry Me Marry My Family, John Malkovich and Jude Law in The New Pope, the Lorne Michaels-produced Shrill fast-tracked from the US and the arrival of the impressive six-part series Save Me featuring Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster, Gentleman Jack) and Lennie James (unforgettable from the first season of Line of Duty).
SBS director of TV and online content Marshall Heald recently spoke to Mediaweek about content budgets and some of the biggest SBS properties coming soon.
War of the Worlds: “There are two series. Our is the contemporary reimagining. It is an international co-production shot across France and the UK featuring Gabriel Byrne. It is an eight-part survival thriller made by StudioCanal for Fox Internationally.”
The series will be screened in February in the US on Fox and soon after on SBS. The series screened in November and December in France.
SBS has two four-part Australian drama series this year. Hungry Ghost is finished, while New Gold Mountain will probably shoot around the middle of 2020. Heald revealed that there will be a third Australian drama for 2020 which has yet to be announced.
“New Gold Mountain is the first time we have done a period drama. In the past it has been too expensive for us, but with the help of Screen Australia and All3Media we have managed to make it happen for the first time. It will be great to have Benjamin Law on board as one of the scriptwriters. It is a murder mystery set during the height of the gold rush. It is a crucial part of Australian history that hasn’t been told very often from a multicultural perspective.”
Heald told Mediaweek that regarding the 2019-2020 programming budget, SBS has committed most of its spend. “For the year following we are probably about 30% committed. We have been able to grow the commissioning budget by virtue of third-party investment coming in. They are largely international distribution advances.
“Our factual spend has been fairly consistent as have the Viceland and SBS Food budgets. Where we have been able to invest more is in the On Demand area.”
“As a hybrid broadcaster we have the ability to run a limited amount of advertising and that has allowed us to acquire more shows for the platform.”
Heald said when SBS invests in international content it only ever acquires a licence for the Australian market. “Sometimes locally we will invest at an equity level. For example with The Chef’s Line we were an equity investor. We want to make as much as possible and our preference is generally to acquire a licence only. We are not in the distribution business anymore.”
SBS On Demand in 2020
Heald: “Our editorial strategy will remain pretty consistent. We are staying in drama, movies and factual. We are trying to create a short-form local commissioning strand with shows like Robbie Hood and Homecoming Queens. What we are probably getting better with over time is connecting audiences with shows as we understand audience behaviour.
“There is a huge investment going into the On Demand platform making sure it is a seamless experience for people and maintaining a digital footprint across 12 platforms is complex and time consuming.”
One of SBS’s biggest series comes next month with the February launch of Great Australian Railway Journeys. The series sits alongside with rest of the Michael Portillo-hosted franchise series plus other train travel programming SBS has picked up in recent years.
We asked Heald if SBS was at maximum trains?
“We are,” he grinned. “Aside from The Ghan, and the Michael Portillo Australia series, the remainder of the train series are acquisitions. I think we might have exhausted that well,” Heald said about future train travel content.
While SBS hasn’t had its traditional January slow TV festival that has been a feature for the past couple of years, SBS does have the premiere of Marni (NITV’s first Slow TV commission) at 7:30pm on Thursday January 23.