Top Stories of 2020: Network Upfronts were very different

Screen Queensland

• A summary for each network plus analysis from Publicis’ Jodi Fraser.

No network functions, no red carpets and no post show parties for the TV networks this year as Covid shutdown anybody wanting to bring a crowd together.

Instead networks had to resort to virtual presentations about what they would be screening in 2021. It all worked reasonably well leading some to wonder if the “glory days” would ever return. Special mention to Network 10 which went over the top with some of its star studded videos shown during its Upfront.

Below is a summary for each commercial network and public broadcaster plus analysis from Publicis’ Jodi Fraser.

Nine Upfront 2021: Minute-by-minute – Talent gets a day off

Nine has been the first broadcaster to hold a 2021 Upfront. The virtual event is of course how anybody holds a gathering these days and perhaps it will become the new norm. Will the party atmosphere be replaced by a more cost-effective and direct way to spread the message to where it really needs to hit home – agencies and marketers who decide where to invest to spread their messages?

Apart from no physical interaction with the audience, the main difference this year was that talent largely got the night off. Save for a late Zoom bombing from Hamish Blake, the Nine programming highlights were delivered by the sales and marketing team.

Hugh and Hamish

Nine pre-recorded its Upfront at a hired Sydney studio, apart from Hugh Mark’s presentation from the new Nine integrated newsroom in North Sydney.

Another change was the time – after dabbling with most of an afternoon several years ago, the Nine Upfront was a very manageable 50 minutes. Good work! The audience of 4,000+ registrations thanks you.

Michael Stephenson

The event started with Nine chief sales officer Michael Stephenson with help from Today’s Allison Langdon who welcomed the online guests to the virtual studio. Stephenson painted a big picture about Nine’s dominance and noted that given the size of the reach, “Nine is now officially a premium alternative to Facebook and Google”.

Nine director of sales – digital and publishing Nick Young then did some of the heavy lifting, taking people through the global first long-term partnership with Adobe for integration into Adobe Audience Management.

Nick Young

Young explained Coles is Nine’s first partner to upload customer data sets. Young also used a number of slides to illustrate how Nine print and digital news brands The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review reach more Australians than comparable News Corp Australia brands.

A session on Powered from director of Powered Linda Dubois included an introduction to Powered Enterprise. She used examples of successful campaigns run by Kmart, hi pages, Uber Eats, Mitre 10, KFC, ANZ and McDonald’s and used quotes from some of those company’s marketing chiefs.

Linda Dubois

Nine director of sales television and radio Richard Hunwick explained the new radio offering and how it was part of “content that makes an impact”. He also ran a lengthy promo with highlights of all the Nine Radio breakfast shows.

Richard Hunwick

Half an hour into the event it was time to delve into the programming with Nine’s director of commercial partnerships Lizzie Young taking over after a highlights reel. “More depth and diversity,” Young promised as she explained the market should be ready for 15 months of compelling programming. The rest of this year includes the NRL Finals and three State of Origin clashes. Young also pointed to The Block auctions on Sunday November 22 and some of the exclusives coming to 9Now.

Lizzie Young

Nine echoed what CEO Hugh Marks told Mediaweek last month, that casting Married at First Sight on Zoom had helped deliver them a great 2021 cast.

Nine then reinforced the Nine News offering and how, when mixed with Nine Radio and Nine Publishing, “now more than ever, Australian turns to Nine – premium and trusted brands”.

The news network promises it reaches more Australians than anyone else can across all platforms – digital, radio, print and television.

“News is our biggest commitment,” thundered the voice over. “Courageous, honest journalism you can trust – local, statewide and national.”

CEO Hugh Marks appeared 45 minutes into the Upfront, speaking from inside Nine’s new integrated newsroom in North Sydney. “I am so proud of what we have built,” he started. “We see its strength when things like Covid happen due to the depth and diversity of our market-leading assets. I am so proud of our team who without doubt are the best in the business. They have responded to the challenge they have had to overcome every single day. Why do we challenge ourselves every single day? Because we love it. It’s in our blood – a passion for media that drives us to be the best, to lead and innovate and to continually strive for fresh and original. We never rest on our laurels which at the end of the day would be the easy way to go, but it’s not us.

Hugh Marks

Our ambition to be better, to be a better partner, to provide more value and to extend our relationship has never been stronger.

“We just need you to embrace what Nine can provide and to be open and transparent with what you want to achieve. To engage when it matters beyond the transaction to also want to be our partner. To really be able to activate the full benefit of what we have built.

“We have the largest audiences across all our media platforms – audiences that engage with what we do with a passion.

“We have the most advanced marketing solutions which you should all embrace. We are continuing to innovate in that space to make business with us easier. We have a data asset second to none in domestic media by a longshot and with our new Adobe partnership even more potential to extract real value from that in real time in a way that not even Google and Facebook can offer you.

“More than ever you need a marketing partner to work alongside you to navigate this ever-changing world to get you the best outcomes. One you can trust, one with real scale and influence when it really counts.

“More than ever, that partner is Nine.”

10 Upfronts 2021: Beverley McGarvey and Rod Prosser on content strategy

10 Upfronts 2021

Mediaweek asks the questions as 10’s Beverley McGarvey, chief content officer and executive vice president of ViacomCBS Australia and New Zealand, and Rod Prosser, chief sales officer, provide the answers.

Read more:
Network 10 Upfronts 2021: New and returning shows
Network 10 Upfronts 2021: NEW – Commercial opportunities for marketers
Network 10 Upfronts 2021: NEW – Making It Australia
Network 10 Upfronts 2021: NEW – The Dog House Australia

Measuring success in 2020

Prosser told Mediaweek: “While we can’t control the market or what we have gone though this year, what we can control is our revenue share. This year we have had 11 months of revenue share growth and I’m predicting that will be 12 months fairly soon.

“In that respect we have had a really great year. Given everything that has happened in the last year and I am thrilled with what’s been achieved.”

Prosser noted things that have kept sales on their toes included data, Buy 10, growing the sales team after the split with MCN, integrating the Viacom sales team and growing the content portfolio with 10 Shake.

“You are only ever as good as your product and the reality is we have had a really consistent, solid programming slate which has really helped with a better revenue share.”

Controlling the content spend

Beverley McGarvey

McGarvey told Mediaweek the network has been looking at ways to spend less, but maintain its quality.

“Everyone has probably done that this year, given the environment we are in. We have tried to be very efficient in how we chose to spend our money. Our audience share so far is 11% up and we want to maintain the growth, yet not be irresponsible with the investment. We have shaved bits here and there, but we are trying to keep the content the audience sees as intact as possible.”

Whatever happed to 10 News?

Despite the recent fairly dramatic cutbacks, McGarvey stressed that news remains important to the network. “Not just at 5pm, but also at 6.30 with The Project. What we have done is set ourselves up so we can continue to service local news in all markets. To a degree we have centralised newsreading to come out of Sydney and Melbourne. We still have news gathering in all states which allows us to maintain the same volume of local stories for our local audiences. It is much more efficient for us not to be running five presentation studios. However we still do have newsrooms in all markets with journalists and camera operators.

“News is important to us and is something that has always been important to 10.”

Feeding the 7.30 timeslot

McGarvey: “We had a major franchise planned for every single week this year, but we had production challenges with Survivor and other things. Next year we do have a very consistent run that starts on the third of January with I’m A Celebrity and then continues through until December with a strong slate.

Consistency is critical. Once you lose momentum, and that has happened a little this year, it is so hard to get it back. For our audiences and our clients we need to be strong all year. To still be up 11% given the challenges is a good result. Next year, in a more stable environment, we think we can do even better.”

Prosser added: “While 7.30pm is obviously very important, our schedule is much broader, starting at 5pm and then also running later in the evening with things like Gogglebox and Have You Been Paying Attention? What advertisers want is a strong schedule from daytime to night time.”

McGarvey: “When you get 7.30pm right everything else lifts that bit more. Despite the fact people don’t watch a particular channel like they used to, lead-ins and scheduling still has an impact to some degree.”

New content for 2020 and what’s missing

Dancing with the Stars is a major franchise not returning to the schedule. Also having a rest is Bachelor in Paradise. “Otherwise all our major shows are returning,” said McGarvey. “We love Dancing with the Stars, but we can’t do absolutely everything.”

Of the three new formats, McGarvey said Making It Australia is the biggest of the commissions. “It is a multi-night franchise and sits tonally in the space occupied by things like MasterChefBake-OffLego Masters. It’s a competitive reality show that sits in the world of crafting. It could range from a family making a Halloween costume to someone making a piece of art. It was created by Amy Poehler in the US and is into its third season on NBC.

“It is very different to everything else that is on air. It has family appeal and will be hosted by comedians. It is important to have franchises at all stages of their life cycles. MasterChef and The Bachelor are more mature brands, as is I’m a Celebrity and SurvivorThe Masked Singer has only had two seasons as has The Amazing Race. It is always important to have something new coming through as well as those legacy brands like MasterChef.”

McGarvey said 10 was happy with the UK version of The Dog House this year about people adopting pets. “An Australian version will help us grow our audience at the back of the week at certain times of the year.”

The First Inventors sits in the space also inhabited by factual formats like Todd Sampson’s Body Hack. “Things that add a bit of texture to the schedule, things that are a bit different to what our competitors would do.”

While Todd Sampson’s Body Hack won’t be back in 2021, McGarvey said there will be something new featuring Sampson.

The Amazing Race Queensland

Industry speculation that the adventure travel competition might be based in one state is incorrect said McGarvey. The show has spent its first two weeks of filming in Queensland, but there will also be stops in other states. “The only place we are not going to is Victoria. Not only are we going to many of the iconic and beautiful parts of Australia, we are also going on a road less travelled too.”

Australian Survivor returning, but where?

McGarvey told Mediaweek 10 has two locations ready for the next season of Australian Survivor. “We just haven’t made the final decision yet. We may shoot in Australia. We are shooting I’m A Celebrity and The Amazing Race in Australia, but there is no final decision yet on Survivor.”

10 won’t be considering rolling out two seasons of any of its major franchises in 2021. “To be frank, giving all the complexities with production at the moment, one each of those shows is enough.”

Exploring commercial opportunities

The commercial team at Network 10 doesn’t wait until a new franchise has been acquired to explore sponsorship partners. “We start that work actually ahead of any acquisition,” Prosser said. “We have a robust discussion with Bev and her team about the commercial opportunities before any show gets commissioned. I am always looking for shows that are easy to integrate into that also come with an appeal to a good audience.

The new formats next year give us a real opportunity to get clients bedded into the shows.

“Because our major franchises are tried and tested, we have a lot of renewals that happen organically.”

10 has taken several new opportunities to market this year, including a new channel. “The take up of opportunities at 10 Shake from premium partners with clients wanting to get involved targeting a younger audience has been enormous.”

10 Shake: Growing the audience

As to spreading the word about new channel 10 Shake, McGravey said: “It had something of a soft launch, but the daytime audience doubled in the first couple of weeks. We are targeting a very specific audience so we need to make sure those people find it. We have a long-term plan, although it is already hitting its initial targets in terms of kids. We know want more people to sample the primetime offering.”

Monetising 10 Play

Rod Prosser

Prosser: “The BVOD market has been a real growth pillar for us and FTA TV this year, even through Covid. We have been making more money out of it. What has helped accelerate the monetisation has been our Premium Pause offering which has really taken off. We will soon launch the evolution of that, the Content Carousel, which allows advertisers to put their brands front and centre in the BVOD environment.”

Prosser also mentioned that by early next year 100% of 10’s platforms will be addressable. “This year we have added Flybuys which is a nice premium partner that compliments the existing ones we have got. It gives us access to about 8.6m spenders.”

10’s sport strategy

Although 10 is losing Supercars and the future of Rugby Union is yet to be decided, McGarvey said 10 remains a sports broadcaster. “We have said for a number of years our position on sport is tactical. We will look at everything and if it makes sense for our brand, ratings and revenue then we will be interested. We have the Melbourne Cup coming soon and for a few more years, the Bledisloe Cup rugby is on air at present and next year we still have the Australian F1 Grand Prix. Rod and I will look at every opportunity.”

Regarding the loss of Supercars, McGarvey noted it was an off-peak sport. “It was a great partnership while we had it, but it just didn’t make sense for us any longer.”

Prosser added: “Supercars became trickier and trickier for us to monetise, partly because it’s off-peak and on weekends.”

Seven Upfront: Angus Ross and Kurt Burnette on schedule shake-up

The biggest surprise from the Seven Upfront was the reveal at the end of the Upfront event from director of network programming Angus Ross that Seven had secured a deal with Fremantle to broadcast Australian Idol.

Both Ross and Seven chief revenue officer and director of the Olympics Kurt Burnette see big upsides from Seven schedule for audiences and advertisers.

The return of the singing show from hibernation won’t be happening in 2021 though, Seven has commissioned the series for 2022.

Angus Ross

Is there room for The Voice, Australia’s Got Talent and Australian Idol on the one channel?

“It gives us control over three of the most powerful formats in the world,” Ross told Mediaweek. “I like having an armoury of formats like that to roll out when we want to.”

Ross said there were no concerns about the amount of talent available in Australia to provide performers for all three formats. “Since we have called for performers for The Voice, ITV has been inundated with the casting and some of the talent has been incredible. We are very confident in all those formats and we will roll them out as we see fit.”

An upside of having all these popular formats is that it shuts out Nine and 10 from commissioning one of the formats. “Large scale entertainment and variety formats are very important to the schedule. You just can’t be running scripted reality shows all year long, you have to have variety and we now control the here biggest formats in that space.”

Ross pulled the trigger quickly on recommissioning Screentime’s SAS Australia, announcing its return at the Upfront just after the first two episodes screened. “The numbers for that second episode 16-39 and 25-54 went higher, so it was a bit of a no-brainer. It falls into our strategy of commissioning proven, power formats. It is an established, proven format from Channel 4 in the UK. Even though they are a very different network to us, we thought it had potential. It had a troubled birth because of Covid. We started filming in New Zealand and we had to abandon that. Thanks to the work of Screentime and our executives we have still managed to get it on air. It is delivering for us in spades.

SAS Australia is also on track to become our biggest show ever on 7plus after 150,000 extra viewers watched the Monday night episode.” That figure should be bigger now in the few days since we spoke with Ross.

Seven is anticipating less disruption to its 2021 schedule as shows originally slotted for 2020 will finally be ready. “By mid-December we will have banked all of our first-half programming up until the Tokyo Olympics. We have finished Holey Moley and we are shooting Farmer Wants a Wife now and by December we will have also finished Big Brother and Ultimate Tag.

We don’t want a repeat of what happened this year when we lost three formats that were supposed to go to air. In 2021 we will have all of the rounds in the chamber, so look out!

Advertising already rolling in for 2021

Kurt Burnette

Seven is not only hoping its viewers will be patient when it comes to finally watching the formats that have been promised for some time. The advertisers too have been waiting for their sponsorships to be activated onscreen.

“All of the Tokyo Olympics brands have been waiting and the vast majority are still committed,” Kurt Burnette told Mediaweek. “We now have over $85m in forward investments for 2021 before we even factor in the AFL market. That is money committed to the Olympics and the major franchises. We have already had some re-commit to SAS Australia too for 2021.”

Burnette said being part of the delayed Olympics is a strong statement from a brand. “If you are going to build a brand with a message to connect to Australians coming out of the most horrendous year on record – a event about patriotism and bring the world together – is there a finer moment to be a part of? That is the sort of discussions we are having with brands who are excited to be a part of it.”

Burnette said the 2021 Seven schedule is perhaps its best since the network launched the Athens Olympics of 2004. “Back then we were launching programs like Dancing with the Stars and had programs like Desperate Housewives and Lost. I’m not suggesting we will do the sorts of numbers those shows had, but we are now offering one of the biggest shake-ups in many years.

“What that means is growth opportunities for brands.”

Upfronts 2020: Publicis’ Jodi Fraser on content, data and who did it best


Are virtual Upfront events here to stay? The program showcases from Nine, 10 and Seven have now all been held, and although there were fewer new programs announced, there has been no lack of talking points.

To gauge how one media agency felt about the new virtual presentation formats, Mediaweek spoke with Jodi Fraser from Publicis Media Exchange.

“All three networks managed to put together an upfront that retained their individual style, despite it being delivered virtually,” Fraser said.

“Network 10 focused on content, while managing to create a virtual upfront that was as fun and entertaining as their in-person upfronts are.

“Nine focused on new ways of trading, particularly on data and creating new ways to engage with clients.

“Seven’s upfront was heavy on content and data opportunities, and helped reassure us that they have a real plan for 2021.

All three networks produced really slick, engaging and succinct presentations.

When it comes to who might have done it better, perhaps making a longer-lasting impression, Fraser couldn’t separate them.

“Each presentation had a different focus, and for me, each one left me with something key that I will remember – which is an advantage to the virtual presentation rather than the in person.”

The number of new marquee shows coming is very small. Most shows that will be new to the schedule have either been previously announced or are existing formats that the networks are dusting off.

“What was really interesting about the network content line ups, was that each of them now have a solid, tried and tested content slate.”

“There wasn’t a lot of ‘new’ content, but this lends itself to consistency in audience delivery. Even Seven, which announced the most new programming, will largely be using formats that have worked before on Australian TV.”

Fraser said the information each network provided was the right balanace between ‘tell me more’ and ‘content overload’.

“Each network was able to give us a high level understanding of the sales strategy for 2021 and new products that would help us drive this. In the virtual format this was the appropriate level of detail. We have been given enough information to be able to follow up on initiatives that makes sense for our clients.

Network data detail: “There was a lot of focus on data from the networks, and for Publicis and the direction our clients are going in terms of data strategy, we will be able to tap into each network’s offering to drive solutions for our clients,” said Fraser.

Networks continue to focus on leadership in terms of the biggest network share. But Fraser noted it is important to get the detail about how each network performs within those network numbers.

Fraser: “The primary channel is still important as it is where the bulk of client spend sits. However, as a buyer you want the network to be strong across all their channels. As always, what is more important comes down to individual client needs.”


• Premiering five premium Australian dramas, including the return of Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths in new Total Control.
• New and returning factual content to stir the heart and mind, welcoming back Emmy-winning Old People’s Home For 4-Year-Olds and Love On The Spectrum plus Women in Parliament with Annabel Crabb and Back to Nature with Aaron Pedersen and Holly Ringland.
• Homegrown comedy and entertainment, with new series of Spicks and Specks and new shows with Kitty Flanagan, Nakkiah Lui, Sarah Kendall and Erik Thomson.
• ABC Comedy rebrands as ABC TV Plus, showcasing diverse documentaries, arts, entertainment and comedy in primetime every night of the week.
• Q+A moves to prime time on Thursday nights
• New ABC children’s content – new series The Wonder Gang and Kangaroo Beach.

For 2021 the ABC is promising diverse Australian dramas, comedies, documentaries, news, arts, entertainment and children’s programs. ABC stars Rachel Griffiths, Wil Anderson, Erik Thomson, Kitty Flanagan, Leigh Sales, Nakkiah Lui, Craig Reucassel and Superwog have helped announce the ABC’s 2021 content slate, showcasing the best of Australian content and creativity in the way that only the ABC can.


ABC managing director David Anderson said no other media organisation has the breadth and depth of trusted content for all Australians. “Support for Australian creativity has been at the heart of the ABC for the past 88 years and will continue into 2021. After a challenging year of disconnection, the ABC will bring more Australians together from more places across this wonderfully diverse country. The ABC is the creative voice of Australia and in 2021 we will bring more homegrown content to audiences than ever, across TV, online and ABC iview.”

ABC director of entertainment & specialist Michael Carrington said: “The ABC in 2021 is rich, diverse and inclusive, showcasing Australia’s best and emerging talent on and off screen. ABC iview will be home to more original Australian content than ever before. Our rebranded secondary channel ABC TV Plus will celebrate Australian culture and creativity, including live performances, premiere documentaries, stand-up comedy and a new weekly arts show. In 2021, the ABC will deliver more Australian voices, faces and stories than any other network – that’s our point of difference. Amid so much content from overseas, Australians are right at home on ABC.”

ABC program highlights for 2021

Six major drama projects

ABC Upfronts 2021

Total Control

• Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths return for the highly-anticipated second series of Total Control
• Anna Torv and Sam Reid headline the cast of The Newsreader
• Ioan Gruffudd returns for another season of Harrow
• Guy Pearce will reprise his iconic role as Jack Irish
• Set in the scenic Blue Mountains, the ground-breaking new series Wakefield, starring Rudi Dharmalingham, Mandy McElhinney and Geraldine Hakewill tackles the taboo subject of mental illness head on
• The six-part series Fires is inspired by the extraordinary people who survived last summer to tell the tale

Seven factual series

Back to Nature

• Annabel Crabb examines the struggles of Australia’s female politicians in Women in Parliament
• Aaron Pedersen and bestselling author Holly Ringland guide viewers through the Australian landscape in the new natural history series Back to Nature
• Bondi Hipster Christiaan Van Vuuren investigates the state of Australia in The As Yet Unnamed Democracy Project (working title)
• Love on the Spectrum and Old People’s Home for 4- Year-Olds return
• Four-part series Beyond the Towers revisits the terrorist attacks that changed the world, 20 years on
• Quoll Farm takes an intimate look at the life of an unassuming Australian marsupial

Six new or returning comedy projects


• New episodes of Spicks and Specks
• Charlie Pickering and Annabel Crabb will think the unthinkable in a new series of Tomorrow Tonight
• Sarah Kendall puts on her big hair for more Frayed
• Erik Thomson joins ABC’s comedy alumni, starring as a disgraced chef in the much-anticipated new series Aftertaste
• Nakkiah Lui leads a fresh line-up of talent in Preppers
• Kitty Flanagan brings her singular and hilarious voice to the fast-paced comedy Fisk, about a high-end lawyer who is forced to work in a shabby suburban law firm

ABC TV Plus (previously ABC Comedy)

Launching January 1st and airing from 7.30pm to 2am daily on channel 22 on your digital TV, channel 134 on Foxtel or channel 126 on Optus, the newly-rebranded secondary channel ABC TV Plus will celebrate Australian culture and content. Complemented by an exciting suite of international shows, ABC TV Plus will cater for all Australians with diverse new programs, from Saturday stand-up comedians to primetime premieres of religion, science and natural history documentaries, along with the best of the arts – three nights a week.

Renewed commitment to arts programming

The ABC’s support for Australian arts and artists will be showcased in 2021, with the launch of a new weekly arts program on ABC TV Plus, alongside feature-length documentaries and live performances of music, ballet, musical theatre, film and opera.

• Claudia Karvan delves into the world of Australian literature, from the classics to the page-turners in the three-part as-yet-unnamed Australian book Series.
• Justine Clarke embarks on a memorable road trip to uncover Australian country music in Going Country
• Rachel Griffiths shares her passion for portraiture in Finding the Archibald. The fascinating story behind Australia’s pre-eminent Indigenous dance company Bangarra is explored in the feature-length documentary Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra
• Step into Paradise celebrates the enduring success of designers Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson

ABC ME and ABC Kids

• Australia’s #1 kids’ show Bluey will be back in 2021, headlining the ABC’s commitment to homegrown children’s content
• Aussie kids can have all their curly questions answered with the help of new ABC Kids’ show The Wonder Gang
• In its 55th year on air, Play School will be back with five new specials, including an episode in honour of Emergency Service workers
• Little kids around the country will get to meet wannabe hero joey Pounce in the animated series Kangaroo Beach
• Returning favourites include the Emmy Award-winning Hardball, Itch and Good Game Spawn Point

Q+A moves to 8.30pm Thursdays

ABC Upfronts 2021

• Thursday nights will become a destination for original journalism and discussion of the big topics, with Q+A in the new primetime slot of 8.30pm, alongside stories and characters from around Australia and the world in Back Roads and Foreign Correspondent alternating at 8pm
• Monday nights remain the home of Australian stories and investigations, with the return of Australian Story and Four Corners – which will mark its 60th year in 2021

Returning series in 2021

ABC shows that audiences know, trust and love will be back in the new year, including: Gardening Australia, Gruen, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, Anh’s Brush with Fame, Hard Quiz, The Set, Dream Gardens, Catalyst, You Can’t Ask That and Landline in its 30th year.

SBS reveals 2021 program slate including 5 new dramas and most docos ever

SBS 2021

• Five new commissioned dramas on SBS and SBS On Demand: Copping it Black, The Unusual Suspects, New Gold Mountain, Iggy & Ace and The Tailings
• New 200-episode series, The Cook Up with Adam Liaw, to air weeknights on SBS Food
• New and returning documentaries on topics such as literacy, domestic abuse, anxiety and personal identity
• New Gold Mountain cast revealed and new faces to the network including Celia Pacquola, Jay Laga’aia, Rob Collins and Jess Hill
• 160 hours of new dramas on SBS On Demand: Shadowplay, Romulus, The Handmaid’s TaleWar of the Worlds and Shrill
• SBS On Demand in more languages with the introduction of Hindi, Korean and Vietnamese
• SBS expands its initiatives to boost diverse storytelling
• SBS Media to offer insights with new thought leadership studies

SBS has announced its 2021 program slate of content, featuring the network’s biggest ever local commissioned content offering. 

SBS managing director, James Taylor said: “2020 has demonstrated the distinctive and vital role of SBS as a contemporary, multilingual Australian broadcaster – part of the very fabric of our multicultural Australia – in an extraordinary way. We are reaching and engaging with more Australians than ever before, and next year we will continue to support diverse communities, reflect and celebrate contemporary Australia in all its glorious diversity, bring Australians together and connect with audiences in a way that others can’t.” 

SBS director of TV and online content, Marshall Heald said: “2021 is set to be a bumper year across the network, with a record number of local dramas, documentaries and acquired programs that will surprise, challenge and inspire audiences. We scour the globe, and the country, for unique stories in languages, genres and formats that will connect Australians with the world around them and with each other. Now, more than ever, we want to continue championing the issues and communities not often seen or heard.”

SBS will bring five new commissioned drama series to Australian audiences in 2021

With the support of Screen Australia Indigenous Department and French company APC Studios, SBS and National Indigenous Television (NITV) have announced Copping it Black from CAAMA and Bunya Productions, with the producing team behind Mystery Road. The beauty of Indigenous art and the sometimes-devious practices in the global art market take Detective Toni Alma on an epic hunt for a killer. Spanning her small Northern Territory community and art galleries across the globe, this is a murder mystery like no other, exploring culture, community and the very human pursuit of identity and belonging. 

The murder mystery New Gold Mountain explores the story of the Australian gold rush from the perspective of Chinese miners who risked everything for a chance at unlikely wealth in a strange new land. The cast is led by Mulan and Dead Lucky’s Yoson AnVikings star Alyssa Sutherland, and Christopher James Baker from True Detective, with familiar face Dan Spielman and exciting new talent Mabel Li.

The four-part heist caper The Unusual Suspects is also coming to SBS in 2021. Produced by Aquarius Films, it is a tale of female friendship and empowerment set in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. When a $10 million necklace is taken in an elaborate heist, women from vastly different walks of life come together to ensure justice is served. The Unusual Suspects champions strong female characters and marks the first major representation of Filipino-Australians on Australian TV.

Aina Dumlao (Sanzaru, Ballers, MacGyver), AACTA award-winner Miranda Otto (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Homeland, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Michelle Vergara Moore (Condor, The Time of Our Lives) headline the cast of The Unusual Suspects.

SBS’s Digital Originals program

SBS’s Digital Originals program, in partnership with Screen Australia and NITV, will be extended for another three years. The program provides opportunities for creatives traditionally underrepresented in the screen sector to develop scripted short-form projects for SBS On Demand. Applications for the 2022 Digital Originals program open in February 2021.  

Next year, SBS will premiere two new Digital Originals – Iggy & Ace, a comedy exploring friendship, addiction and recovery through a queer lens, and The Tailings, a dramatic coming of age story. The latter is a murder mystery set against one of the most fragile, beautiful landscapes in Australia, the west coast of Tasmania, and celebrates the tenacity and pride of regional communities rarely seen on screen.

SBS on Demand 

In 2021, SBS On Demand will premiere 160 hours of new drama every month. From Norway to New Zealand, Sweden to South Korea, Israel to Italy. Including psychological murder mystery The Sisterpost-war thriller ShadowplayNorthern Ireland crime drama Bloodlands and Latin-language epic Romulus. There will also be new seasons of the critically acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, War of the Worlds and Why Women Kill.

In 2021, SBS will add three more languages to this service with Hindi, Korean and Vietnamese to be introduced, and SBS will also be significantly increasing the subtitled content available providing greater access to Australian stories. SBS will also continue to expand this unique service with the introduction of virtual channel experiences in Arabic and Simplified Chinese on the platform in 2021, creating content destinations uniquely tailored for these communities.

SBS’s 2021 Documentary Slate

SBS has made its biggest ever commitment to one-off documentaries in 2021 with a total of 10 documentaries in two collections – Australia Uncovered and Untold Australia. In partnership with Documentary Australia Foundation, Australia Uncovered is a strand of seven stand-alone documentaries that tackle the big questions in Australia.

Comedian and actor Celia Pacquola will be exploring the anxiety so many people are struggling within Australia vs Anxiety. The Bowraville Murders will explore a families’ desperate search for justice in Bowraville. Strong Female Lead will explore gender politics during the term of Australia’s only female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Untold Australia will return for the fifth instalment of three documentaries. From Birdsville (Birdsville or Bust) to Ipswich (Bowled Over), this series will reveal an honest and intimate portrait of contemporary Australian life.

Lost for Words presented by actor and singer Jay Laga’aia is a heart-warming three-part series exploring Australia’s staggeringly low adult literacy rates. Jay and an expert literacy teacher will follow the journey of 10 adults who are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change what has always been holding them back – reading, writing and spelling.

Australia’s Health Revolution with Michael Mosley will return in 2021 as Dr Mosley and Australian diabetes educator and exercise physiologist, Ray Kelly, explore the big picture of type 2 diabetes in Australia. 

Building on the success of Is Australia Racist?, What Does Australia Think About? will uncover how Australia really views disability, ageism and obesity.

See What You Made Me Do will explore domestic abuse. Presented by investigative journalist Jess Hill, this series will examine the fine lines between love, abuse and power.

From NITV, Incarceration Nation will put the justice system on trial and question the cost this system is having on the culture, values and wellbeing of Indigenous people in Australia.

The network will welcome the return of some of its commissioned documentary series as well with the 12th season of Who Do You Think You Are?. Announced today, Uncle Jack Charles and Celia Pacquola are among the prominent Australians uncovering the secrets of their ancestry next year. Australia in Colour also returns, and Noni Hazlehurst will be back for Every Family Has A Secret.

SBS 2021 Entertainment Slate

Eurovision will be back in 2021 after its unprecedented cancellation earlier this year, with Montaigne preparing to take the stage in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with a brand-new song. SBS will again bring the colour and chaos of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live to lounge rooms across Australia, but for the first time ever, the event will have a new home. the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground, to ensure a ‘COVID safe’ event. Beloved quiz shows Mastermind and Celebrity Mastermind are also set to return.

SBS 2021 Food Programming

SBS has announced a 200-episode series, The Cook Up with Adam Liaw, that will air every weeknight at 7pm on SBS Food. Also on the menu is chef Analiese Gregory, who will bring the rugged food culture of Tasmania to audiences in A Girl’s Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking. Chef Shane Delia is back with A Middle East Feast with Shane Delia, seeing him recreating the food traditions of his homeland. Guillaume Brahimi will return with Plat du Tour to accompany the Tour de France, and NITV’s Strait to The Plate, hosted by Aaron Fa’Aoso, will unearth the stories, culture and secrets behind the unique cuisine of the Torres Strait.

Other returning food series include Cook Like an Italian with Silvia Colloca, Asia Unplated with Diana Chan, and Australia’s Food Bowl with Stefano de Pieri.

NITV in 2021

As the home of First Nations storytelling, NITV will present more powerful documentaries. The Fight Together follows NRL star Dean Widders’ journey to invent a new pre-game ceremony in response to the Maori Haka, to celebrate Aboriginal cultures and counter racism in rugby league. The First Inventors, a co-commission currently in development with Network 10, will see presenter Rob Collins meet and collaborate with First Nations authorities whose frontline fieldwork is giving exciting new insights into ancient Indigenous innovations and discoveries. NITV will also have returning seasons of favourites including the Logie award-winning Little J & Big Cuz and Going Places with Ernie Dingo.   

SBS 2021 Sport Slate

After securing the broadcast rights for a further ten years until 2030, the power and beauty of the Tour de France will be back. Other highlights next year include the UCI Road World Championships, the International Champion’s Cup, the US Open Finals, full coverage of the National Basketball League (NBL), alongside matches from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) leagues, the ISU Figure Skating, FIG Gymnastics, and the Dakar Rally. Catch all the action with highlight segments and recaps of some of the best sporting moments over the year. 

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