SBS launches $50,000 factual development fund

SBS factual senior commissioning editor Bernadine Lim, NITV head of commissions Marissa McDowell, and SBS Factual commissioning editor Bethan Arwel-Lewis at AIDC.

SBS is inviting proposals for daring, unflinchingly fearless and boundary-smashing” documentary series that explore inequality and social cohesion in Australia, with up to $50,000 of development funding on offer.

Announced as part of the ‘Cutting Through with SBS and NITV’ session on day two of the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), the fund is for original formats that are anything from 3-6 x 1-hour episodes.

According to the broadcaster, ideas must have the SBS Charter at their core, and should also demonstrate scale, boldness and ambition in their approach to delivering something “overwhelmingly new and fresh”.

Speaking at AIDC, SBS Factual commissioning editor Bethan Arwel-Lewis said it was on the lookout for ideas that could “surprise and scare” with the “inventive and courageous ways of intimate subjects”.

“We really want someone to define, and redefine, what risk-taking on TV means,” she said.

“But very importantly, we still do want shows that have that real impact on people’s lives, so please bring us your ideas.”

Arwel-Lewis was joined SBS Factual senior commissioning editor Bernadine Lim and NITV head of commissions Marissa McDowell for the day two discussion, which focused on what is needed to make a project stand out from a network perspective.

After outlining a “top five” checklist comprising talent, access, tone, scale and provocativeness, the trio spoke about the type of factual projects suited to SBS and NITV.

Lim said SBS was “always after landmark history” that came in “up to six one-hour” parts.

“We’ve got our premium features strand Australia Uncovered and shows like Great Australian Walks and Who Do You Think You Are?

“There are a few opportunities in the 8-10 [episode format]; we don’t do as many but there is definitely opportunity at SBS [for the 3-6 episode format].”

Speaking about NITV, McDowell said the channel was on the lookout for “big picture stories that cut through and transcend globally.”

“We co-commission and partner with all the broadcasters so it just depends on where your content sits and whether it can have that broader audience,” she said.

Ideas for the new SBS development fund must be submitted to the SBS factual pitching portal by emailing, with the subject title ‘New Factual Format’.

Project proposals should be no more than three pages, and submissions must include a title, a logline and a single paragraph synopsis.

All applications need to be eligible for state/federal documentary funding programs and must be submitted by May 5.