The channel is “tackling the issues that matter to young people today”, SBS Director TV and Online Content Marshall Heald
Marshall Heald

17 Oct 2016 - 11:14 AM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2016 - 11:17 AM

As media organisations in a country where a quarter of us were born overseas, to what extent are we stepping up and providing our young people access to the sort of programs — be it online, on TV or radio — that help shape informed, balanced and inspired opinions about the big issues we face as a global community today? 

SBS benefits from a unique charter which enables us to create and curate an incredible array of programs and services, inspired by the goal of improving understanding between our many diverse multicultural communities.

Each month, SBS engages with almost 14 million viewers and when you consider that we don’t — by and large — have children’s programs, that’s around 80 per cent of Australian adults per month. We’re also growing — underwritten by Australians’ increasing desire to understand their role and purpose in the world.

It was our charter — and our desire to offer young Australians a broader global perspective — that inspired us three years ago to transform our second free-to-air channel from a “repeat” channel into one that acquired programs exploring diversity from across the world for young Australians. SBS also prioritised investing more in making locally produced shows that speak to younger audiences, like the award-winning nightly news and culture show, The Feed.

Re-launching SBS 2 as SBS Viceland takes our commitment to a new level with a truly cutting-edge, contemporary mix of local and international programs, made by young people, for young people, tackling the issues that matter to them today.

SBS and global media youth brand VICE share a commitment to exploring culture in different ways, and the big winners out of this channel are Australian audiences who will have access to some of the best available and insightful news, current affairs and programs that entertain, while exploring the big cultural issues of our time, all for free on TV and via the rapidly growing streaming space.

SBS Viceland will feature the best shows from SBS 2 — including The Feed, which has been bringing in-depth and fresh perspectives on issues impacting young people for three years; SBS PopAsia which introduced the Asian pop phenomenon to wider Australian audiences; cult hit Chinese dating program If You are the One; and our 2016-17 A-League season — alongside exclusive and original programming from Viceland, as picked by SBS.

Viceland is overseen by award-winning director Spike Jonze. His objective for Viceland is to make programming that’s personal and that “feels like a group of people trying to understand the world we live in”. So the programs we’ve picked from Viceland will examine global issues such as culture, race, identity, gender, music, technology, fashion, food, travel, sports and more.

For those who are not familiar with the kind of programs Viceland make, or who are not aware of the range of programs that SBS produces and broadcasts, I understand that you might question how SBS Viceland helps us to deliver our charter. But as The Feed co-host Marc Fennell articulated well last week: “I totally get it. It seems like an odd fit, right? Except when you see the content you will realise that the whole goal of Viceland is to explore the multicultural world.”

So what the naysayers of this venture don’t understand — and they are the same who come out of the woodwork when public broadcasters try to innovate — is that VICE is producing linguistically and culturally diverse programs that have great synergies with SBS. This idea that because VICE is in the United States they are producing only Anglo-Celtic programs is factually incorrect.

Certainly, some of the programs are a bit confronting. The music and voices can be loud, and some of the topics controversial. But if we assume that there’s merit in exploring the realities of the world we live in with the objective of learning something new or forming a different opinion … then is that not a good thing?

Our arrangement with VICE provides us with a pipeline of multicultural and multilingual programming which helps us to ensure we’re maximising the value of our content investments to Australian taxpayers through clever business models. It is also only going to get better as Viceland expands around the world, and we can bring Australians more diverse programs, including from France, Germany, the Middle East, and the subcontinent.

SBS Viceland also presents an exciting opportunity to actually increase the amount of local content on the channel, not only through some of the programs available from the Viceland slate, but through SBS and VICE working together in the future to produce Australian programs.

This channel is the next stage in the evolution of how SBS reaches and engages younger people in a way that no other media organisation is doing in Australia today. This is a channel for inquisitive young Australians who have a desire to gain greater insights into our world. And today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders after all.

Marshall Heald is director of Television and Online Content at SBS.

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