SBS ‘can’t afford’ comedy programs

Australia’s specialist and multicultural broadcaster, SBS, has conceded it can’t commission comedy programs on television due to brutal budgets and the ABC’s strength in the sector.

SBS said it was forced to turn only to factual programs to sustain itself, and has only just made it back into dramatic fiction via an intense cost-cutting regime. As such, it simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to return to comedy.

SBS doesn’t have the budget to make you laugh 

“We just don’t have the funds to do long-form comedy for TV,” the broadcaster’s director of TV and online, Marshall Heald, said at Screen Forever.

It’s been hard enough simply getting back into drama, he said – and the budget can only stretch so far.

“We acquire quite a bit of comedy, but the challenge is, until about four years ago, we were actually out of fiction all together. And so, it was through some pretty brutal savings measures, that we managed to get back into drama.

“So, we do about 12 to 16 hours a year [of comedy]… but having a consistent schedule of acquired comedy and commissioned comedy is just not feasible for us – understanding the amount of resources we’ve got.”

Plus, he said, the ABC has SBS over a barrell.

“And look, the ABC does a great job of comedy – a dedicated channel for comedy. And I just think they’re funnier than us,” he said.

When pushed by multiple members of the Screen Forever audience on the importance of using comedy to overcome cultural barriers and to communicate truths, all Heald could do was agree.

“Unfortunately, in the world we love in, facts don’t always convince people, and so often the power of fiction [is to] emotionally connect with people.

“So sometimes going to fictional worlds is actually the best way to deliver factual messages,” he conceded.

Another audience member said Australia needs to hear people laughing, and to understand what makes African Australians laugh – particularly in a politically charged environment where their stories are only framed negatively via the nightly news bulletins.

“I hear you say go to the ABC,” said one audience member, noting that as the multicultural broadcaster, SBS would actually be a better fit for these comedic stories.

“I think we’d look [at something like that] for On Demand, probably as a short-form commission. We wouldn’t have the money to fund a long-form series for TV,” Heald said, noting it could also work on social media.


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