SBS Upfronts: Lack of diversity in media, advertising 'incredibly disappointing'

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 16 November 2016
SBS Viceland brings different cultures and social issues from around the world to Australian living rooms.

SBS's approach to programming is about much more than entertainment – the public broadcaster's purpose is to use storytelling to provide different perspectives that will create a more cohesive society, says director of TV and online content Marshall Heald.

That's why SBS is diving head on into pertinent and divisive issues such as how Australians perceive refugees and a racist underbelly that occasionally tarnishes our society.

Heald tells AdNews the network wants to challenge the media and advertisers to create programs that are truly representative of the modern Australian culture, in which 28% of residents are born overseas, 20% speak a second language and 47% have parents born abroad.

“I think it's incredibly disappointing,” Heald says when reflecting on the media’s lack of diversity in programming. “There's an obligation upon all media to accurately portray the society in which we live.

“That can only be a positive thing, not just for advertisers but also commercial returns. We welcome more diversity on Australian screens... while this is an important part of what we do our mission is much more important than that – it's to change attitudes to create a more harmonious society.”

Diversity Works Challenge

SBS is attempting to promote greater diversity in advertising by running a competition that rewards a brand with the most diverse creative concept $1 million worth of free advertising.

“Everyone talks a good game about a changing landscape in Australia, but there’s still a certain safeness to want to be a traditional approach around how you are talking to Australians,” SBS director of media sales Andrew Cook tells AdNews.

“Ultimately I think creatives want to dabble in this space; maybe this will help push a client to want to trial that as well.”

Entries open on Australia Day and SBS will choose the most diverse advertising concept as described in a script in May.

Marshall Heald label

'A more cohesive Australia'

Heald says that at the heart of everything SBS does is the SBS Charter, which enshrines in the very reasons why the broadcaster was established and the role it should play in society. This involves empowering and inspiring Australians to seek out different perspectives in order to create a sense of belonging for everyone who lives here.

“Our purpose is to try and create a more cohesive Australian society through amazing storytelling,” he explains.

“The way we do that involves some celebratory events – things like Eurovision – and some serious topics as well. We're trying to find creative cut-through approaches that can allow us to reach out and engage with all Australians.”

An example of this, Heald says, is the I'm Not Racist, But series, which runs in February, and the new partnership with Viceland, which launched yesterday.

Viceland critics 'out of touch'

SBS’s partnership with the US youth media company Vice has come under fire from former ABC chairman Maurice Newman and former managing director David Hill, who argued the broadcaster was no longer true to its charter and should be merged with the ABC.

Heald scoffed at these suggestions, arguing the pair are out of touch and had never even seen Vice content.

“I think when you get 75-year-old Anglo Celtic men complaining about a millennial focused channel you're probably doing your job,” he tells AdNews.

“Anyone who has watched the content will understand that it's culturally and linguistically diverse, it's in line with the SBS Charter and incredibly authentic – made by young people for young people and has a great synergy with our purpose.”

SBS Viceland’s culturally diverse content was abundantly clear in its first night of viewing with programs about the challenges of Japanese gay men coming out and the dramatic lengths Congolese women will take to ensure they’re not the skinny friend.

Also check out
SBS Upfronts: Multicultural broadcaster pushes programming to new heights
SBS Viceland: 'We've got lots of advertiser interest in targeting millennials'
SBS Viceland: Programming slate

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