SBS’s Marc Fennell on the Viceland partnership + hanging out with Tom Cruise

“I do very much think it would suit the primary channel”

It’s been four years since the SBS news, current affairs and satire program The Feed started. Since its inception the show has primarily been aired on the broadcaster’s multichannel SBS 2, now called SBS Viceland.

MORE: Vice Australia editor Julian Morgans on how the partnership helps both brands

“I do very much think it would suit the primary channel,” The Feed host Marc Fennell said in an episode of our weekly Seven Days podcast at Mediaweek HQ in Sydney.

However, he understands why it’s on the multichannel. “I am appreciative of the fact that they need a show like ours to anchor a new channel,” Fennell said. “You need a reason for the people to come back every night, and nightly original content on a channel is actually the only way to do that.

“I am respectful of the role that they need it to play on Viceland. But I would not say no to a replay on the main channel.”

Social media is an integral part of the show’s fabric. It plays a large role in determining how stories are packaged together.

“We have a running joke at The Feed that we make a decent TV show, but make a bloody good Facebook feed,” Fennell said. [Laughs]

“I am trying to keep an eye on how we reach audiences. Obviously terrestrial television is important, no question about that. But talking about the people that we talk to, I am not kidding you it’s Facebook. It has changed the way we structure stories and schedule stories. While I host the TV show and I care about it, a lot of my attention is on how do we make sure that we are in front of eyeballs?”

To properly assess the success of The Feed, Fennell argued that one would need to look at the cross-platform audience numbers for its content. “In terms of digital numbers, we punch way above our weight,” he said. “You will definitely get more views on the digital stuff we do than you’ll ever get on 7.30pm – easily!

“The engagement levels on the SBS Viceland page, The Feed’s page and my page tower over most other parts of SBS, and certainly tower over most current affairs programs on the ABC.”

SBS The Feed team: Michael Hing, Laura Murphy-Oates, Marc Fennell, Jeanette Francis, Patrick Abboud

Apart from hosting The Feed, Fennell hosts a weekly media and tech program for ABC Radio called Download This Show. Fennell is also popularly known as That Movie Guy to triple j listeners – a role that he recently retired from after holding it for a decade. Fennell said: “I was of the belief that that is a job for a 21-year-old, not a 31-year-old. I think people should learn to leave triple j gracefully. [Laughs] I have had an incredibly innings – I did 10 years. That’s why I thought it was important that they continue with somebody else and triple j agreed.”

While he loves his job, Fennell said being a father of two small children comes with responsibilities.

“You often have to make time to go watch more than one movie a week to work out what you want to talk about,” Fennell said. “The other thing is that everything you see me do, I produce. If you see me do an interview with somebody on The Feed, I have edited that as well. If you see me do Download This Show, I’ve edited that as well. That was the same with That Movie Guy. That’s two-three hours of work for three minutes of radio.”

While he has let go of his beloved role as That Movie Guy on triple j, Fennell signalled that he is not stepping out of that space completely. “There is something that I have in the back of my mind that I want to do still talking about movies. Whatever it is, it will come out this year. I am just giving it a little bit of time and space.”

SBS 2 rebranding and The Feed

The host television channel of The Feed, SBS 2, rebranded itself as SBS Viceland in the second half of 2016 following SBS’s partnership with Viceland, the television arm of Vice.

Many local shows were scrapped from the programming slate for the new channel. One of the survivors was The Feed. Asked if the rebranding has had any impact on the show, Fennell said: “It’s funny, because I get asked this a little bit. It was a little bit the other way around. The way it started was that SBS was looking to buy content that would align well around The Feed. So The Feed does documentary, interviews and satire stuff. The channel manager started talking to Vice about buying a few programs and that very quickly snowballed into, ‘Why don’t we do partnership?’ So it came the other way around.

“What we did in return is that we did a big design reset on the show. It fits more with the Viceland look. They [Vice] haven’t done a hybrid channel of this nature anywhere in the world, so it’s a new territory for Vice and SBS.

“We are trying to find a voice that is uniquely SBS and uniquely Vice at the same time.”

Hanging out with Tom Cruise

Fennell may not be That Movie Guy on triple j any more, but that definitely hasn’t put an end to his work associated with the film industry. During American actor Tom Cruise’s recent visit to Australia to promote The Mummy, Fennell spent about 30 minutes with the actor for The Feed. While Fennell remained tight-lipped about the details of the interview, he did mention that The Feed will be doing a special with the actor later in the year.

“One of the things that really works well for us – particularly on Facebook – is long-form interviews with people that create things,” Fennell said. “That can be everything from an unknown music artist who has an incredible story through to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. You have to find these people as people and find out what makes them human.

“Some people like to talk down on celebrity interviews. I actually love them. At the end of the day, famous people are human beings. If you can get something authentic or interesting out of a famous person that perhaps the audience doesn’t know, I think that is fascinating. It doesn’t really get done in Australia.”

The relationship between traditional media and social media

Traditional media in Australia have been pointing the finger at Google and Facebook for sucking up the ad dollars in the industry and arguing that the local media outlets aren’t on a level playing field to be able to compete with the two multinational companies.

“There’s some truth in it,” Fennell said. “It’s an easy thing to blame. It’s a bit more complex. What is confusing and fascinating to me is that if you did the final maths in 10 years’ time about whether or not Fairfax, the ABC, SBS or any of those organisations would’ve been better off if Google and Facebook hadn’t existed, you’d be hard pressed to argue that they would have been worse off had those things not been around. At the end of the day, Facebook in particular has been a huge funnel for eyeballs for everybody from the Guardian to the ABC. Facebook has fundamentally changed the way television networks produce videos for online.”

CV: Marc Fennell

His media career began when he won an AFI Outstanding Young Film Critics Award in high school. Fennell’s career in the industry has seen him work with many different media organisations including BBC, Network Ten, ABC, SBS, Foxtel and Showtime.

Apart from his role with SBS and the ABC, he is the creative director of the not-for-profit organisation Media Diversity, which is working towards promoting a more diverse media landscape in Australia. Along with this, he is the co-curator for Junkee Media’s first film event Video Junkee, which will take place this year.

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