SBS Upfront 2024: Media buyers weigh-in on the broadcaster’s offerings, innovations and initiatives

SBS Upfront 2024

Media buyers revealed what impressed them and if the broadcaster delivered on the “demand different” theme

SBS welcomed media buyers, brands and clients to the Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday to showcase its offerings, innovations and initiatives for 2024.

The hybrid-funded public service broadcaster revealed its content programming, the digital transformation across television and audio businesses, retaining the exclusive rights to the FIFA World Cup 2026 and SBS’ pathway to sustainability.

Mediaweek caught up with media buyers from holding companies and independent agencies to get their thoughts on what impressed them, what the announcements mean for advertising spend and if it delivered on the “demand different” theme.

See also: SBS Upfront 2024: Every Announcement

Conor Riordan, client director, Kaimera

SBS Upfront - Conor Riordan (1)

SBS invited the Australian media buying community to “demand different” from them in 2024 at their upfronts. In a punchy presentation, SBS focused on the things that make their offering so appealing to Australian advertisers, including their audience-first approach to content, UX and ad experience.

While factually not a niche offering, reaching 13.9M unique Australians each month, SBS’ content reaches into the niche interests of Australians. As the makeup of Australia’s population becomes more and more diverse, SBS is well positioned to continue attracting audiences across those interests. Planners not thinking about these high-value audience niches, often incremental to their standard buys, are missing a trick.

From a content perspective, we see new and recurring programming across their key content pillars – food, travel, sport and drama. Highlights include the return of Alone for season two, the final season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and retention of the FIFA World Cup for 2026 and the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes until 2030.

After the result in our most recent referendum, I hope to see advertisers putting their money where their mouths are in supporting the NITV platform, which continues to see YoY audience growth.

Across UX, improvements to content recommendations on the on-demand platform were spruiked along with a continued commitment to low ad-loads across video content.

And in a very interesting move, SBS will give more control to their viewers in relation to ad-experience, allowing users of their platforms to opt out of wagering, alcohol and QSR advertising, a likely welcomed innovation for users and advertisers-alike. As an advertiser, I’m not about to opt-out but I expect families with young kids at home will be jumping at the chance to avoid all three categories.

Janice Morgan, head of investment, Magna

SBS Upfront - Janice Morgan

SBS demanded agencies & clients to be different in 2024, and the assertiveness continued throughout the event with some bold announcements.

The Sydney Town Hall provided a grandiose setting for SBS to announce a major achievement, that they are the first Australian Broadcaster to reach NetZero on direct emissions (Scope 1 & 2).

“It is fantastic to see SBS accomplish something that other Australian broadcasters are still talking about, and that they now lead the sustainability benchmark in Australia by bringing forward their transition to 100% renewables. Setting public targets for emissions reduction was one of 5 industry recommendations in the release of IPG’s Media Responsibility Index, and for SBS to meet this ahead of target is cause for celebration across the industry.”

SBS remaining home to the FIFA Mens World Cup in 2026 is a great win given the current trajectory of soccer in Australia and was the icing on the cake to the rest of a very full content library commissioned for 2024.        

NITV launching in HD featured strongly in the presentation with a plethora of new & engaging content, which should see the Beyond 3% Initiative maintain the momentum of 2023.


Alone Australia was a defining moment in the Total TV landscape in 2023, and it will be interesting to see if Gina Chick’s podcast accompanying the return of Alone Australia 2 from the harsher destination of the South Island of NZ can attract an even bigger audience in 2024.

Edgy thriller ‘The Doll Factory’ and gritty crime drama ‘Swift Street’ were the standouts in the new programming slate, along with new international drama Paris Has Fallen.

There are plenty of returning favourites – the final series of The Handmaids Tale & Rogue Heroes, The Cook Up with Adam Liaw, Who Do You Think You are and Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro should see SBS at least maintain their linear share next year.

sbs The Cook Up With Adam Liaw

The Cook Up With Adam Liaw

SBS’s On Demand platform continues its unique offering through a new & market-leading opt-out ability on advertising categories. Endorsed by clients in the wagering, alcoholic beverages and QSR categories, this is a win for viewers who will now have control of not only the content they view on the platform, but also their personal ad experience.

Additional curation enhancements and destinations included an audio description feature for people who are blind or have low vision, and promotes accessibility to all Australians.

All in all, SBS have Demanded Different in 2024 and with a final nod to their focus on sustainability, the biodegradable menu’s were embedded with Australian seeds to replant – right on point SBS!

Daniel Cutrone, managing partner, Avenue C

Avenue C - Daniel Cutrone

The SBS Upfront is an annual gathering that celebrates fantastic food, limitless powerful, entertaining and captivating content, all amongst media friends. It’s almost overwhelming, but somehow, we leave with an exhaustive list of programmes to add to the ‘watch’ list.

Excited by the launch of two initiatives; ‘SBS Ad Control’ which will provide SBS On-Demand subscribers the ability to opt-out of ad messages from Wagering, QSR & alcohol categories, and SBS Solus Impact, which will allow advertisers exclusivity target individuals with greater SOV.

Unlike the other FTA networks, SBS proudly promote BVOD first, linear second. And rightly so! Their On Demand product is a leader in Australian VOD UX & has bragging rights to 25% commercial share (vs its 10% linear share).

2024 will include new series of hit programmes including A Handmaid’s Tale (final season), Fargo, and Alone Australia. Plus, there is a host of new talent-laden programming to hit the screens with Swift Street, Sherlock’s Daughter and The Doll Factory to name a few.

The sporting content continues to focus upon the many cycling competitions, incl. Tour de France, plus many of the lesser telecast sports, such as Volleyball, Badminton. BUT, the big sporting announcement, which was mentioned excitedly and numerous times, revolved around SBS securing of the exclusive broadcast rights of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

FIFA World Cup

James Taylor, managing director of SBS

But, in true SBS form, that was not all.

We had updates across NITV, which continues to drive awareness of our industry’s under-investment across our only national network that speaks for and to Indigenous & First Nations people. NITV’s ‘Stories from the Great Southern Land’ promised more content, HD (from December 2023) and even more indigenous language’s represented.

Programming is to include Eddie’s little Hero’s, Little J & Big Cuz, Going Places with Ernie Dingo, Our Law, Her Name is Nanny Nellie, The Green Veil (a story of a stolen generation) as well as the highly anticipated: Journey Home: David Gulpilil.

SBS Food, now records up to 4 million viewers per month, will continue to do what it does best PLUS SBS Audio will continue to be a true National, multi-platform & multi-lingual hub, and will launch Insight Podcast across the new year.

SBS are leading the way in diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and has challenged the industry to “demand different” and they will deliver.

Daniela Rocchi, head of partnerships, Initiative Sydney 

SBS, Australia’s iconic multicultural broadcaster, has concluded the final broadcast upfronts for 2023, delivering a thrilling showcase of new content and celebrating diversity and inclusion. This year’s upfronts were held at the historic Centennial Hall, featuring a fresh and vibrant setting that perfectly complemented the channel’s commitment to innovation and originality.

The hall was transformed with long tables, adorned with striking tablescapes that reflected the bright and colourful spirit of SBS’s content. It set the stage for an event that was not only visually captivating but also symbolically representative of the broadcaster’s vision.

One of the highlights of the 2023 upfronts was the unveiling of SBS’s new programming lineup. From news to entertainment, the channel is gearing up to provide a rich and varied array of content that will cater to the diverse tastes and interests of its audience, with a monumental announcement. SBS proudly revealed that it had secured the exclusive rights to broadcast the entire FIFA World Cup 2026, solidifying its position as the “home of football” in Australia.

But it wasn’t just the world of sports that took centre stage at the upfronts; sustainability emerged as a burning topic, signalling a shift in the industry’s values and priorities. SBS proudly announced that it had become the first broadcaster to achieve net-zero direct emissions. This remarkable milestone demonstrated SBS’s leadership in reducing its environmental impact, and it set the stage for an even more ambitious goal.

SBS Sustainability Journey

SBS’s vision extends far beyond its own operations, as the channel set an audacious Scope 3 goal for 2045. Furthermore, the broadcaster revealed its dedication to carbon measurement on various shows, including popular programs like Insight, The Cook Up with Adam Liaw, and Going Places with Ernie Dingo.

The evolution of Beyond 3%, NITV’s celebrated initiative, continues to make strides, with the launch of a high-definition channel that promises to redefine the viewing experience. But that’s not all; SBS has also unveiled innovative brand partnerships aimed at driving further investment into First Nations Media, offering brands an exciting new way to engage with the channel, this is something that resonates with Initiative and our clients with NRMA leading the way in the market for the first brand to commit 3% of media spend to First Nations media.

The remarkable success in broadcast, video, and audio for SBS in 2023 was centre stage. The new Audience First platform was revealed, shining a spotlight on their incredibly successful original commission, Alone Australia. The show made waves by attracting an impressive average audience of 1.44 million viewers for its first episode, a truly monumental achievement. What’s even more noteworthy is that half of this audience came from SBS on Demand, underlining the broadcaster’s prowess in the digital space.

SBS is also set to revolutionise the viewing experience with advancements in SBS On-Demand. In 2024, users will have the option to opt-out of specific advertising categories, including wagering, alcoholic beverages, and quick-service restaurants. This move highlights SBS’s commitment to delivering tailored and user-friendly content, respecting viewers’ preferences, and choices.

SBS Rewind

SBS Rewind, another exciting development, is poised to enhance the streaming experience for users. It will offer a summary of viewing habits and personalised recommendations based on individual preferences. This user-centric approach ensures that SBS remains at the forefront of innovation in the digital space.

Measurement of screens is indeed an important aspect in the media industry, especially with the various devices and platforms. Accurate measurement allows organisations to understand audience behaviour across different screens and make informed decisions regarding content distribution and advertising strategies, the one thing that I felt was missing was indeed the measurement piece.

As the curtains draw on the final upfronts of 2023, it’s clear that SBS is not just about creating content; it’s about making a difference. The channel’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion ensures that the stories of all Australians are heard and celebrated.

SBS’s message is clear: it’s time to “Demand Different,” and with the promise of exciting and thought-provoking content in 2023, it’s evident that SBS is leading the way in delivering diversity, inclusion, and innovation to the Australian media landscape.

Catherine Rushton, chief strategy officer, This Is Flow

SBS Upfront - Catherine Rushton

SBS quietly impressed this afternoon’s audience with a diversity and substance of announcement that reflects its wide-ranging community and audience. The theme was ‘Demand Different’ and the consistency of this challenger position was palpable throughout the event.

SBS lived up to its brand when it came to its upcoming content slate – it was diverse in topic and style and inclusive in talent and language.

From the return of the FIFA World Cup broadcast rights and the backbone of the Tour de France, to everyone’s surprise favourite Alone Australia returning for S2 and the final season of Handmaid’s Tale, to a patchwork quilt of local drama, food and documentaries that cater to all tastes and moods. It is hard to sum it all up due to its diversity in nature. Especially when you include the call for NITV to deliver a “new era of truth telling’ post referendum.

It was a bold, yet smart, move to wrangle back control from the algorithms and introduce Australia’s first personalised ad experience. Even better was the buy-in from launch partners Tabcorp and Endeavour Group. This adds credibility to this initiative. For all the talk about attention, this move signals positive action that will benefit the humans at the other end of the screen.

Beyond 3%

One of my personal highlights was when Anna Dancey from NITV provided a clever angle on how to get more brands closer to committing to ‘Beyond 3%’- accessing Reconciliation Action Plan budgets to essentially increase brand’s media budgets. Backing this up with 7.7% prime time metro audience growth means it should be an even easier conversation with clients.

Perhaps I am biased as a Strategist but my other highlight was Cultural Connect offering ‘SBS Sprints’. These are guided working sessions to help brands and agencies understand how to better connect with their diverse audiences including First Nations and the 5.6 million Aussies who speak a language other than English. This point was made clear throughout and reminded those listening that this is not an ‘or’ choice to include SBS but an ‘and’ incremental extension of a brand’s presence.

The other big newsworthy moment was a clear commitment to measuring and reducing carbon emissions. SBS announced it is the first Australian broadcaster to have achieved Net Zero on its direct emissions for Scopes 1 and 2. The most ambitious of any broadcaster. As they pointed out, SBS is already demonstrating this leadership position as measured by Nielsen so this proclamation feels believable… time will tell. This announcement also felt necessary if they wanted to maintain their leadership position based on the range of sustainability claims made recently.

Caitlin Mills, partnerships director Australian Government, UM Australia

SBS Upfront - Caitlin Mills

SBS declared one of the most refreshing announcements of the entire 2024 Upfront Season – from Q1 2024, SBS On-Demand audiences will have the option to opt out of ads pertaining to wagering, alcoholic beverages or quick service restaurants. This will ultimately benefit both the advertiser and the consumer; it will minimise wastage by not serving ads to people who do not want to see them and is morally a very strong decision by SBS. We are interested to see how many people opt out of these categories and how this will impact advertising on the platform for our clients, such as Lion.

They also unveiled a robust lineup of programming, encompassing a range of original dramas, documentaries, and fresh global offerings that are poised to attract a wide spectrum of viewers. Among the upcoming releases are compelling titles such as Swift Street, Four Years, The Jewish Nazi, and Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye. These new additions should play a pivotal role in the network’s success in 2024, reaffirming their commitment to delivering influential narratives.

In light of recent events, it was heartwarming to hear of NITV’s success in 2023 – the increase of advertising dollars spent with NITV has meant the channel will now be able to launch in high definition in 2024. Incredibly, First Nations content consumed on-demand has increased by +143% YOY, and their ever-growing line-up of programming including Our Law, Little J and Big Cuz and Eddie’s Lil Homies will make advertising opportunities targeted towards First Nations audiences even more accessible.

Eddie's Lil' Homies

Eddie’s Lil’ Homies

As SBS pointed out, according to the latest Census data, First Nations peoples represent 3.8% of the Australian population, but it’s estimated that less than 0.3% of advertising in Australia invested in media is dedicated to reaching these audiences. The Beyond 3% Initiative is incredibly important, and I hope in next year’s upfronts SBS can announce that as an industry, we are getting closer to achieving this goal.

SBS continues to prove that their true point of differentiation is their dedication to the underrepresented. Their CALD offering has continued to diversify, with SBS PopDesi set to rebrand to a more holistic channel catered towards the more than 1.5million Aussies who speak a South Asian language.

They have also introduced an additional five languages to their schedule, now reaching an impressive 60+ languages nationally across their full network. SBS continue to play a pivotal role in advancing audience-driven inclusivity on behalf of our clients, most notably for the Australian Government, where their content and initiatives are invaluable in helping us to reach all communities.

Jonothan Park, transformation director, OMD Sydney

SBS Upfront - Jonothan Park

As expected of SBS, sustainability and contemporary Australian programs and audiences were recognised as key differentiators to competitors. SBS originals, new seasons and Australia first premier programs were presented along with their pièce de resistance, exclusive broadcasting rights to the 2026 FIFA World Cup, live and free.

In highlighting their 10% Linear TV Share and 25% Commercial BVOD share, Jane Palfreyman identified a priority to grow ‘active watchers’ across their on-demand platform. To achieve this, SBS bet on their new content pipeline (4,000 new hours of premium content for 2024) and updated user experience to hold a more captive audience and one that wants to return more regularly.

Content is considered a proven strategy given the growth in audiences experienced across shows such as Alone Australia (delivering 1.4million viewers per episode, half of which streamed via SBS On Demand). Whilst the evolved user experience came to life through updated ad controls. In partnership with Tabcorp and Endeavour Group, users can select their ad category exclusions, which will allow brands to appear in front of an ‘opted-in’ user, one that is arguably more attentive.

SBS On Demand

Alongside ad control, SBS mentioned two more pillars to build an effective and non-invasive ad ecosystem; solus impact (one sponsored ad per show) and SBS Measure in partnership with Experian. By providing the path to purchase through SBS Measure, proving the value of investment will be possible, especially for brands with mid to lower funnels. This addresses measurement challenges that exist industry wide.

For advertisers, emphasis was put on the availability of their diverse and inclusive audience. Andrew Mudgway spoke proudly of their multicultural audience offering (through multi-lingual logins and targeting), claiming ‘next to no wastage when trying to connect with contemporary Australia’, further clarifying their unique selling point compared to competitors.

Overall, another upfront that SBS should be proud of, showcasing their ambitions and programs for 2024 and beyond, especially in stepping up to the plate to address industry challenges on sustainability, measurement, and experience.

Michael Betts, head of media solutions and investment, EssenceMediacom Sydney

SBS had the unenviable task of going last in what has been a very news-worthy upfronts season. We’ve had some that have been massive, some owning the total tv package, and others completely disrupting the status quo. With this, SBS acknowledged they not only had to be different, they had to Demand Different.

This was perfectly demonstrated by putting sustainability front and centre, with their announcement of being the first broadcaster to reach net zero on direct emissions. In addition, they set further targets for scope 3 emissions and introduced carbon measurement of content production. As a Group M agency, we were thrilled to see SBS also putting sustainability at the core of their business, which very much aligns with our Alpha strategy and our Responsible Investment Framework.

Responsible advertising also shone through with the announcement of SBS Demand Control, which allows viewers to opt-out of Alcohol, Wagering, or QSR ads. It’s a brave move for the broadcaster given the potential short-term revenue hit. I would however expect to see others soon follow, given the sea change of attitudes in the industry and wider society. As SBS were quick to point out, this could in fact deliver greater results for these advertisers by eliminating wastage on consumers unlikely to spend.

Digital Video First

Although not as explicit as Foxtel was last Thursday, SBS are clearly positioning themselves as a digital video first broadcaster with their key priority being to grow usage of SBS On Demand. With SBS accounting for 25% of Commercial BVOD minutes, they over-index in this space and are well positioned to lead from the front. Interestingly, there was no mention of the video alliance with Foxtel to create an alternative measurement currency to OzTam, which has captured the industry’s attention, but no doubt we’ll hear more about this in the coming months. 

With AI having been a major point in virtually every other broadcaster’s upfront, it was refreshing to see SBS resist this and talk about the importance of curation within their recommendation engine. While AI has great potential in the industry, getting the balance between being led by algorithms, versus being a cultural destination based on relevance, was the message. 


Diverse Content Slate

The least surprising (but much welcomed) news of the day was the announcement of Alone Australia Season 2, given the massive success of season 1 which provided a case study of how overnight ratings can no longer be the sole indicator of the success of a show. 

The Men’s FIFA World Cup rights being locked in for 2026 is also massive news, and is about as safe a bet for ratings success as you can get, particularly given the favourable time zone differences with North America.

Broadcasters often talk about having access to global content when what they actually mean is content from the US and UK. SBS, however, mean global in the truest sense of the word, allowing them to attract a diverse range of audiences. The news of 7% growth in prime-time metro audiences for NITV is a rare good news story for linear TV which should be celebrated, especially in an era of misinformation around First Nations issues.

While SBS clearly walk the walk around diversity of content and audience, I would have liked them to be more explicit in sharing some data around the uniqueness of their audience, as there is a huge commercial opportunity for both SBS and advertisers to reach these audiences. 

SBS did a great job of staying true to their core values while being progressive and setting themselves up for success in the new communications economy.

SBS Audio

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