Seven promises a Big Bang in the final quarter, but can they deliver the audiences?

Seven’s ratings dominance is under serious pressure from Nine. Nic Christensen talks to chief programmer Angus Ross and senior media buyers about whether the number one TV network can lift its game in the final quarter of 2015? 


Seven has had its toughest year for a long while with many of its key franchises haemorrhaging viewers.

House Rules was down 33 per cent, Winners & Losers lost 29 per cent of its audience and My Kitchen Rules was down 12 per cent in consolidated viewing figures. Then there was the Restaurant Revolution debacle.

“We obviously had a program that underperformed for us in Restaurant Revolution,” concedes Angus Ross, chief programmer for the Seven Network. “We are a network that always has go to options so we have had to build a stabilising schedule as a result of that.

“However, we have still been particularly competitive in that time, especially when shows likes ‘Cats that make you laugh out loud’ took the market by surprise.”

Restaurant revoutionRestaurant Revolution was quickly shuffled off to the TV graveyard of Thursday nights, where it slumped to just 297,000 overnight metro viewers, and was beaten by 7Two’s Lewis.

According to Fusion Strategy analysis Seven is under increasing pressure from Nine.

In the all the people category an analysis of peak time viewing in weeks 1-28 of the ratings year showed Seven at a 38 per cent audience share, Nine close behind at 37.51 and Ten at 24.49.

Among the all important 25-54 demographic Seven trails Nine with 33.88 while its rival had 36.95 and Ten had 29.17 share.

Given these challenges the TV network is now trumpeting its September line up, which includes shows including new Packed to the Rafters-style drama 800 Words starring Erik Thomson, the return of the X Factor, and replacing 5pm show Million Dollar Minute with a new game show, The Chase Australia.

“We have had to look forward to September where we were always planning to roll in the X Factor,” says Ross. “And yes eventise that period out of the AFL and footy finals – which are a great launch pad for launching new programming. We have things off the shelf and ready to go for that period.”

Genre matching

Nicola Lewis


According to media buyers the network needs to fire over this period, with Mindshare’s Nicola Lewis noting the pressure is on Seven to maintain their revenue share.

“I think Seven have come out with a recognition that they have had a tough time the last couple of months, specifically with Restaurant Revolution,” says Lewis, chief investment officer of Mindshare.

“They have acknowledged that they are not where they need to be and obviously they want to protect their share.”

One of the issues that has annoyed media buyers the most is the big networks putting similar shows up against each other.  In recent years Seven and Nine have faced off with The Voice vs X Factor, House Rules vs Reno Rumble and The Hotplate vs Restaurant Revolution.

Seven on the weekend confirmed House Rules would not be returning in 2015.

At last week’s revenue announcement Nine’s sales boss Peter Wiltshire acknowledged this had hit the bottom line for the network.

“(In quarter four) Nine’s ratings were impacted by the two leading networks programming formats being in the same genre head to head. To some extent we were our own worst enemy as we competed aggressively,” said Wiltshire.

“This caused pressure on audiences on free-to-air TV and specifically Nine’s share of that audience. The size and magnitude of these changes coincided with advertisers moving to shorter term buying decisions and immediate ratings history to support their actions. This clearly worked against us as buyers worked to Q3 ratings in allocating Q4 revenues.”

But Seven’s Ross insists “there is no genre matching going on.”

“Last year we launched X Factor at the same time as The Voice and we didn’t get the performance out of the show that we wanted,” he admitted.

Asked if the TV network had learnt a lesson from the latest reality show face off which saw Restaurant Revolution come a distant second to Nine’s The Hotplate he said: “I don’t think I’m learning anything I didn’t already know. It’s just unfortunate that it happened.”

Ian Perrin


New formats

This is a point welcomed by buyers who say what they want is some originality.

ZenithOptimedia’s Ian Perrin told Mumbrella: “Australia will survive without another renovation show in 2015, and this should give Seven the opportunity to balance their product mix more.

“They certainly have great form in producing outstanding Australian drama, so I am looking forward to seeing some of the new shows.”

Mindshare’s Lewis agrees: “Not putting competing formats up against one another is going to serve both them and Nine well. The Australian public have had enough of it and it’s been proven that it doesn’t work.”

800 WordsWith new shows including Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door and Australian drama 800 Words the media buyers said there is pressure on the network to deliver strongly.

“Some of their key bricks in the wall just haven’t performed and so they have had to react and move on this,” says Chris Walton, Sydney managing director of independent Nunn Media.

“There is a lot of expectation on Peter Allen and 800 Words to perform and let’s hope they do.”

Seven’s Ross won’t predict what audience the miniseries covering the colourful life of the Australian musician or the Erik Thomson drama will get, but notes they are both well made local dramas.

“The Peter Allen miniseries is one of those events that does ‘eventise’ an entire night,” said Ross. “It is a great story that we think is going to deliver, especially when its done with our partner Shine who have delivered for us with INXS and the Milat miniseries.”

Peter Allen

Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door actor Joel Jackson

While Ross is reluctant to be drawn Mindshare’s Lewis argues: “Peter Allen is a fantastic story but not the drawcard of INXS. I think X Factor will be big one for them but will they get to the 1.2m audience that it got last year? I would have a question mark over that.

“(Peter Allen) will be benchmarked against INXS which nationally drew 2.3m and I don’t think it will go up as high as INXS or draw the same audience.”

Media buyers are also watching the lead-in performance for Seven shows in the crucial 5-6pm slot building into the crucial news bulletins, in which Seven’s Million Dollar Minute has struggled against Nine’s Hot Seat in recent months. Now it is set to bring UK format The Chase down under.

“The 5-6pm slot we all know that is a crucial one just for delivering steady solid audiences,” says Nunn’s Walton. “They didn’t foresee this. I hope they can address things but they are clearly making moves they wouldn’t have a few months ago.”

The Chase Australia hosted by Andrew O'Keefe.

The Chase Australia hosted by Andrew O’Keefe.

Likewise Lewis notes: “The Chase is very important for them to have something in that slot to build into news but I think The Chase Australia will do pretty well.

“Looking at a UK format and bringing it over here. It is tried and tested in another market and it has done well. Seven need to try something and build a bit of a firewall and be seen to putting that strong lead into news.”

Ross acknowledges shows like The Chase and Cats/Dogs/Pets Make You Laugh Out Loud are overseas imports that do well with local audiences.

pets-make-you-laugh-out-loudOn Cats/Dogs/Pets ross admits: “Put simply we bought it because we thought it was funny, and when the show rolled out I think it showed the audience was just looking for a laugh.

“It is family friendly entertainment, no violence, no swearing something the whole family can enjoy.”

The Big Bang TheoryToday Seven also announced it has poached the first seven seasons of The Big Bang Theory from Nine, which it says will be a reliable ratings filler. Nine still has rights to any new episodes.

“The Big Bang Theory provides demographic certainty for Seven,” he said. “It will ensure we have Australia’s biggest digital channels and will give 7Mate unprecedented demographic dominance.

“We have the entire back catalogue exclusively,” he said. “Go look at how many hours of it Nine has run. ”

ZenithOptimedia CEO Perrin says in the current environment of TV audience declines it is important viewers are not taken for granted.

“With ratings on FTA in decline it’s important that the networks don’t become complacent about their programming, and comments and decisions over the past few weeks suggest that they are not,” said Perrin.

“Angus Ross is a highly regarded programmer, and so it’s good to hear not just fighting talk, but some decisive action as well.”

The question now is just how big a bang will Seven and Ross get from these new shows in the coming weeks.

Nic Christensen is the deputy editor of Mumbrella. 


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