SBS pushes diversity, content and programmatic at upfronts

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 18 November 2015

SBS is pushing its point of difference – in audience, content and technology – as key to its offering in 2016, at its upfronts event yesterday (Tuesday).

The event saw media agency bosses, advertisers and press descend on the historic Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay to hear what the public broadcaster has in store for the new year.

First up, was the official launch of SBS' new channel, The Food Network, which CEO Michael Ebeid switched on during the event.

In September, SBS unveiled that it would be launching the network, as Australia's first speciality 24/7 free to air channel focused on food programming.

Speaking to AdNews, SBS national television and digital sales manager Adam Sadler said the network had secured six exclusive advertising partnerships for the channel with the likes of Coles, Flight Centre, Chrysler, QBE, TPG and Reckitt Benckiser, taking the first eight month spots.

He said the deal means those advertisers will be given “clear air” to speak to an audience, which is increasingly difficult in a fragmented landscape.”

SBS also signalled changes in the way it approaches technology and content, with new flagship shows, a programmatic tie up with TubeMogul and greater focus on data.

“SBS has a distinctive difference in audience; we're sensitive to who our audience is,” Sadler told AdNews.

“The Australian landscape is changing and we have to change with it. It's not all about Bondi, Neutral Bay, Holdens and meat pies. We've been listening to Australians.”

Ebeid said the core focus going forward would be creating distinctive programming that resonates with audiences and how they want to watch content.

“What we've done really well and will continue to do is ensure that we serve traditional media consumption habits while anticipating new ones so that our audience can access the content they want, when, and how they want it,” Ebeid said.

“It's got to be appealing for our market because in a crowded marketplace audiences know that when they come to SBS they’re going to get a unique experience. They know what we stand for as a brand.”

New tech

SBS followed suit on many of the other free to air stations in moving to a programmatic solution for its digital assets. The network announced a tie up with TubeMogul to sell digital inventory programmatically and move to automation for linear television. While the programmatic roll out is anticipated for 1 July, the automation piece is thought to take place much sooner, in the next ten days or so.

He also noted that while TubeMogul is its launch partner, it was not an exclusive arrangement, with the network looking to add other vendors, including discussions with AOL.

“This is a long term play for SBS and while we're in the early stages of testing we are excitedly working with TubeMogul for a fully systemised, programmatic TV solution next year,” Sadler said.

“As the ad market moves into a technical era with more data-driven decision making, SBS has a strategy to be easy to buy.

“We know this innovation will mean plenty of learnings and definitely the odd mistake, but our approach is to take this change of era on the front foot, working with our agency partners as we all transition into this technical era.”

SBS also noted that to make buying easier it will be splitting its radio signal into five signals to target specific states in the second half of 2016.

“Currently we offer radio advertisers a national signal or they can target NSW and, or Victoria specifically,” Sadler said. “ We intend to split our radio signal into five signals providing clients with the ability to buy specifically by state.”

Diversity in content

SBS announced it has 24 Australian documentary commissions in the works for 2016, as well as 10 Indigenous productions, two Australian dramas and five food shows.

Chief among drama is the highly anticipated The Family Law, created by writer Benjamin Law and adapted from his memoir of the same name.

Other shows include The Missing, The Last Panthers and Tutankhamum, starring Sam Neill

Another new series is Deep Water, a four-part drama series, feature documentary and online prequel series billed as the first “truly cross-genre and cross-platform network event”.

SBS will also showcase Inside Heston's World – a documentary on Heston Blumenthal's process of transporting his Fat Duck restaurant from the UK to Australia.

In addition, SBS will continue its coverage of the Eurovison Song Contest with the announcement that Australia will be competing from the semi-finals.

Diversity in audience

Ebeid pointed to the challenging environment that SBS faces, as a result of much publicised funding cuts for the public broadcaster, within a competitive market. He said for that reason SBS needs to drive the consumption of content in order to build commercial returns to continue to fund quality programming.

“I'm confident that we can do this because we have one key advantage and that is our propose – to reflect our contemporary multicultural society,” Ebied said.

“In 2016 what you can expect from us is that we're gong to stay true to our absolute core strategy of being distinctive and ensuring that we don't look, sound or feel like any other media organisation. “That's what keeps us unique in a crowded marketplace and an increasingly homogeneous market.”
SBS also announced that it had just undertaken its second piece of research with consultancy firm Pollinate to determine what defines a modern day Australian and what implication it has for brands.

While the network remained tight-lipped on most of the results of the research, Sadler unveiled some findings, in the way people's behaviours are changing.

“People are actually becoming embarrassed about how materialistic they're becoming, there is a wave of change and people are becoming more progressive in their thinking and Australians are getting overwhelmed with choice,” Sadler said. “They just want simple.”

SBS content highlights:

Network Events

  • Deep Water
  • First Contact season 2
  • Eurovision 2016
  • Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras


  • Food Safari Fire
  • Inside Heston's World
  • Poh & Co. season 2
  • Destination Flavour Scandinavia
  • Gourmet Farmer season 4

Commissioned Documentaries

  • DNA Nation
  • Untold Australia season
  • Hanson: The Years that Shook Australia
  • Shaun Micallef Stairway to Heaven season 2
  • Vietnam: The War That Made Australia
  • Who Do You Think You Are? season 8


  • The Family Law
  • The Missing
  • Tutankhamun
  • The Last Panthers
  • The Returned season 2
  • The Bridge season 3
  • Bosch season 2
  • Vikings season 4
  • Masters of Sex season 4
  • Rectify season 4


  • The Logan Project

Did you miss the upfronts coverage so far? Fear not, we have it all on catch-up here:

“The networks cannot afford to over promise and under deliver,” - Upfront season kicks off

"Innovate, disrupt or die" – what Seven's upfronts delivered

First cab off the rank – media bosses weigh in on Seven's NewFronts

Nine unveils “complete reset” strategy at upfronts

Media bosses weigh in on Nine's “reset”


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