Networks take issue with US dramas on SBS

Network bosses are unhappy with SBS and ABC moving further away from their Charter, with SBS under fire for its increased US content.

Seven’s Tim Worner, Nine’s Hugh Marks, TEN’s Paul Anderson and Foxtel’s Peter Tonagh have all weighed in recently on the public broadcasters seemingly moving in on their turf, with public funding in tow. They argue that covering the same terrain is not why the public broadcasters were set up.

SBS has recently screened, or is about to unveil, Fargo, Roots, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Good Fight, Outlander, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, while its multichannels have aired Uncle Buck, The Brothers, Scarface, 8 Mile, Purple Rain and Batman reruns.

“It is clear they are now chasing the same programs and audience as us. They are not playing the distinct and special role set out for them in legislation. In particular the steadily growing amount of UK and US content on SBS does not seem consistent with its multicultural objectives,” Tim Worner told The Australian.

Hugh Marks said Nine was increasingly finding itself going head to head with SBS for content, which is raising prices.

“The landscape has changed so a full review of the role of public broadcasters in that landscape is a necessity. And this must include an update of their charters to reflect a more detailed social contract, including obligations around local content.”

But SBS has had to become increasingly nimble in its revenue raising after cuts in funding together with a knock back for plans to increase primetime ads. SBS On Demand is becoming a quiet achiever for the network, much to the concern of commercial rivals.

SBS has long-argued ‘multiculturalism’ extends beyond ethnicity, to include other cultures: gay, senior, youth, disabled and more. It says the broadly appealing titles help underpin its locally-distinctive titles.

In a statement it said, “Many of the programs identified would not have been considered by Seven and Nine, and these claims are only being made after seeing SBS’s recent success. SBS is bringing Australians more diverse content exploring cultures and celebrating diversity than it ever has before, including telling stories otherwise untold in the Australian media through its distinctive news and current affairs, our more than 70 in-language radio programs, and TV series such as The Family Law, Filthy, Rich and Homeless and upcoming drama Sunshine.

Marshall Heald, SBS Director of Television and Online Content, recently told TV Tonight, content was also chosen for its thematics.

“A show like The Good Fight, when you pick it apart, is about an affluent, white lawyer working in a black law firm and having to engage in a whole ecosystem that she has no experience with. So there’s a strong Charter alignment there,” he said.

“As an acquisitions network, and one of the few networks in the world with our kind of ‘purpose’, it’s very difficult for us to consistently acquire content that 100% meets our needs. We could really only do that if we had more local commissions.”


  1. Considering all the quality content on FTA is screened late at night I am glad SBS is picking up this content and screening them prime time. When you look at how badly The Good Wife was treated by channel Ten I dread to think how they would have treated the The Good Fight. Seven, Nine and Ten have all these channels but so little is actually screened on them. For a while I thought they got 7flix going well and then all the shows disappeared for some re runs of a different show and now those first run shows are being screened past 10:30pm. We don’t need more channels buying and hoarding programs to only screen at midnight.

    • Overall TGW wasn’t so much treated badly by TEN as being the law of diminishing returns. It stayed Wednesday nights across its entire run, having to move from 8:30 to 9:30. Admittedly there were some delayed starts and weeks off, not always fast-tracked, but we get that with most shows.

  2. Maev....Sydney

    Not just picking on Seven….but I am watching 7TWO…..
    With programs being advertised like Delinquents Make You Laugh Out Loud….Yummy Mummies…and Behave Yourself….in prime time….*sigh*….Hardly think ‘It is clear they (SBS) are now chasing the same programs and audience as us’…(Seven’s Tim Worner)

  3. Maybe we need a full review on the three FTA commercial channels who still receive govt funding and on foxtel with the recent announcement that 30 million dollars of taxpayers money is being given to the pay tv operator .why do they need any taxpayers money. All the programmes mentioned for SBS none of the FTA channels nor foxtel would ever consider buying .sour grapes perhaps, because viewers clearly prefer SBS content

  4. If FTA networks are continually passing on US dramas in favour of reality shows, why shouldn’t SBS get them? Otherwise we wouldn’t get these shows at all.

  5. FTA networks didn’t want to air any of these shows (they are airing almost zero first FTA run, OS scripted content at the moment). They are acting as an illegal cartel to try and drive down the price of OS content and are upset that SBS isn’t conspiring with them. Instead SBS are doing what a commercial broadcaster should do — compete against them and fill a gap in the market.

    We need an inquiry to determine what public broadcasters should be doing in the internet age, and give them updated charters to follow to do it. At the moment SBS is competing against both the ABC & ABC2 and 7,9 & 10 and Stan in violation of its charter. The ABC is also going to put Fairfax out of business, leaving a duopoly of ABC as government fund left wing political journalism and The Australian’s Foxtel subsidised right wing Libertarian political journalism.

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