Local fare a healthy prelude for big event

SYDNEY — SBS might be Australia’s channel for soccer’s World Cup in 2010 — expected to bring it an additional $17 million in ad revenue — but the lead-in year has also seen the multicultural pubcaster scoring goals.

One of the key areas of its success has been the rollout of new shows that program topper Matt Campbell says has given the network an “embarrassment of riches.”

Key among its successful skeins is top-ranked Blighty import “Top Gear,” along with American series “Entourage” and “Mad Men” — a show that Campbell is proud to have picked up. But it is the addition of new local shows that has seen SBS in the news.

In a year where food skeins are big, SBS might not have a juggernaut like Network Ten’s “MasterChef Australia,” but it does have several key ingredients. Stalwart “Food Safari,” a global recipe showcase with host Maeve O’Meara, is finding huge auds for the pubcaster, even in repeats. Newbie “My Family Feast” is receiving critical plaudits for its examination of Down Under’s ethnic communities from Congolese to Cubans; each week chef Sean Connolly finds out their stories of coming to Australia over a family meal.

And there are high hopes for “Gourmet Farmer,” which follows former food scribe Matthew Evans as he goes on a sea change to become a primary producer.

Local drama is also a key plank for the network with the frosh outing of edgy crime series “East West 101,” teaming an Anglo-Australian detective and his Muslim counterpart in the Sydney underworld.

“We’re really proud of that series,” says Campbell. “It is certainly a series that no other network would have done here, and we have managed to do two seasons of a police drama shot in Sydney without one shot of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.”

A third season of the skein is already in pre-production and has sold internationally, with particular interest from the Middle East. Sales is another area where SBS has recently excelled, with its sales-and-content division swelling from a part-time affair to two full-time positions.

Kristin Burgham, content sales manager, says there has been a lot of interest in the pubcaster’s titles such as Aboriginal docu “First Australians” and the smorgasbord of food TV, but she admits she is faced with difficult times.

“I think most distributors would agree that people are not making decisions as quickly — they are being a bit more cautious,” she says. “But then, it may well work in our favor, because they might not produce as much, so they might need to acquire more content.”

Add to this the new digital channel SBS2, with a focus on world cinema, and it gives this unassuming yet vital web a great platform when eyes turn to it in 2010.

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