SOUTHERN STAR ENTERTAINMENT
‘Southern Star’ is an independent production and distribution company headquartered in Sydney. It produces television drama, children’s and entertainment programs. Since 2009, it has been wholly owned by Endemol B.V.
Founded in 1973 as animation studio Hanna-Barbera Australia, the company was renamed Taft Hardie Group a decade later. The Hanna-Barbera studio was sold to Disney in 1988 and the remaining catalogue rights to Turner Broadcasting a few years later.
In 1988, the company became Southern Star and the main shareholders were bought out by senior managers, including executive chairman Neil Balnaves and drama producer Errol Sullivan. Southern Star was a pioneer of exclusive joint ventures with Australian producers.
When Southern Star Group Ltd (SSR) listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1996, it had three divisions: Entertainment, International and Duplitek. In 1997, Southern Star Entertainment replicated Crawford Productions’ achievement in the early 1970s by having prime-time dramas airing simultaneously on each commercial television network: Blue Heelers (Seven), Water Rats (Nine) and Big Sky (Ten).
Several UK production and distribution companies, and footage and photo libraries, were acquired in the late 1990s and an Australian production joint venture with European television and online producer Endemol Entertainment was established in 2000. In 2001, it produced the first of many series of Big Brother for the Ten and later Nine Networks. Other successful programs produced in Australia using Endemol formats include Deal or No Deal and Extreme Makeover.
Adult drama successes in the 2000s have included The Secret Life of Us (2001–05), Love My Way (2004–07), Offspring (2010– ) and the mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars, Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War and Power Games: The Packer–Murdoch Story (2011–13). Children’s programming successes have included Blue Water High, Hi-5 and The Adventures of Bottle Top Bill.
The lucrative Duplitek business began as a producer of cassette tapes, then CDs and DVDs. Technicolor bought into the company in 2000 then wholly acquired it in 2002. Southern Star’s remaining entertainment, sales and other businesses were bought by Southern Cross Broadcasting in 2004 and delisted. They were then sold to John Fairfax Holdings and the Macquarie Media Group in 2007, then sold again to Endemol two years later. Fairfax retained Southern Star Factual, previously Oxford Scientific Films. Rory Callaghan took over as chief executive from Hugh Marks, who had been in the job since Neil Balnaves stood down in 2005.
Southern Star’s sales and distribution business, which includes overseas distribution of Home and Away, was integrated into Endemol Worldwide, run by Cathy Payne. Callaghan resigned in 2012 and was replaced as chief executive of Southern Star Entertainment by Janeen Faithfull.
REF: P. Chai, ‘Southern Star Chief’s Era Over Down Under’ Variety, 11 August 2005.
JOCK GIVEN and MARION McCUTCHEON