SBS has ‘challenged the industry’: 2024 upfront reaction

This is part of Mumbrella’s coverage of the 2024 upfront season. Click here to see other articles in the series. 

SBS insisted its advertisers and audiences alike ‘demand different’ from their TV experience at the network’s upfront presentation yesterday, hosted at Sydney’s Town Hall.

Aside from announcing the return of the 2026 World Cup to its natural Australian home, SBS is focused on accountability in 2024 – giving OnDemand viewers the ability to opt out of wagering, alcohol, and quick-delivery app advertising, announcing it has reached net zero (phase one and two) with an ambitious plan to make its supply chain net zero by 2045, and imploring advertisers to spend at least 3% of their media budget with First Nations broadcasters, such as NITV.

But did this rush of good will excite those who will be doing the spending? Let’s find out, shall we?

Catherine Rushton, Chief Strategy Officer, This Is Flow

SBS quietly impressed yesterday afternoon’s audience with a diversity and substance of announcement that reflects its wide-ranging community and audience. The theme was ‘Demand Different’ and the consistency of this challenger position was palpable throughout the event.

SBS lived up to its brand when it came to its upcoming content slate- it was diverse in topic and style and inclusive in talent and language.

From the return of the FIFA World Cup broadcast rights and the backbone of the Tour de France, to everyone’s surprise favourite Alone Australia returning for S2 and the final season of Handmaid’s Tale, to a patchwork quilt of local drama, food and documentaries that cater to all tastes and moods. It is hard to sum it all up due to its diversity in nature. Especially when you include the call for NITV to deliver a “new era of truth telling’ post referendum.

It was a bold, yet smart, move to wrangle back control from the algorithms and introduce Australia’s first personalised ad experience. Even better was the buy-in from launch partners Tabcorp and Endeavour Group. This adds credibility to this initiative. For all the talk about attention, this move signals positive action that will benefit the humans at the other end of the screen.

One of my personal highlights was when Anna Dancey from NITV provided a clever angle on how to get more brands closer to committing to ‘Beyond 3%’- accessing Reconciliation Action Plan budgets to essentially increase brand’s media budgets. Backing this up with 7.7% prime time metro audience growth means it should be an even easier conversation with clients.

Perhaps I am biased as a strategist but my other highlight was Cultural Connect offering ‘SBS Sprints’. These are guided working sessions to help brands and agencies understand how to better connect with their diverse audiences including First Nations and the 5.6 million Aussies who speak a language other than English. This point was made clear throughout and reminded those listening that this is not an ‘or’ choice to include SBS but an ‘and’ incremental extension of a brand’s presence.

The other big newsworthy moment was a clear commitment to measuring and reducing carbon emissions. SBS announced it is the first Australian broadcaster to have achieved Net Zero on its direct emissions for Scopes 1 and 2. The most ambitious of any broadcaster. As they pointed out, SBS is already demonstrating this leadership position as measured by Nielsen, so this proclamation feels believable… time will tell.

This announcement also felt necessary if they wanted to maintain their leadership position based on the range of sustainability claims made recently.

Deepak Tahiliani, head of digital investment, GroupM

What we saw from SBS was a strong focus on responsible advertising, strong diverse content slate and a digital first approach. Their announcement in the sustainability space as the first Australian broadcaster to reach net zero on direct emissions and starting work to provide carbon measurement on some shows is to be celebrated. It provides close alignment with GroupM’s own Responsible Investment Framework and efforts on the decarbonisation space through our Alpha strategy. By taking the lead here, I’d hope to see other broadcasters make similar progress on this complicated but critical path to net zero and carbon reduction.

They also took a bold move by giving consumers control over opting out of ads from alcohol, betting, or QSR ads, which flips the switch on responsible advertising in these categories, but also has the potential to benefit advertisers by removing audiences who aren’t receptive to their messages.

Content wise, their diverse and global slate remains impressive, with strong growth in NITV demonstrating the opportunity here for advertisers to reach an engaged audience. Content highlights include the return of Alone Australia which was a breakout success across linear and digital in series one. For kids, Eddie’s Lil’ Homies, developed in partnership with AFL star Eddie Betts and with Netflix, In drama the return of The Handmaid’s Tale, plus a slate of foodie shows including The Cook Up with Adam Liaw, and new shows with Guillaume Brahimi, Dan Hong and Silvia Colloca, and the Men’s FIFA World Cup which will guarantee strong viewer numbers.

SBS On Demand continues to improve the consumer experience with new ad products, more personalised editorial curation, and FAST channels. An improved recommendation engine and the launch of SBS Rewind (not unlike the Spotify Wrapped activation) will recap what users have watched during the year and use that to make future recommendations with the aim of improving the viewer experience and content discovery.

In audio, alongside the expansion of PopDesi to cater for additional South Asian languages, and further  bi-lingual podcast offerings, SBS also made some announcements about their digital evolution that allows digital ad insertion for its multilingual audio content which provides real utility and improved experience for CALD audiences – and for brands aiming to reach them.

SBS continues to differentiate in market in a way that delivers advertisers a diverse audience and drives responsible advertising experience for both viewers and advertisers.”

Conor Riordan, client director, Kaimera

SBS invited the Australian media buying community to “demand different” from them in 2024 at their upfronts. In a punchy presentation, SBS focused on the things which make their offering so appealing to Australian advertisers, including their audience-first approach to content, UX and ad experience.

While factually not a niche offering, reaching 13.9M unique Australians each month, SBS’ content reaches into the niche interests of Australians. As the makeup of Australia’s population becomes more and more diverse, SBS is well positioned to continue attracting audiences across those interests. Planners not thinking about these high-value audience niches, often incremental to their standard buys, are missing a trick.

From a content perspective, we see new and recurring programming across their key content pillars – food, travel, sport and drama. Highlights include the return of Alone for season two, the final season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and retention of the FIFA World Cup for 2026 and the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes until 2030. After the result in our most recent referendum, I hope to see advertisers putting their money where their mouths are in supporting the NITV platform, which continues to see YoY audience growth.

Across UX, improvements to content recommendations on the on-demand platform were spruiked along with a continued commitment to low ad-loads across video content.

And in a very interesting move, SBS will give more control to their viewers in relation to ad-experience, allowing users of their platforms to opt out of wagering, alcohol and QSR advertising, a likely welcomed innovation for users and advertisers-alike. As an advertiser, I’m not about to opt-out but I expect families with young kids at home will be jumping at the chance to avoid all three categories.

Louis Mayne, head of investment, Foundation

Alone Australia was the breakout show this year for SBS as it averaged more than 1m viewers per episode, dominating the digital rankings when it was live. It’s back for season two and it will continue to break records for SBS in 2024.

2024 will see the return of key shows The Handmaid’s Tale, Rogue Heroes and Fargo which all performed well for SBS previously. I was most excited for two SBS originals that I think can perform well; Four Years is a romantic drama from the producers of The Twelve, and Colin from Accounts and then Swift Street a dysfunctional crime series with an A-list cast. It’s great to see SBS continuing to produce high quality Australian content with local talent.

With the launch of 12 market broadcast signals, 7.7% prime time growth and a 143% increase in SBS On Demand viewership 2023 was the biggest year ever for NITV. They are looking to build on this success in 2024 by launching NITV in high definition, which will improve the experience for their growing audience and show us the continued commitment from SBS with the beyond 3% initiative. It’s great to see NRMA become the first Australian brand to commit 3% of its broadcast media spend to First Nations media over the next year, hopefully we see more brands commit to this in 2024.

The latest set of census data further reiterates the multicultural nature of the Australian population, with more than 5.6 million Australians using a language other than English at home. SBS Audio is becoming a more prominent feature of SBS’s presentations, and they continue to develop ways in which we can reach these diverse audiences across their platforms.

Rebranding SBS PopDesi into a destination channel that houses all South Asian content (news, current affairs, entertainment, and music) is a smart way to continue building their audience within this space. As is having dynamic ad insertions on digital live streams across the SBS Audio product suite, as it means more relevant advertising will reach the consumers.

SBS wants us to demand different and it’s clear from the content that was showcased yesterday, that they are a different proposition for our clients to any video network in Australia.

Nicola Barnes, group investment director NSW and VIC, iProspect

The theme of the SBS Upfronts was Demand Different, and this is something that they managed to seamlessly pull through the presentation. They opened up with two key announcements, the first being around sustainability.

Proudly announcing that they are the first broadcaster to reach net zero on direct emissions Scopes 1 and 2, they then went on to share their target for 2045, being net zero on all emissions including Scope 3, which is a pretty big and bold ambition. We are seeing more and more that our clients are looking to align their media investment with partners with the same values as them, and this really is a commendable effort from SBS and one that was applauded in the room.

Keeping to the theme of ‘demand’, there were some big announcements in the On Demand space, and a major one being around responsible advertising. In Q1, SBS will launch the opt out functionality, where users will be given the opportunity to opt-out of wagering, alcohol and QSR ads.

We have seen SBS lead the way in the past when it comes to giving their audience greater control and now they will do this via content as well as advertising. This opt out further emphasises that they put their user experience first, and from an advertiser perspective, it can mean that investment is being directed to more relevant and receptive audiences.

At iProspect we always welcome updates when it comes to measurement, so it was also good to hear about SBS Measure and the Experian partnership which will help break down the barriers to measure performance.

NITV announced the launch of their HD channel, and it was quite refreshing to hear that audiences are growing. The reason for this growth has got to be a testament to NITV who are continuing to invest in production of new content, hence the push to find more advertisers to embrace the Beyond 3% initiative.

We as media agencies need to be helping to push this initiative with our clients, and with the help of some new partnership frameworks which were announced today, it would be great to see the number of supporting brands grow for 2024.

From a content perspective, there are some very exciting formats to come. A line up or original, multi lingual and first nations content that SBS deliver so well. Alone Australia, Rogue Heroes and The Handmaid’s Tale are all formats that SBS will feel confident about when it comes to drawing in audiences next year.

One update that we certainly were not able to miss was that SBS will have the exclusive rights for the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup. This is a major win for SBS as well as the fans who won’t have to find themselves struggling to know which network or platform they should be tuning into to watch.

Overall, SBS continued to demonstrate clear themes around culture, diversity and the representation of all Australians – which is a big point of difference for them in the market and one that is so refreshing.

Christine Chen, investment director, PHD Sydney

SBS continues to effectively drive forward their mission to be a network that is not only accessible but representative of all Australians – a sentiment that was rife throughout their 2024 upfronts as seen through their development of audio described content, growth of NITV as well as increased multicultural content slates, tailored to reaching a range of diverse cultural groups and languages.

Sustainability was a focus for the day, with SBS already holding the impressive title of being the first Australian broadcaster to reach Net Zero on direct emissions. They have marked their leadership in the space by setting themselves an ambitious target of 2045 for reaching Net Zero across supplier emissions as well – already starting the journey through collaborating with their production partners across key franchises.

The unveiling of SBS Ad Control in 2024 as an evolution of their user experience will place the onus back on viewers to customise their advertising experience across wagering, alcoholic beverages, and quick service restaurant categories – allowing them to opt out of content they do not want to see. I expect this to offer advertisers in those categories a new opportunity to understand user behaviours and sentiment without impacting the scale and efficiencies of their media campaigns.

Throughout their decade of NITV, supported by their increasing strength of content and investment into production, SBS are evidently in a unique position to bring First Nations storytelling and narratives into the limelight. They have developed a partnership framework which will simplify the process for advertisers to include NITV as a part of their client responses and better understand the impact and value of First Nations media.

Content reigns supreme with their strong slate of both premium Australian and international talent. 2024 will see the return of smash hits The Handmaid’s Tale and Alone Australia while launching new shows such as Swift Street.

The strength of their sporting and food pillars continue to shine, with the Tour De France, smaller underrepresented sport streams like volleyball and badminton and of course, the acquisition of the FIFA World Cup 2026! Returning food alumni with the likes of Adam Liaw, Dan Hong and Silvia Colloca remind us of the prime position that SBS hold in the food content space and the value of their engaged audiences.

I’m interested to better understand the details around the roll out of SBS Connect – their dynamic buying product expected to come early next year and how it compares with competing Total TV propositions in market.


Daniel Cutrone, managing partner, Avenue C

The SBS Upfront is an annual gathering that celebrates fantastic food, limitless powerful, entertaining and captivating content, all amongst media friends. It’s almost overwhelming, but somehow, we leave with an exhaustive list of programmes to add to the ‘watch’ list.

Excited by the launch of two initiatives; ‘SBS Ad Control’ which will provide SBS On-Demand subscribers the ability to opt-out of ad messages from Wagering, QSR & alcohol categories, and SBS Solus Impact, which will allow advertisers exclusivity target individuals with greater SOV.

Unlike the other FTA networks, SBS proudly promote BVOD first, linear second. And rightly so! Their On Demand product is a leader in Australian VOD UX and has bragging rights to 25% commercial share (vs its 10% linear share).

2024 will include new series of hit programmes including A Handmaid’s Tale (final season), Fargo, and Alone Australia. Plus, there is a host of new talent-laden programming to hit the screens with Swift Street, Sherlock’s Daughter, and The Doll Factory to name a few.

The sporting content continues to focus upon the many cycling competitions, including Tour de France, plus many of the lesser telecast sports, such as volleyball and badminton. But the big sporting announcement, which was mentioned excitedly and numerous times, revolved around SBS securing of the exclusive broadcast rights of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

But, in true SBS form, that was not all.

We had updates across NITV, which continues to drive awareness of our industry’s under-investment across our only national network that speaks for and to Indigenous and First Nations people.

SBS Food, now recording up to 4 million viewers per month, will continue to do what it does best, and SBS Audio will continue to be a true national, multi-platform, and multi-lingual hub, and will launch Insight Podcast across the new year.

SBS are leading the way in diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and has challenged the industry to “demand different” – and they will deliver.

David Carmody, investment lead, CHEP Network

Nestled in the heart of the city, media folk gathered for SBS’s day of days to roll out the 2024 SBS Upfronts. Rounding out this year’s broadcast upfronts, it was SBS’s time to put on a show.

Upfronts are a proven formula to entice eager media buyers and hopefully increase share in ’24: showcase some audience increases, reaffirm the developments in BVOD, nod to VOZ, and wow audiences with a slew of new and returning programming for the year ahead.

Yet, be it by design, or from those that have gone before; SBS hit different.

Nine reminded us of the upcoming Olympics, Seven slammed us with the catch cry of Massive, Paramount invited us into an intimate Q&A, and Foxtel shipped us off to a convict colony. But SBS invited us to “Demand Different”, and to focus on those moments that bring families and communities together to join in those shared experiences of great content.

Leading with the twin pillars of Sustainability and User Experience, SBS boasted their net zero achievement on direct emissions (and non-direct by 2045), and highest rated UX On Demand experience. All whilst maintaining lighter ad loads across the network, not on an algorithmic demo based targeting optimisation… but across the board. Period. Resulting in greater engagement and media effectiveness

Not resting on their laurels of BVOD user experience, SBS is launching their new Ad control accessibility by category across On Demand content. Users will now have an opt in category option to exclude certain categories including alcohol, wagering, and QSR.

All that even before they got to announce securing the FIFA Men’s rights for 2026. That is going to be …. really bloody exciting.

Not to be outdone on the upcoming content front, SBS rolled out a slate of new and returning programming across local and international content, news & current affairs, documentaries, NITV, Sport, and SBS Audio.

NITV is a huge focus across the network, which will begin broadcasting in HD to 12 markets, and new and exciting launches including Our Law, David Gulpilil documentary, Eddies lil Homies animated series, Little J & Big Cuz, old favourite Ernie Dingo’s Going Places, and Her name is Nanny Nellie among a few of an unapologetically Blak line up of new content.

In the words of Gina Chick “I trust SBS, they provide genuine storytelling,”.

Great job SBS.


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