Analysis: Where has it gone wrong for Ten?


After starting the year with improved ratings and an air of optimism audience shares have declined severely for Network Ten. Megan Reynolds spoke to industry insiders to find out where it went wrong.

Secrets and Lies was one of the most anticipated dramas of the year, which has already been picked up by production companies in the US and UK, launched to 403,000 metro viewers on Channel Ten last night. While those numbers may be disappointing for executives in the Pyrmont offices, they are higher than it has been getting for established reality show The Biggest Loser and the revived So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD).

In the week after the Winter Olympics Ten’s total network audience share dropped from 18.8 per cent, to 14.4 per cent. This included the main channel’s worst-ever rating night, where it took just 6.4 per cent of the audience.

The strategy

McLennan talks to Tim Burrowes at 360

McLennan talks to Tim Burrowes at 360

Ratings issues are not new at Ten, and cost CEO James Warburton the top job after just 13-months, following a string of flops with shows including Don’t Tell the Bride, The Shire and Being Lara Bingle.

When Hamish McLennan stepped up as CEO last February he set out a clear strategy to chase the older demographic of 25-54s and launch programs that would appeal to that age group by making Ten the home of “event TV”. Live sport would be the backbone of the network, with other live reality shows and Australian drama that would hold and build an audience feeding off that.

In executing that strategy, Ten acquired Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League Twenty/20 competition from rivals Nine for a reported $100m. This gave the network live cricket across the uncompetitive summer season in prime time slots, winning over 1m total viewers for key games, and being hailed as an “outstanding success” by McLennan.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi were another smart last-minute acquisition for the network, believed to have been cost it around $7m and returning an audience of around 700,000 viewers for the blue-riband events.

However, its overall audience was estimated to be just three per cent down on the numbers Nine received for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, despite many events featuring high-profile Australian competitors like Torah Bright and Alex Pullin in friendlier timeslots than those in Canada, Fusion Media Analysis found.

Ten was not able to capture the extra eyeballs that came to the channel for this sport, and in the week following the Winter Games, Ten’s total audience share stood at 14.4 per cent, according to OzTam.

Why did this happen?

While executives across the industry agreed Ten’s coverage of the Big Bash had been “solid” and gave them a foundation to build on, many agreed the network made fundamental mistakes in its scheduling around the Sochi Games.

The first problem they pointed to was Ten dividing its audience between its main channel Ten and digital channel One by simulcasting coverage of some key events at the Games.

The second was the strategy to launch shows before and during the Games, including The Biggest Loser on January 19 and So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) on February 10. The Sochi opening ceremony took place on February 7, the same day as the final of the Big Bash League.

One senior executive at a competitor network told Mumbrella: “The Winter Olympics is there as a platform to bring you new audiences through your channel and as all the new eyeballs come through to sample the Games, that’s an opportunity for you to talk to more consumers.

“They should have gone hard with the Winter Olympics, they should not have launched any programs while the Olympics were on. They should have waited for the Games to end and then come out and launched all of their formats in a big explosive week.”

They pointed to the examples of Seven and Nine which promote shows during the Australian Open and international cricket season as coming ‘after the tennis’ or ‘after the cricket’.

“It’s such a proven strategy that it doesn’t sound bad on your network to be saying after the Olympics, it’s a good sound. The Olympics has got credibility in its own right,” they added.

They also pointed to the decision to launch formats like The Biggest Loser and SYTYCD against established formats including My Kitchen Rules (MKR) on Seven and The Block on Nine, which both started out with well over 1m metro viewers on January 27.

On launch The Biggest Loser had 753,000 on Sunday January 19, but its audience dropped to 560,000 when both rival shows launched a week later.

On its last Sunday outing on February 3, The Biggest Loser had a two hour run split between two shows, and both shows were fourth in their timeslots with 525,000 and 616,000 viewers, according to OzTam.

Ten then launched its reworked SYTYCD on February 9, against one of the strongest program line-ups of the year on its rival networks: MKR, Sunday Night and then the INXS miniseries on Seven, and The Block, 60 Minutes and the Schapelle telemovie on Nine.

The executive added: “There was never going to be room for Ten to compete effectively by trying to launch a new, moderate show up against us all.

“They should have just let us go for it, stuck with the Winter Olympics on the main channel and then come out and launched a network post-Winters, making a big noise in their own right.”

‘Ten created a fourth network’

Another senior programmer pointed out Ten had effectively created a fourth network competitor by dividing its audiences between the main channel and digital channel during the Games.

Fusion Media Analysis suggests while around 70 per cent of viewers started watching the Games on the main channel, by the end more than half of the audience had moved to One.

The programmer said: “With the Winter Olympics they effectively created a fourth network with One delivering strong share, but then launched shows against primary channels with Sochi on One.

“When So You Think You Can Dance launched they were not only competing against My Kitchen Rules, they were also competing with 5/600,000 watching the Olympics on One.

“I think the industry were surprised by that move. They should have gone the way Seven had with the tennis where they focused all their attention on the tennis and then promoted shows as ‘after the tennis’ to launch all their shows.”

Another senior executive suggested the decision to launch shows during the congested period showed “a real lack of television experience at the top end”, adding it seemed to be “marketing executives making decisions – who don’t know what works and what doesn’t.”

They added: “Where the shows are placed is critical, so it’s a matter of looking at one show against another and looking at the competition. Seven and Nine are reacting and making changes, but it appears Ten doesn’t necessarily do that. They lock in the schedule and stick to it.

“I think it just goes to show it’s how you leverage these big expensive events not just from a revenue point of view, but for shows. It’s a whole range of features; where you place these shows, seizing opportunities, looking closely at demographics, looking at the competition and forming a strategy.”


Another criticism levelled at Ten was not maintaining a consistent schedule, moving shows like Modern Family, SYTYCD and The Biggest Loser to different times and different days.

The programmer pointed to this as Ten missing an opportunity to carve out an audience for its shows, but added the network’s fundamental failing was not reacting to schedules laid out by its competitors.

“They really haven’t seized opportunities in identifying time slots where they can particularly grow a show or a night and I think that’s very clear,” they said.

“Had Ten launched So You Think You Can Dance or The Biggest Loser on a Thursday night, away from the competition, Ten would have had the opportunity to assess the various time slots and carve out a night where these shows could grow an audience.

“You have got to identify a time slot, grow an audience, grow a show, and grow a night. But they are not being reactive enough, and that’s the fundamental problem, that they are not reacting.

“When you have got a show with potential like Secrets and Lies, to put it into the firing line up against two big shows with My Kitchen Rules and The Block, it’s really going to be hard to get the traction they need. So it will be interesting to see if Secrets and Lies and Puberty Blues can cut through.”

Different demographics

Tomorrow night one of Ten’s hits of last year, drama Puberty Blues, returns to the screen. But as former MediaCom chief investment officer Paul Brooks points out, Ten will struggle to build a big audience for the show as it has had no platform to consistently reach over 1m viewers.

While Sochi and the Big Bash provided some large audiences, he said the sport was appealing to a different demographic – young men – while So You Think You Can Dance and Puberty Blues are aimed squarely at women.

“Unfortunately the type of shows they have this year brings in different viewers, so they get a bit of a sugar rush and a decent performance for those shows but they tend to then go away, so that’s a bit of a problem,” Brooks said.

“Viewers are pretty fickle and they need reminding and telling where that content is. It is easier to do when you’ve got shows leveraging between one and two million, but when you haven’t got that it becomes sort of a vicious circle.”

Even the popularity of Puberty Blues as a franchise is unlikely to turn the network around, the TV executive said.

“You can’t solve their problems by launching a single show. You can’t come out with a Puberty Blues and think that’s going to resurrect a network. You need a big platform of either news and current affairs and or sport to resurrect yourself, because you need something to hang yourself off, and they don’t have anything,” they said.

Ten is still relevant

However some in the market are optimistic Ten can remain a viable third player in the free-to-air battle.

Ian Perrin, CEO of media agency Zenith Optimedia said: “It’s about timing new franchises and they have to find something that will resonate for the Australian public like The Voice, as MasterChef once did.

“But they have some good content people and they have a good, secure, smart strategy so it’s just a matter of time.”

Despite the poor ratings Brooks said Ten still has a role to play from an advertisers’ perspective, providing competition for the dominant Seven and Nine networks, and in a viewers lives as well.

“It’s just going to take time,” he said. “It will need consistency from a leadership perspective, patience and time to be able to build a consistent program strategy. Hopefully at some stage they get a bit of stickiness with a couple of big shows which then gives them something to be able to promote from.”

The reaction

Ten declined to put up any of its executives to be interviewed for this piece, however a spokesperson for the network defended the decisions, and dismissed suggestions of where Ten could have done better as “sniping” from competitors.

“We simulcast some of the Winter Olympics events on both channels to give as many people as possible the opportunity to view. We did not simulcast everything on Ten and One,” he said.

They also defended Ten’s choice to schedule shows against My Kitchen Rules and The Block.

He said: “The simple fact is we have to compete. We cannot shy away from key ratings nights.”

He added: “Our schedule has been consistent. We did promote shows as coming after the Olympics, and we have launched new shows or brought back existing shows in the two weeks after the Olympics and they are still coming, with Puberty Blues 2 coming tomorrow night.”


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