The Special Broadcasting Service was created to provide radio and television services - not just entertainment, but also community information - for Australians who have English as a second language. SBS broadcasts in more languages than any other broadcaster in the world, with more than 74 languages on radio, more than 60 on television and more than 50 online. This is after being forced to cut down note due to budget constraints.
Launch of SBSSBS was first established in 1975 as a state-funded radio service for the approximately 25% of Australians who have English as a second language. It expanded to television in 1980. It contained a variety of factual and fictional programmes from a wide range of countries and in a wide number of languages. There were just two small problems — 1) no Anglos watched the channel, meaning it bled money, and 2) there was no single minority large enough to provide it a single stable audience, unlike Spanish-language TV in the United States. As a result it diversified its schedule a little, adding quirky programmes from overseas, like anime or cult U.S. programmes. It also became an enthusiastic supporter of sports popular with migrants, but not the Australian mainstream, like Association Football. As a public broadcaster, the SBS was exempt from the Commercial Television Code of Practice, and took advantage by broadcasting raunchy foreign-language movies in late time slots. This combination earned it the backronym Soccer Before Sex.
Since pay TV has helped to provide TV for non-Anglophones, SBS finally expanded to more popular English-language programmes. Despite showing hits such as Mythbusters and Iron Chef, the network again ran into monetary problems, and even faced the threat of being merged with The ABC (although the government abandoned this idea after a backlash from ethnic minorities). To help increase their budget, SBS began accepting advertising in the late 1980s. Viewers who kept with the network since its inception were worried and upset that it was betraying its roots, while other people weren't watching SBS anyway because they thought it was just filled with Sex and Bloody Soccer.
Whether or not these perceptions were accurate, SBS Radio continued to run a foreign-languages-only service and SBS-TV kept showing a number of non-English-language shows (the most popular being Austrian Inspector Rex), news shows from a variety of different countries, and a wide range of documentaries and current-affairs shows. One tradition is to show a Hayao Miyazaki film on Christmas Day at about 8:30 PM, as by this time any older people who think anime is automatically for children will have fallen asleep following Christmas dinner.
In the final years of the millennium SBS would begin airing shows such as South Park as well as popular foreign films and Anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Samurai Champloo, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade and Perfect Blue. Arguably the channel was the introduction of these shows and the genre to many Australians. When SBS were not airing greats from the Land of the Rising Sun on Monday and Saturday nights it would show documentaries that held broad appeal such as Bret Hart: Wrestling With Shadows.
SBS in the 21st CenturySince the 2000s, SBS has started to aggressively produce more of its own content. East West 101 was an acclaimed drama featuring a Muslim Australian cop, which also aired in Canada, Israel and various other countries. SBS has unflinchingly supported a whole raft of unique and subversive comedies that otherwise would be considered too risky or offensive to air. Paul Fenech's Pizza was a subversive '00s low-brow comedy success. Wilfred and Danger 5 are comedies with bizarre premises, but Wilfred was popular enough to inspire a hit US adaption.
As of the 2010s, documentaries focusing on historical and contemporary issues of Australian immigration, such as Go Back To Where You Came From, have been a new focus. High quality Australian-made cooking shows have also started flooding the channel, and some made the jump overseas (Luke Nguyen's shows have been bought by broadcasters from the UK, the US, Europe, and Asia for example).
In 2015, Australia took part in the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time, a little over thirty years since SBS began airing the yearly competition in 1983. As an associate member of the European Broadcasting Union, SBS is responsible for organizing the nation's entries at Eurovision. Though their participation was originally invitation-based by whichever country was holding the contest that year, it was announced in 2019 that SBS had signed a deal with the EBU that guaranteed them a recurring spot in the competition until at least 2023.
SBS broadcasts five different television channels altogether:
- SBS ONE, formerly simply known as SBS: the original channel.
- SBS Viceland, launched June 2009 but rebranded on 1 April 2013 as a channel for young people, with a greater focus on cult comedy shows like Community, Japanese Game Shows like Unbeatable Banzuke, and a variety of foreign dramas and quirky documentaries. However, in the morning it still runs a whole slew of international foreign-language news-feeds. In 2016, it co-branded with the multinational Viceland network, mixing its original documentary-style programming into its existing lineup.
- SBS World Movies, a channel which airs independent movies, and movies from other countries; took over the channel which aired a Standard Definition simulcast of SBS Viceland.
- NITV, launched December 2012. NITV, the National Indigenous Television service, was created to air national television for Indigenous Australians.note As well as local programming, it airs overseas shows about minority groups, most notably The Boondocks.
- SBS Food, An Australian version of Food Network.
Not to be confused with Eiichiro Oda's Q&A column, the SBS network in South Korea (Seoul Broadcasting System), or SBS Belgium (which is known in Germany as the ProSieben group) which both have the same abbreviations.