How World Movies changed the face of Australian cinema

An image from Three Colours Red, one of the early titles broadcast on World Movies.

An image from Three Colours Red, one of the early titles broadcast on World Movies.

Laurie Patton, founding CEO and creator of the World Movies channel reflects on the history of the channel and how it influenced Australian cinema.

SBS has announced that it will make World Movies part of its free-to-air offering. This comes nearly 25 years after its creation as a niche Pay-TV channel.

World Movies premiered the night of the Foxtel launch in 1995. It was immediately one of the platform’s most successful channels. For several years World Movies was only available as a stand-alone channel for an additional fee, which made its incredible take-up even more exciting. Eventually it was placed in the movie tier.

The channel was created in less than three months from scratch. SBS secured a 40 percent “carried interest” (i.e. didn’t have to provide funding) in return for the rights to its collection of film subtitles. World Movies still had to acquire the screening rights, but as few foreign films were available already suitably sub-titled this was the key to creating the channel. It was a first of its kind worldwide. Kerry Stokes and Tony O’Reilly each invested in a 30 percent share and provided the seed funding.

From the outset we figured few people would pay for a channel that only re-ran movies that had already been to air on SBS. So we did a deal with the two biggest local distributors of foreign language films. Because they had only previously been seen in art house cinemas the rights for television were quite reasonable.

In what was a bonus for the distributors, having become accustomed to subtitles more people began watching foreign language films on the big screen. So, in that sense, World Moves changed the face of cinema in Australia.

It was access to top shelf foreign films that made World Movies such a great channel. One of the first things we did, and which we kept secret prior to the launch, was to secure a special “narrowcast licence” from the government. That was what allowed us to screen R-rated films. This was important, too, because many of the most acclaimed foreign films contained scenes we would have had to cut out before we ran them. That would have been a very sad situation and totally at odds with the philosophy of the channel.

Likewise, we made a decision that films would run uninterrupted, as they were intended to be viewed. Initially advertising was banned on Pay-TV but even promos were restricted to before and after the movies.

Such was the success of the channel that it became profitable well ahead of business plan projections and the two financial backers had their money back very quickly. Eventually SBS bought them out and World Movies became a fully-owned SBS entity.

It’s great to see the channel move to the SBS free-to-air platform where it will be available to a much wider audience. I just hope they don’t massacre films by filling them full of commercials.

This post was originally published at The Lucky General