Smoke, mirrors & SBS Drama

SBS explains why it prefers limited series in local drama, instead of returning titles.

SBS doesn’t get to make a lot of local drama each year, due to limited budgets, but it believes there is more benefit to the broadcaster for limited series instead of a returning drama.

Last week at Screen Forever Marshall Heald, SBS Director of TV and Online Content, explained, “So far, we’ve been doing, typically in an ordinary year, maybe three, four-parters, non-returnables.

“I think we’re at a point now with a slate where the amount of international investment has grown. We could potentially get some of those to six-parters. But that means there’s really only 18 hours a year at a max.

“Our local slate is much more of a punctuation point for us. We nest those shows within acquired drama titles, whether it’s Vikings, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Good Fight or Zero Zero Zero.”

Heald says having a varied drama slate helps build a reputation for SBS Drama.

“We don’t do returnables because you get diminishing returns from a reputational perspective. With us, to be frank, there’s a certain degree of smoke and mirrors. If you can produce three new series every year, then the reputational benefit you get is greater than getting into the world of returnables,” he continued.

“Of course, you want returnables because you can grow brands and get audience. So given the resources we have, there are some trade-offs we have to make.

“But equally making three new shows every year allows you to explore new issues, new communities, new worlds. So that’s kind of fun as well.”

3 Responses

  1. Not knocking the limited series model, I think it works and there are great outputs.

    I still disagree that SBS should spend money on acquiring American/English drama though. Commercial TV’s margins are so thin, adding a fourth player (& fifth with ABC doing similar) to negotiations is not the right use of funds. It makes them all pay more.

    We used to have a problem in AU where the commercial networks wouldn’t show niche content. We don’t have that anymore with BVOD/SVOD. Fargo, The Good Fight, Vikings would all find a home.

    Need fillers between limiteds? Documentaries & more foreign language shows.

    1. SBS doesn’t put any foreign language content on in prime time, and is even putting less on after 11pm. And even when they have the FTA rights they often put stuff up on On Demand and may not air it, or may put it on after 11pm months later. It doesn’t generate much ad revenue on TV and people fluent in the language can stream plenty of stuff without annoying English subtitles. They are targeting the educated, English speaking, AB demographic to make a bit more cash with stuff like Vikings, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Good Fight and some quality foreign shows.

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