Category Archives: SBS

How Seoul’s Digital Media City matches up to Salford’s MediaCityUK

Korea has created a Digital Media City (DMC) on the outskirts of Seoul and houses nearly all its broadcasters there. Like MediaCity UK in Salford. But way bigger.

 

This is the enormous HQ for MBC, one of the three Korean public channels. Check out its OTT ‘window on  the world’ promotional video on the link above.

 

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These outfits have big in-house production staff, and layers of management that would make even the BBC blush.

 

On Friday I went to CJ E&M, which is a huge conglomerate that runs several stations, and has a mission to ‘create a new global pop culture‘. Ambitious people. I met Hwang Jin Woo, head of Formats – who I’d first met doing a talk to Korean broadcast execs three years ago, and his colleague Sun Jin Sung.

 

We talked about the big shows they do – Korean versions of the entertainment shows we all know – and the drama and features shows that are the staples of their channels. Hwang is in charge of developing formats, and adapting foreign ones.

 

He also showed me the Digital centre. This is meant to be like Maker Studios, to encourage digital creatives to experiment.  It was empty at 11am, he said that was because creatives got up late – it would be fully booked from the afternoon till into the night. There was a green screen motion capture room, and other sets to do programmes.

 

 

And this digital content is the growth area, as every Korean young and old seems to gaze at their large screen smartphones most of the time.

 

In the afternoon I went to see the national broadcaster KBS, meeting Kate Hyein Cho, who I’d seen at Asian Side of the Doc, and her boss Irene Kim. Their large building is right next to the national assembly – no chance of them moving away from government to go to the DMC. A pretty conventional public broadcaster, growing old with its audience. Posters around the building encouraged staff to come up with ideas for the 20-49 age group – the assumption was the their audience would be much older.

 

 

On Monday I’m seeing EBS, the Educational Broadcaster. They’re also moving to the DMC in 3 years time.

 

Salford Media City is built on the same model as the DMC of a ‘creative cluster’ of broadcasters, producers and studios, and was being developed at the same time in the mid-2000s. When I saw the impressive blocks over the water at Salford Quays, I remember thinking that it had been conceived in a pre-mobile, pre-Youtube age (I mean the early 2000’s, younger readers) – when progress meant big buildings full of people. Now creativity is often talked about on a smaller scale – but with bigger reach.  It’s now more about multi-purpose spaces, places that make you want to hang out and have ideas with others, places that are connected.

 

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In Korea, with most production in-house, I guess the model of state subsidy for large organisations to pay expensive rents in steel and glass corporate palaces still works.  This was an urban plan all about consolidating the big state-supported production models. There is a similar state planning model for publishing – Paju Book City, close to the North Korean border, is the home to all of Korea’s publishers.

 

Salford has BBC North, ITV with Coronation St, Salford University and good & busy production companies Shine North run by Alex Connock, and drama producer Red. But maybe not as many small emerging companies as they’d like (with the honourable exception of the ones based in The Greenhouse).

 

I’m not saying this is down to the producers being resistant – in the UK, with commissioning centralised in London, the third leg of the ‘production company-freelancer-commissioner’ stool is missing and there’s no particular reason for production companies to be next to the BBC in Salford unless they make Childrens programmes.

 

Alex has written a lot about the effect of a creative cluster in the North of England – see his recent piece on the role of the BBC as a ‘creative kickstarter’ and what sort of investment the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ needs. Salford will grow – but with TV production contracting, the growth will probably come from telecoms, and content work for brands, direct-to-consumer, short-form, foreign clients, rather than British TV commissioning.

 

In DMC, the huge staff bases shunted out to work in MBC, CJ E&M, SBS (the Korean not the Aussie one!) and shortly EBS meant there were plenty of people around. The shops and cafes attracted people on the weekend, unlike Salford Media City. The transport links are good and there’s a proper station there (well, 10 minutes walk away) rather than a tram stop.

 

 

The problem of the DMC is that the ‘software’ in this model, the Korean broadcasters, don’t have a commissioning structure, and have very little idea of how to work with independents. They produce in house, pay peanuts for the occasional indie documentary, and take all the rights. Unless that changes, it’s hard to see how it would become a true creative cluster.

 

Digital Media City didn’t feel much like the digital future to me, unless that future is entirely corporate. There wasn’t even free public wifi that I could find. The idea that to make content all you need is a small camera, laptop editing, lots of coffee and wifi, and some likeminded young people, still seemed a long way away.

MIP-TV: Yes We Cannes!

Long gap since my last post, apologies. But last week I went to the annual MIP-TV market in Cannes which gave me plenty to think (and write) about.

Four days of meetings equated a big batch of ideas – though the word product seems more appropriate in such a marketplace.
Fewer people were wandering the Palais this year – cuts are biting, and there’s less face to face in the business anyway these days. The cost of attending a market like this for producers and distributors is large, and the pressure is on from day one.
With four of us from SBS all doing separate meetings, we covered a lot of companies. Telling distributors and producers what we needed,  running through their ‘slates’, working off this MIP 2015 SBS Acquisitions Needs brochure.
My main impressions?
You meet who you know already. There should be a ‘lucky dip’ function on the website to put you together with people you’ve never met before.
30 minutes is not long enough for most meetings, given that I usually got there late and kept getting lost in the Riviera part of the market.
There’s no time to digest all the news and industry insight that floods the market – here are just a few of the magazines I picked up before leaving. In there are lots of programmes that I should be watching.
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Caffe Roma, the central cafe for meetings with those who haven’t registered for the market itself – serves terrible tea.
What were the Aussies up to?
The SBS stand was opposite the Screen Australia stand for the Aussie producers, who made merry at a drink on the Tuesday.
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David from Devised TV, Lara & Charlotte from SBS Sales, Claudia from Taglicht
It was good to see so many producers making the long trip to Cannes. Here’s a Screen Australia showreel of Australian projects brought to the market
At 22 minutes long, it’s a great way to get a fix of Australian TV. Spoiler alert: Doesn’t include all the terrible reality shows on Australian TV though.
I got to know a few films  through this showreel. The Secret River, being shown on ABC  looks amazing. Here’s more about The Secret River and the Seven series Gallipoli
And Blown Away (at 2:21) – a very intriguing part-animated doc on Cyclone Tracy which happened 40 years ago. There’s more about the film, shown in late December on ABC1 and co-produced by Rachel Clements, here
The other clips on the reel:
  • Deadline Gallipoli (3:17)
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (4:22) – which I’d love to see bought in the UK
  • Pitch Battle (5:38) – about the Palestinian football team
  • Restaurant Australia (7:22)
  • Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane (9:37)
  • Status: Vacant (11:15)
  • Struggle Street (13:05) – coming to SBS in May
  • Tattoo Tales (14:57)
  • That Sugar Film (16:36) – a kaleidoscopic look at a key health issue.
  • Winter (18:47)
  • Heart and Soul (19:35) – this looks like a good tale of girls making music and growing up
  • Hipsters (22:09) – already screened on SBS2
What were the others up to?
Vice was the star of the show after its meteoric rise. I went for a session in the impressive Grand Auditorium led by Eddy Moretti, the creative director of the trend-setting Vice, launching a new service ‘for and by women’ called Broadly. Though my neighbour, Ene Rasmussen from the Denmark MEDIA Desk, wondered why there weren’t more women and stories aimed at them in the main service.
Eddiy Moretti, Creative Director Vice
Vice is a brilliantly focussed and sure-footed media company and its ideas demand attention. Some ideas at MIP though seem there to test us. The delegate bag was sponsored by DogTV (TV for dogs, in case you were wondering). The Telegraph in the UK has written about the formats on offer, and it’s not too impressed.
One of the other SBSs around the world, in Korea, has the slogan ‘See The Bright Tomorrow’.  Which is a nice thought, even though it doesn’t exactly work as a slogan.
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Party central
MIP wouldn’t be MIP without a bit of socialising, and nothing beats a beachside party at Cannes.  This one on Monday night was from distributor DRG.
If you were at MIP, let me know how you found it. At the Nordic party, I met a gentleman from Finland who reminded me that it’s only 170 shopping days left till MIPCOM…
Kris Kringle (as the Americand call him) and Krishan

Diversity is not an option, it’s the mainstream


Last week I went to a diversity debate in Malmo called Eye to Eye – Reflecting Childrens Reality. On the panel was a commissioner from the Swedish Film Institute, the head of the Kids Film Fest BUFF, and an animation producer from Norway, to discuss diversity in films for children and young people. Moderated by Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen, who invited me along to give my views.
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Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen and Baker Karim of the SFI
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Frank Mosvold and Baker Karim
Lots of good intentions were expressed on the panel, but the discussion was frustrating. There doesn’t seem to be much appetite for radical change. The impression I got was that the director’s ‘artistic vision’ took priority over questions about on-screen representation – or who was making the films in the first place.  It felt rather out of touch with a rapidly changing world.
I told the panel about the past year in British TV and film, in which all the major players have presented plans and funded initiatives to change the industry. I know Brits like their action plans, but they do point the way and I hope other countries can pick up some of the good ideas. Actor Lenny Henry is credited with getting the ball rolling with a speech he gave at BAFTA a year ago.
Lenny Henry
It’ll be interesting to see what happens across Scandinavia. The Danish Film Institute have recently announced a commitment to diversity, and launched it with a study and workshops on casting. I really hope that there is the leadership from the top that this plan needs. The committee including Marie Olesen alongside Mette-Ann Schepelern from the Danish Director’s Association are working on charter for ethnic and cultural diversity in Danish film and I’m looking forward to how much of a push this gets.
It was Pat Younge who told me about the DFI initiative. From his work running BBC Productions, he knows what you need to do to change attitudes and practises. He says diversity is how modern, mainstream audiences view the world, and it’s good to see he’s just started a new indie called Sugar Films, with Lucy Pilkington and Narinder Minhas.  To create content for audiences like these passengers coming off a Virgin train – I really like this ad.

But coming up with the programmes to get to these modern mainstream audiences needs work.There’s been a new push in the US with plenty of new shows in sitcom and drama. But I’ve recently been looking for multicultural formats, and in truth have been struggling to find specific examples in factual and entertainment – it’s all in who is put in the shows. I’ve just been watching First Dates on Channel 4 which is completely diverse and all the better for it.
I’m interested in how Desi Rascals worked on Sky recently – it’s been commissioned for a second series so that’s a good sign. 

The SBS charter talks about ‘celebrating and reflecting Australia’s diverse communities’ and we’re open to ideas. Wonder if I’ll find anything at MIP TV in April? Anybody spotted anything so far?

Australia’s going to Austria for Eurovision

In other news this week…

Australia has been granted a wild card entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, being held in Vienna at the end of May. It’s been a long held aim of the SBS MD  Michael Ebeid, as the channels been the official broadcaster for the past thirty years. For the past few years the lobbying has got more intense and the pleas have got louder and more desperate. Finally, a few days ago came this announcement by the co-presenter of the show for SBS Julia Zemiro (who’s also rockin’ the dirndl look in the pic above)

It brings in some of the biggest audiences to SBS each year, and having an Australian act in the finals in the Austrian capital  will send that audience into overdrive. I guess the Aussies were just waiting for it to take place in a country with a name a bit like theirs.

Eurovision very much belongs on SBS now, since it was first broadcast in 1983. Electric Pictures made a doc shown on SBS called The Secret History of Eurovision  in 2011, with Mark Atkin and Phil Craig as producers.

For most it’s a celebratory show, an excuse for dressing up in silly wigs and having a party. Last year, Australian songstress Jessica Mauboy was the interval act in the second semi-final – with every cultural stereotype present and correct on stage before she sang. She’d get my vote to be the entry this year. There’s also talk of Kylie, or Guy Sebastian to have a real chance of winning…but be careful what you wish for.  The Guardian’s music critics came up with Nick Cave.

But there’s been a fair bit of debate in a slow news week (since Tony Abbott survived his leadership challenge). Coming so soon after the budget cuts to SBS and ABC, how much is it going to cost for Australia to take part? What if Australia actually wins and has to pay for the following year’s competition? (which would have to be held in Europe in any case). Is it making a mockery of the European identity of the show?  Here’s one writer who’s not in favour…

The links between Australia and Europe are strong of course, and it’s probably right to see Eurovision as an affectionate way of linking some very far away places.  We’re pretty Euro  on SBS.  We do food programmes in which chefs travel to their home countries. Quite a few country house shows. And a lot of mostly Brit history with  British presenters like Neil Oliver. Crime series from Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France. Plus we see people in Lycra pedalling over Europe in the Tour de France, the Vuelta, and the Giro d’Italia. Next to all that Euro content, America is much less visible (though the commercial channels more than make up for it).

Plenty of broadcasting challenges await – Should we be less tongue-in-cheek about it now that we’re actually in the show? how will Australians vote,  given that it’ll be taking place live at 6am East Coast time? (SBS will be broadcasting as every year with a time delay on Sunday evening). What type of act will best represent Australia today? And, again, do we really want to win?

I’m looking forward to seeing how our coverage looks and sounds this year. I’ll be watching from Copenhagen, and feeling just that bit more Aussie…

 

My week at FIPA, a TV festival by the sea

I’ve just spent a few days at FIPA in Biarritz,  France. That’s the Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels. A few thoughts from my time there.

There’s something about waves, beaches and lighthouses that is very inspiring. Even though I didn’t actually get to the beach.
Being in a beautiful venue with big windows, the Bellevue, made it a relaxing atmosphere – and easy to meet people (because you could spot them from a distance)
The audiences for the screenings are well dressed and – dare I say it – quite bourgeois
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Fipa Industry was the conference/pitching side of the event. Good crowds for the France TV and Arte commissioning presentations, inevitably, but we had to work quite hard at the others. I gave one on SBS. It’s hard to get and keep peoples’ attention in a panel discussion or a presentation. My tips: stand up, walk around, smile,  project, use pictures.
Ludovica Fonda from Mediaset Italy gave a really good presentation of Mediaset drama, which did all of the above. Inspired me to head to Milan to check what they might have that would work for SBS
Oh, and @FipaIndustry is a much better name than the previous name FipaTel, which sounds like a mobile phone company.
When you’re invited to ‘un cocktail’,  don’t expect  mixed drinks with little umbrellas and bits of fruit. It just means a drink. A couple of the ones at FIPA featured cider, which seems be a speciality of the Aquitaine region. Try the rosé one.
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@smartfipa, the interactive section, was a real kaleidoscope of views, products, ideas. Paul Tyler of Handling Ideas did an excellent presentation. He said @smartfipa could have done with a bit more moderating to link and question the different elements – you have to treat these days like you would any sort of programming.
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I was also intrigued to see the interactive ‘Planet Corps’ project which accompanies the doc ‘Life on Us’, which Simon Nasht is bringing to SBS through commissioning editor Joseph Maxwell @josmaxwell. Looked fun, with great ideas – like a travel website as the front page.
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I was one of the seven commissioners/buyers being pitched to in the two pitch sessions. When we came to choose the best pitch, none of the three projects I’d picked was shared by any of the other judges, from France, Canada, Japan, Czech Republic & Poland. Maybe anglo-Australian tastes really are different…
It’s really tough to make films in and about Eastern Europe – buyers like me just don’t know enough about the countries there. HBO Europe is a very necessary commissioner of documentaries, and I hope it can continue the work its doing with filmmakers there. An HBO Europe project The Wellness Process was one of my favourite pitches (though I hope they think of a better title). Here’s the HBO Europe trailer from 2012

Debate is vital in events like these. Young journalists organised a ‘round table’ discussion of what the recent attacks in France meant for free speech, secularism, islamophobia, and whether there really was ‘national unity’ in France. Good initiative – the media obviously have a huge part to play in how France thinks about these issues.
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Lauren, one of the organisers of Fipa Industry, travelled around Australia aged 20 in a VW combi on her own, not speaking any English – intrepid! (then she did Central America by bicycle…). Saw these Combis in a shop window. It made me realise how in TV as well as in life, you sometimes just need to take a chance and get out there
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 If you were at FIPA, I’d be very glad to hear  your impressions, thoughts, gossip in the comments below

What happened on my first day at SBS

I arrived for my first day of a visit to SBS, based in a nondescript business park in the north of Sydney, at 9:30am on Monday 15th December.  I’m working from London as their content consultant.

The SBS logline - Seven Billion Stories
The SBS logline – Seven Billion Stories

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Half an hour after I got there and started introducing myself to my new colleagues, there was a sense that something was going on – programming changes were being discussed, questions being raised about whether some of our trails were appropriate in the circumstances. What’s happened, I asked?

A gunman had just taken a number of people hostage in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place, central Sydney. The pictures shown by Channel 7 – whose offices and studio were 30m away across the street – showed people with their hands up against the window, holding up a flag with Islamic writing on it. For the rest of the day, a sense of dread hung over the city. Nobody knew what was going to happen – or for most of the day who was behind the attack – but they all knew that it was a story which would have a big impact. It was being talked about as the first ‘terrorist attack’ on Australian soil. There was talk of Islamic State, and of more than one gunman in the cafe.

At SBS, like in all other broadcasters, the news took centre stage. Contingency plans were put in place, the news department did calm coverage – in contrast to some of the media, like the Daily Telegraph (nothing like its sober equivalent in the UK). Overnight, two hostages and the gunman died as the siege came to a bloody end.

Dealing with such events is what public broadcasters are there for – adding context, asking questions, and staying with a story when events move on. A station like SBS even more so, since we’re there to talk about social cohesion and Australia’s immigrant groups.  I didn’t see enough of our non-news coverage last week to know how we responded, but It’s critical that we are part of this particular ‘national conversation’.

Community hatred is so easy to foster, and once it takes root can spread very fast. As an antidote, by the early morning of the day after the siege, the hashtag #illridewithyou had started for people to offer support to anyone wearing religious dress (like a headscarf) who might be shunned by their fellow travellers on Sydney public transport. It went viral, as people searched for glimmers of humanity after the tragedy. It also showed a refusal to blame an entire community for the actions of one disturbed individual. (Not everyone agrees it was the right approach – read this considered article on the hashtag).

I went to Martin Place on Friday, four days after the attack, and saw the carpet of flowers, together with notes and a few stuffed toys – especially poignant as one of the two hostages who died was a mother of 3 – outside the cafe.

How Australians respond to this story matters. Beyond the immediate response of Australians to grieve for the hostages who died, and pay their respects, there was a debate about Australia’s strict gun laws and bail laws – thankfully it doesn’t look as if there are any changes to gun laws in prospect. And, whether we like it or not, a debate about Islam and multiculturalism. The gunman used the flag, held up against the cafe window, to lead many to think that this was somehow an ‘Islamic attack’. We now know that this Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis had a history of violent offences and was acting alone.

And I know that SBS has a part to play in the debate which Australia is having about race relations. On January 4th we’re showing the first doc in a series called The Great Australian Race Riot, made by Essential Media, showing that the well-known Cronulla riots of 2005 were not isolated incidents. I’m looking forward to that, and know I need to acquire more programmes that can raise awareness of these issues. I’m very aware of the challenges of bringing them to a television audience, but that’s what SBS is there for, isn’t it?