Australia’s Southern Star Group is feeling optimistic about the coming fiscal year. Executive chairman Neil Balnaves recently reported Southern Star Sales has improved from the breakeven results of 1999/2000, showing a profit during the past year. Balnaves also noted that sales, particularly in Europe, are picking up, although he concedes the market is not near previous levels.
One aspect of Southern Star’s strategy for the upcoming fiscal year is the repositioning of its factual units under one roof. Simon Willock has been appointed group head of factual, a newly created post. Until now, Oxford Scientific Films (the doc production unit of Southern Star Circle, Southern Star’s U.K. operations) and Wild & Real (formerly Primetime Television, now the wildlife and factual catalog of Southern Star Sales) have been managed separately – OSF by Mike Blair and Wild & Real by Willock. The company’s new approach is to collectively manage in-house and third-party production.
Says Willock, ‘The intention is to step up the whole factual area. Wild & Real has become very successful and has almost entirely built its portfolio on programming developed with third-party producers. The strategy now is to work with other producers who are not going to just produce one-offs.’ According to Balnaves, OSF produced 10 hours of docs last year, and will do the same this year. By comparision, W&R generates 60 to 70 new hours each year through copro deals with indies, Willock notes.
Willock has been general manager of W&R since 1998 and was previously managing director of Primetime. Blair, who says he is leaving his post as head of factual for SSC on amicable terms, returns to his news roots at Carlton Television on October 15.
On the reality production front, Balnaves says that Southern Star Endemol (a joint venture with Euro light entertainment leader Endemol) will see sharply increased profits this year and next, following the sale of Big Brother 2 and Celebrity Big Brother to Australian commercial net Channel 10.