Drama destination a “case by case” choice for SBS

2013-12-12_0046Masters of Sex and Vikings have been amongst some of SBS success stories this year, attracting critical buzz and cult followings as Thursday night dramas.

Next year acclaimed French drama The Returned (Les Revenants) will join the line-up, having already premiered on STUDIO which, along with World Movies, is one of two Pay TV channels owned by SBS.

SBS Director of Television Tony Iffland recently told TV Tonight the decision as to where to premiere new acquisitions is made on a case by case basis with SBS Programmer Peter Andrews and STUDIO / World Movies Programmer Laura Glassman.

“It’s a discussion and it’s about the respective needs of the network and the ability of the networks to get them on air,” he explained.

“All sorts of things inform that decision such as how much material we’ve got on SBS ONE and TWO ….what does STUDIO need in terms of something to promote its schedule?

“There’s been no fisticuffs to date! There are compromises, agreements, and by and large it’s worked out well.”

Depending on the title, SBS may opt to premiere a show on one of its STV channels in order to fill a channel’s brief, but leverage it as promotion for a wider Free to Air premiere to follow later.

“I have a background in Subscription and often a Subscription play is a good thing for a later Free to Air,” he says. “It’s a preview and it’s important for those people who pay for Subscription and want to be at the leading edge, that they have new and fresh content.

“But then it’s also a benefit for us in a Free to Air space that a programme has become, what we call, a ‘show  brand.’ It becomes a brand in itself and draws an audience to it. So part of that can often be (through) a Subscription window. It can be a positive and not necessarily a negative.”

Iffland says SBS is still the home of international drama, repositioned to Thursday nights.  US drama Rectify starring Aden Young will screen in 2014.

“I want people to be able to say SBS is about the world’s best drama so we get Vikings, Masters of Sex, Rectify. That’s an absolute. They must sit on SBS ONE as seminal, brand-defining drama that we want to do,” he explains.

“Then you look at other things and think ‘Ok we know our audience will engage in it, but that will work harder for the SBS channels if it goes on Subscription first.’

“The greater good will be there.”


  1. Politics of local content aside, Rectify is mesmorising. Glad to see its getting a run. Its not for the masses but sensationally understated, acted and written. Now if only they can grab orphan black

  2. What I’d like to know is where is Australian produced drama on SBS? Four hours of Better Man in 2013 is simply not enough – and there’s way too much pressure on it to deliver charter and ratings and critical acclaim – one series simply cannot be all things to all people. They bang on about the cost of drama – but it’s more an issue of priorities. Appoint a Head of Drama who has a track record in getting things done, commit to say, 3 or 4 short run series of 4-8 episodes each year, budget the licence fee, work with Screen Australia and the state agencies and just get on with it. The lack of visible outcomes from the drama department (such as it is) is politically very dangerous for SBS, and a strategic error, that management needs to address.

  3. One of SBS’ deep secrets when it comes to Pay TV is that in 1995 it submitted to ACMA (then ABA) that it shouldn’t have to contribute the 10% of cost of drama acquisition which would go to Australian drama on its channel World Movies. It spuriously argued it was a niche channel and therefore should be exempted. For 18 years World Movies has avoided this obligation and the cost to Australian drama production over this period now runs into many millions. It is time for ACMA to change its position. For a government owned station to have wriggled out of this obligation is a disgrace. World Movies has been a great commercial success. All the other Foxtel drama channels pay the 10% why shouldn’t SBS? Ball is in your court ACMA.

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