“We were waiting for new episodes of South Park, that was the main reason. We were looking for something to keep those Top Gear viewers in for the next hour. But South Park will be coming back into its home.
“I’m surprised by the figures for Man vs Wild. There was flow there, good god! Unbelievable!” he laughs.
“We probably move our schedule around less than anybody, and still do by far. But that’s not to say if something’s clearly not working and we think there’s a possibility of doing better we won’t hesitate.”
Next year SBS will again have three of its biggest international events.
“The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the calendar in the world. It’s bigger than the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. So we’re working very hard on that already. We’ll go straight out of that into the Tour de France which is getting bigger and bigger for us and we won’t have the clash with The Ashes next year.”
RocKwiz host Julia Zemiro and ADbc host Sam Pang are also returning to Eurovision, this time in Norway. Campbell knows that EV fans are just as passionate and particular as Top Gear fans to please.
“The reason we sent them is because Terry Wogan had retired,” he says. “Julia is a perfect fit. It took a little bit of time to warm up given it was their first one but once we got to the semi final they were getting into sync. But there’s no in-between with Eurovision. People either love it or hate it. Don’t think we didn’t get any complaints about Terry Wogan with people saying, ‘How dare he take the piss out of my country!'”
A second season of Mad Men is not due before July due to rights. Campbell says it is a show which brings the network prestige.
“I knew it wasn’t going to get huge audiences. But I was so glad to have on the schedule because that’s the kind of thing our audience expects from us.”
He says some shows, such as Entourage, are obvious choices for the network. Despite their American-centric themes, they fit the network’s image of Monday night quality drama.
“It’s the kind of thing that should be on SBS. It’s clever drama. People come to us because of the drama we show. Traditionally people have been coming to Monday nights for drama, going back to Queer as Folk, Oz and all of those things,” he says.
Recent MIPCOM acquisitions include more international drama. Campbell says SBS never leans towards acquisitions based on their country of origin, noting a high proportion of French content despite a relatively modest number of French-Australians, when compared to other diverse backgrounds.
“We never buy an Italian programme because we think ‘the Italians will like this.’ We have never bought programmes like that. We buy them because we think all viewers will like them.”
SBS TWO meanwhile offers its traditional foreign-language movies, supported by the network’s recent buyout of PAN and the World Movies Channel.
“Ever since PAN started we have been buying and contracting all the movies for them. So now it just makes it simpler. But on a day to day basis it makes no difference, other than we get a bigger share of the revenue,” Campbell notes.
“The big thing about SBS TWO, given we’ve been given absolutely no money to run that channel, is that anything I put on I am stealing from an underfunded SBS ONE. So that makes life interesting. Our movies, which are the best in the world of arthouse, start at 9:00. They’ve been consistently pushed further back in the (SBS ONE) schedule. There’s not a lot of people who want to sit down at 10:00 or 11:00 to start a movie –particularly a subtitled movie. People just put it in the ‘too-hard basket.’ But it’s a fantastic line-up of movies.”
And as the television landscape changes, more and more viewers are migrating to new digital channels, further eroding numbers for the traditional premium channels. Campbell is pragmatic about the challenge.
“All those people tuning into digital channels were Free to Air viewers spread across the five channels beforehand. So when you’ve got certain things pulling significant numbers it’s being taken from somewhere. It’s being taken from all of us really. But it’s where it’s all going, there’s no point in crying about it. You just get on with it and try and make yours as good as possible and watch it like a hawk.”
Unlike his commercial counterparts, Campbell has to program two channels on a versatile budget. And unlike the ABC, its triennial budget in May enjoyed no significant boost.
While some question its shifts in foreign-language content in primetime, or the combination of advertisements and public funding, its 34 year history would indicate it is surely an Australian institution. The audience now spans a vast demographic.
“It’s as eclectic a mix as our schedule. From a segment point of view it’s cultural information-seekers who are our core audience.
“Whether we like it or not SBS does tend to be an appointment viewing channel. They come in to watch what they want. It’s our job to try and get them to stick around.”