The Block: Are judges being encouraged to judge selectively, and harshly?

Pearman Media’s Steve Allen looks at the trajectory of Nine’s The Block: Fans v Faves in 2021 as it overcomes scandal to draw-in viewers.

Nine’s The Block returned to screens on 8 August, and with it came scandal in the form of a photo of The Block’s production schedule, taken by contestants Josh and Luke, which fellow contestants Ronnie and Georgia said helped them secure their first win in the master room challenge.

The contestants are battling it out to win a sweet $100,000 in prize money, on top of the profits their home makes on auction day.

The payoff from the scandal is obviously intended controversy, thus audience barracking spilling into PR and social media posts.

The couples on The Block’s Fan v Faves

Is this a successful method of marketing shows and boosting ratings?

Judging by The Blocks season to date ratings, yes would be the answer.

Week 1:  Average metro audience of  660,000 – down nearly 20% on 2020

Week 2:  Average metro audience of  662,000 – down 12+% on 2020

Week 3: Average metro audience of 670,000 – down all but 15%

Week 4: Average metro audience of 872,000 – scandal breaks, up 5%+, but a considerable 30% increase on prior

Week 5: Average metro audience of 922,000 – scandal erupts, up 9%, now up nearly 40% on prior

Week 6: Average metro audience of 864,000 – up near 2%

Week 7: Average metro audience of  875,000 – down all but 2%

However, as the initial and very show disrupting, cheating scandal demonstrated, it is a two-edged sword. It arguably boosted the series opening ratings, considerably less than expected, however it hatched contestant, and perhaps, show host conflict, which will not go away.

As contestant Ronnie said in week four, audiences watch The Block because it is about homes, how to modernise and refresh, where to get ideas and concepts from. Not actually or merely about a contest solely based on who wins… and no matter how they win.  Nor about conflict and clashes, arguably good reality television plotting. However, The Block is not that kind of reality TV. It is a very different beast.

Having experienced the revival of ratings and trajectory, have the producers asked judges to confect further controversy through harsh judging of Mitch and Mark in particular, (yes we know it was filmed in March/April/May) because they know they will get the best rise out of them? Is this a good thing for the show? Or are those keen followers of the show now thinking the Judges have subverted their proper and true roles.

Are the judges now putting into question their professional qualification? Are the judges becoming fodder for the reality TV show sting, in the quest for coverage and ratings?

Other reality show judges have flown too close to the sun in the past. Are Nine and the shows producers putting The Block future in jeopardy?

Was the handling of the cheating scandal handled in the right way to begin with? Was it handled in a timely manner? Were the penalties for the cheating transgression appropriate?

The ultimate question… is the direction The Block’s producers are taking this year, which the judges seem to have been co-opted in to, compromising its true DNA or raison d’etre?

This appears a high-risk strategy for such a successful and unique program. And equally high risk for the judges to seemingly compromise their credentials.

Steve Allen is the director of strategy and research at Pearman Media. 


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