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Documentaries

In 2018-19, SBS documentaries explored Australia’s history, social issues, and ongoing evolution in a multicultural world, encouraging national reflection and debate. This year also saw SBS slow things down, with more Slow TV – the broadcast trend that took Australia and the world by storm.

Filthy Rich & Homeless

SBS is focused on creating compelling Australian programming that has the ability to raise awareness of issues and generate national discussion, with the aim of driving tangible, positive outcomes. The second season of documentary series Filthy Rich & Homeless was a reflection of this.

The series has been credited by some homeless advocacy and support groups as ‘putting homelessness on the political agenda again’. SBS’s Exchange Panel found that more than two-thirds of viewers (68 per cent) changed their behaviour towards people experiencing homelessness after watching the program, including by donating money, food and clothing, and volunteering.

Filthy Rich & Homeless was broadcast over three nights, with a combined average audience of 654,000 nationally per episode, making it one of SBS’s highest rating commissioned shows in 2018. With nearly half the audience aged 25-54, this demonstrates the keen interest of younger audiences to engage in TV content about social issues.

The series once again saw five high-profile Australians swap their privileged lives to experience homelessness in the country’s most expensive city – Sydney. Participants included actor and broadcaster Cameron Daddo, charity fundraiser and Sydney socialite Skye Leckie, author and journalist Benjamin Law, politician and activist Alex Greenwich MP and singer and Instagram star Alli Simpson. Leading the five participants on the social experiment was celebrated journalist and passionate advocate Indira Naidoo, and homelessness expert Dr Catherine Robinson.

Immediately following the final episode, Filthy Rich & Homeless Live reunited the five participants with host, Indira Naidoo to discuss issues raised in the series with homelessness advocates, expert academics and individuals who have experienced homelessness. The live discussion show attracted a national audience of 470,000 (53 per cent above the timeslot average) and a 13.8 per cent audience share.

The series had a profound impact on the five Australians who took part. Alex Greenwich, already committed to keeping the issue on the political agenda, has continued to advocate for change, and in 2019 the NSW Government announced its ambition to halve homelessness by 2025, also launching a $20 million program in May to assist homeless people to find accommodation after they are discharged from Sydney hospitals. Sky Leckie helped a family she met during filming in their search for permanent housing, Alli Simpson released a single about her experience, with all profits going to homeless charities, Cameron Daddo set up a men’s mental health group and Benjamin Law attended various events on behalf of organisations who work with those experiencing homelessness.

  • Episode one of Filthy Rich & Homeless season 2 was in the top 10 highest performing programs on SBS for 2018-19.
  • SBS Outreach supported the season launch with a panel discussion at the National Homelessness Conference during Homelessness Week in August 2018. The conference was attended by more than 800 delegates and focused on policy and practice discussions to support ending homelessness at a national, state and local level.
  • SBS Learn produced educational resources for high school students, created in partnership with the The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.
  • The series generated strong discussion on social media platforms, with activity reaching more than 2.8 million Australians. It was the top trending topic on Twitter on launch and consistently trended across the three consecutive nights of broadcast.
  • A full suite of online support, including a dedicated microsite, extended discussion across platforms.
  • Filthy Rich & Homeless season 2 built on the success of the first, becoming more successful in both audience numbers and overall impact.

“Filthy Rich & Homeless is often moving, sometimes surprisingly funny and above all essential viewing” – Catherine Robinson, The West Australian, 11 August 2019

Go Back To Where You Came From - Live

The fourth season of one of SBS’s most critically-acclaimed series, Go Back To Where You Came From, returned in October 2018 as a three-night live event.

Documenting the global refugee crisis, the series was one of the most challenging shows that SBS has ever undertaken in terms of execution, with filming live from Syria, South Sudan and the Mediterranean pushing technology and storytelling to new capabilities.

Since airing in October, the series has generated significant international discussion amongst broadcasters and producers about the push for creative risk and ambition in bringing previously inaccessible stories to life.

Reaching more than 1.3 million Australians, the series had a positive impact on viewer perceptions. An SBS Exchange Panel survey following broadcast revealed that 43 per cent of people said the series “positively changed my perceptions of refugees” and 11 per cent donated to a charity that supported the refugee crisis.

  • All three episodes were live streamed on SBS On Demand and Facebook Live, extending the reach of the program, and a live stream on SBS Arabic’s Facebook page fostered in-language conversation in real time.
  • SBS Learn partnered with the Australian Red Cross to produce educational resources for students in Years 10-12, supporting broader discussion of the global refugee issue within classrooms.
  • SBS Life supported the series with further online video content, which shared the real experiences of former refugees now living in Australia.

How ‘Mad’ Are You?

In October 2018, SBS sought to tackle the stigma around mental health with the two-part series, How ‘Mad’ Are You? The series saw 10 people from a range of backgrounds live together for a week. Five of the participants had been diagnosed with a mental illness, while the other five had not. A panel of mental health professionals was asked to determine those who had been diagnosed with a mental health condition, in an experiment designed to highlight the challenges associated with mental health and aiming to destigmatise the topic among Australians.

National mental health charity SANE Australia served in an advisory role in the making of the series.

The result was a bold, provocative program which contributed to an important national conversation.

  • The two broadcasts reached over 700,000 Australians.
  • The series was supported through cross-network collaboration with SBS On Demand and NITV during Mental Health Month, including content within NITV’s current affairs program, The Point.

“Documentaries like How ‘Mad’ Are You? can help to open up important public discussion around mental illness stereotypes and stigma - conversations which are often ignored… we hope this series will increase awareness of symptoms, reduce stigma, encourage people to seek help for mental health concerns and reinforce hope amongst those living with the same diagnosis.”
Jack Heath, SANE Australia CEO

Australia in Colour

The rich history of Australia was brought to life in this documentary, with colour added to black and white footage from Australia’s film archives. Narrated by Hugo Weaving, Australia in Colour reflected on the nation's character, attitudes and politics, as well as the ongoing struggle to recognise Australia’s Indigenous and multicultural past.

Australia in Colour offered audiences the chance to relive history from a fresh perspective. Generating critical and popular acclaim, the series achieved outstanding ratings with a series average of 577,000 – 87.3 per cent above the timeslot average, making it one of SBS’s highest rated shows of the year.

“A rare example of a TV show befitting of that overused accolade, “landmark”. This engrossing production will get people talking, thinking and feeling. Underneath it all is that wonderful dual symbolism: ignorance as monochrome, enlightenment as colour.”
– Luke Buckmaster, The Guardian, 5 March 2019

Is Australia Sexist?

A unique documentary inspired by the largest ever survey about sexism in Australia, Is Australia Sexist? featured hidden cameras and a range of social experiments to reveal conscious and unconscious attitudes about gender and sexuality.

The series’ robust academic research was commissioned by SBS and supervised by Macquarie University. Conducted in April 2018, the research surveyed 3,599 Australian men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

Launching in the year that the globe was rocked by the ‘Me Too’ movement, Is Australia Sexist? attracted huge media interest with segments generating significant conversation across traditional and social media. It also proved that younger Australians care about social issues, with the series achieving a 55.6 per cent lift in the annual timeslot average for viewers aged 25-54.

“Through some of the most gobsmacking, candid camera-style experiments, the results of this SBS-commissioned survey on gender discrimination proves one of the most eye-opening documentaries this year.” – Leigh Paatsch, The Sunday Telegraph, 2 December 2018

Slow Summer - The Indian Pacific and The Kimberley Cruise

Following the success of The Ghan: Australia’s Greatest Train Journey in 2018, SBS started 2019 with ‘Slow Summer’; a month of new Slow TV commissions and acquisitions.

Two commissions, The Indian Pacific: Australia’s Longest Train Journey and The Kimberley Cruise: Australia’s Last Great Wilderness, explored Australia’s most remote areas by land and sea. Acquired programs, All Aboard! The Canal Trip visited Britain’s most historic waterways and North to South took viewers overland on a journey around New Zealand. The three-hour shows were scheduled every Sunday in January, with a longer version (up to 17 hours) screening the following Saturday on SBS VICELAND.

The season had a combined reach of nearly 3.6 million, with The Indian Pacific rating 70 per cent above timeslot average and The Kimberley Cruise performing 25 per cent above the timeslot average. ‘Slow Summer’ generated buzz among audiences who appreciated the novel approach to exploring Australian multicultural and Indigenous history.

“Some people find this TV fascinating as not just a way of seeing the country but also a form of meditation.” – Holly Byrnes, Sunday Mail, 6 January 2019

Who Do You Think You Are?

2019 marked the landmark tenth season, and more than 70 episodes of Australia’s most loved genealogy series, Who Do You Think You Are?, celebrating and highlighting Australia’s continued evolution as one of the world’s most diverse nations.

Season ten uncovered eye-opening and emotional details about some of Australia’s most iconic personalities including Scott Cam, Jennifer Byrne, Marta Dusseldorp, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Casey Donovan, Kurt Fearnley, Rodger Corser and Kerri-Anne Kennerley. Traveling across Australia and the globe, the series revealed participants’ previously unknown ancestry, offering a greater sense of Australia’s multicultural identity.

The first five episodes achieved average audiences 43.2 per cent higher than the timeslot average for the previous 12 months. The fourth episode, featuring Dr Karl, was the highest rating episode of the year, reaching a national audience of 807,000.

“Coming on this journey has really opened my eyes and my heart and it’s lifted a weight. It makes me feel like I belong” – Casey Donovan

Medicine or Myth?

Are the benefits of alternative remedies simply a myth or do they have a place alongside modern medicine?

Hosted by SBS journalist Jeannette Francis, Medicine or Myth? followed everyday Australians as they shared their diverse and sometimes divisive health remedies with a panel of medical experts led by well-known Australian neurosurgeon, Dr Charlie Teo, in the hope of being selected for a real-world trial.

The first episode of Medicine or Myth? rated 126.7 per cent above timeslot average and double the timeslot average for audiences aged 25-54.

“Most families have that one quirky home remedy they swear is a fix for whatever ails them. SBS has kicked this idea up a notch with their new series. Be prepared to have your eyes opened to a whole new world of remedies or medicines, just be sure not to try any of this at home”
– Laura Brodnik, Mamamia, 20 May 2019

Christians Like Us

Following on from SBS’s groundbreaking series Muslims Like Us, Christians Like Us brought together ten diverse individuals with different views on faith to explore the issues facing the Church today.

The series tackled everything from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, to abortion, female priests and gay conversion therapy, opening audiences’ eyes to the diversity that exists within Australia’s most-followed religion.

“Watching a bunch of vastly different Christians living under the same roof in the first episode of doco-series Christians Like Us was truly a religious experience… Christians Like Us serves to show that even among like-minded people there can be stark differences. It also highlights – and questions – the role that religion plays in modern-day Australia.”
– Thomas Mitchell, TV WEEK, 2 April 2019

The Employables

Indigenous Australians, immigrants and refugees, the LGBTIQ+ community, people with disabilities, youth, the elderly, single parents and former prisoners all face a significantly higher incidence of prejudice or discrimination and a greater chance of being denied employment opportunities.

Informed by this insight, The Employables was a unique three-part series that aimed to shine a light on the most marginalised job-seekers in Australia. This social and business experiment engaged individuals from the most disadvantaged demographic groups and helped them start their own business, under the guidance of one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs, Creel Price.

SBS research found 84 per cent of audiences appreciated the series highlighting issues Australians are facing when it comes to employment, and that it included a diversity of participants, including refugees, migrants, mature Australians, and people with a disability.