The Weekend Mumbo: Could TV records tumble thanks to the Matildas?

In February, 1983, the final episode of long-running war drama/comedy MASH was watched on 72% of the television sets in New York City – a ratings record that stands to this day.

A few minutes after the two-and-a-half hour episode aired, 1.2 billion litres of extra water flooded the city’s water mains. 

Not only was all of New York tuning into the heart-rending finale, they were simultaneously holding their bladders while doing so.

“Our engineers say you would have to have one million people flushing their toilets at the same time to achieve that rate,” Andrew McCarthy of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection told AP reporters some weeks later.

While we’ll thankfully (probably!) be spared a similar plumbing crisis in our capital cities this evening, Australians who watch the Matildas take on France in tonight’s quarter final match will be taking part in a similar television moment. 

In 2023, millions of people watching the same live broadcast at the same time is a very rare thing. 



It’s safe to say that, since the glory days of MASH, free-to-air television has faded from prominence. The monoculture that once guaranteed that large portions of the population would be plonked in front of the television set each evening, passively imbibing whatever is served up in between commercials is long gone. In 1996, the average episode of Better Homes and Gardens would be watched by 1.95 million viewers. The MasterChef finale last month drew just under 700,000.

The reasons for this are plentiful, and also quite obvious: in 1996, the internet looked like this.

Most Australians had only five channels; a nascent Foxtel had less than 150,000 subscribers nationally, and illegal music downloads were still a few years away. No social media, no phones that fit in pockets.

Yet the tenants of television haven’t changed much. It still took an iconic event to gather the masses. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Cathy Freeman won the 400 metres final in front of more than eight million Australian TV viewers. 

No sporting event has came close since. And only a sporting event seems likely to ever break that record. Maybe we’ll see it this year.

The Matildas’ 2-0 victory over Denmark on Monday night reached 6.54 million people across Seven and 7plus, with an average audience of 3.56 million tuning in across both platforms. The all-important capital cities audience was 2.29 million. Across the country, it commanded 71.3% of the total free-to-air TV audience.

It was the most-watched television program of the year. It stomped all three Origin games, and the Australian Open. In terms of viewership, it surpassed every State of Origin and NRL Grand Final since 2016, and three of the last five AFL finals.

But these are yearly rituals. Although they draw millions, there’s a different feeling to events that come around faithfully on the calendar. Australia will likely not host the Women’s World Cup for the next half-century. 

Source: CommBank Matildas

Tonight’s game will be even bigger than Monday night’s. It has to be. It’s the quarter-final. Each game is special from now. Each game could be the last. Even the fence-sitters have to admit The Matildas are within striking distance now.

The timing is beautiful, too – 5.00pm on a Saturday night, as opposed to 8:30pm on a Monday. Kids won’t have to beg or bargain to stay up late, it’s an easy dinnertime distraction, the perfect launchpad for a night out, and it even bumps up nicely against the 7:30pm rugby league match, assuming no overtime is needed.

Short of a wide scale blackout (which isn’t out of the question), this should become one of the highest rating Australian sporting events of all time. 

The Sydney 2000 Olympics closing ceremony was watched by 6.64 million Australians. 4 million watched Australia lose to England in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. 3.3 million people watched Nollsie lose to Guy Sebastian in the Australia Idol finale that same year.

It’s very likely tonight’s quarter final will pass those latter two battle royales, ratings-wise. If they progress further in the World Cup, they may even touch the closing ceremony. They may even, gasp!, beat Cathy Freeman.

So, we have proof that millions of people are getting excited about women’s sport in Australia. That’s done. None of the old arguments in that regard wash anymore. The next test will be whether The Matildas’ success has an impact on the viewership figures of the AFLW, which begins its ten-game season on September 1.

Aside from the Matildas’ leg-up, round one starts during the AFL bye-week, likely to also give that first round an extra boost. Fox Sports will broadcast every match live, as well as every match of the NRLW, which started late last month.

Nine is also punting on the NRLW, with an expanded deal in place to stream all 48 games live on 9Now, and plans to broadcast three live primetime matches on Channel 9HD. This is all looking very positive.

All ships rise in a high tide, as they say, and Matildas viewership figures will draw sponsors and advertisers, which drives broadcast rights up, which in turn, drives advertising costs further. All this money inflates the worth of the leagues, and in turn, the value of the players on whose shoulders this all rests. 

At least, that’s the ideal – and it’s how all other sporting leagues in Australia have grown from the days where they used to superimpose a league player’s job title on the screen alongside his other stats, to Nathan Cleary commanding a $1.3 million salary – not to mention the countless endorsement opportunities. While we’ve seen an absolute blitz on Matildas sponsorships and tie-ins, this is merely the start.

Tonight’s the night. Regardless of whether The Matildas win the match, you can’t unring the bell that has been loudly sounding around the country. 

Many people will watch their first game of women’s soccer tonight, then another. That’s how it begins.

Rest of the week

News Corp passed a massive milestone during FY23, with digital accounting for over 50% of the company’s full-year revenue for the first time.

News Corp chief Robert Thomson rightly called this “a profound transformation”. But the company’s print empire has been slower to fade away, with digital revenues only making up 36% of its news media division. Even more tellingly, this has only risen 1% over the past twelve months.

Conversely, Foxtel has transitioned its business model away from satellite subscribers towards streamers – they surpassed three million paid streaming subscribers this fiscal year. But News Corp is largely written in ink – and it will take a while for that to fade.

Over at KIIS 1065, Kyle and Jackie O got slapped down again by the Australian Communications and Media Authority regarding comments Kyle made that “stereotyped gay men and assigned blame to them for the spread of the [mpox] virus.” This follows another breach during a conversation around the Paralympics. Given their continued rating success, it’s clear the shock jock era continues to be in full swing.

ABC decided to put an X through their Twitter accounts this week, axing most of their individual show accounts, keeping just four across the network.

Never one to shy away from a good cage match, Elon Musk snapped back by saying “Well, of course they prefer censorship-friendly social media.” We await Ita’s retort.

Earlier in the week, Starcom won the fiercely contested $41 million media account for TPG, and we saw the return of the only other Aussie hero to rival Sam Kerr — outback adventurer Russell Coight, who popped up on a hilarious series of ads for Mitsubishi’s Outlander Plug-in Hybrid EV.

Enjoy your weekend.


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