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TV programming battle: reality franchises to fight it out in Q1

As the official ratings season kicks off and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, My Kitchen Rules and Married at First Sight return to screens, Miranda Ward spoke with the free-to-air commercial networks on expectations for the ratings season kick-off.

For TV networks, summer is about sport and using sporting platforms to launch their key programs as the official ratings season kicks off.

Ten started the year with the Big Bash, while Seven had the Australian Open and Nine went with its summer of cricket.

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Speaking with Mumbrella, Angus Ross, Seven director of programming, said the network had “a good summer” and was happy with how the Australian Open performed as a launch platform.

“Every day during the Australian Open we’ve won, so we’re happy with that,” he said.

“We’ve used it year in, year out as a launch platform for our programs.”

Angus Ross:

Angus Ross: Our key program is My Kitchen Rules which is the number one show on television in Australia

Seven starts the year competitively – launching its star performer My Kitchen Rules tonight at 7.30pm. It’ll be looking to pull in as close to the 1.5m mark – or hopefully above – as possible. Last year the show’s premiere enjoyed a metro audience of 1.576m, almost identical to 2015’s launch audience of 1.596m.

“Our key program for us is My Kitchen Rules, which is the number one show on television in Australia; there’s My Kitchen Rules and then there’s daylight to the next show,” Ross said.

“That occupies a lot of real estate for us and that show is very important to us in terms of launching other new shows at the same time at the start of the year. A lot of our promotional effort is going into My Kitchen Rules.”

Ross is unconcerned by the minor downturn in MKR’s ratings performance last year.

“My Kitchen Rules in 2016 versus 2015 was really the only show on television not to decline in audience by a significant amount, I think it was about 1% and you’re looking at that versus declines of up to 20% for other shows like The Voice,” he said.

“My Kitchen Rules in 2015 did about 1.7m and in 2016 it was about 1.68m. In the sort of environment we’re operating in to have virtually no decline with a massive franchise like that is kind of unprecedented.”

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MKR will be going up against Nine’s expanded season three of Married at First Sight and Ten’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!, which launched last night.

I’m a Celebrity… followed on from the final of Ten’s Big Bash – for which the men’s final aired on Sunday night.

Beverley McGarvey, Network Ten’s chief programming officer, told Mumbrella Ten is “really happy” with the results the Big Bash has delivered.

Beverley McGarvey:

Beverley McGarvey: Big Bash final was perfect timing for I’m a Celebrity…

Saturday’s final in the men’s Big Bash saw 959,000 tune in for the first session and 852,000 for session two to witness the Perth Scorchers claim the 2017 Big Bash title from the Sydney Sixers.

“Timing-wise it couldn’t be better, we have great big family audiences this week and then a final on Saturday to launch Celebrity… on Sunday night,” McGarvey said.

“Big Bash tonally is family entertainment as is Celebrity… so it’s a perfect tonal fit, and the timing is really good also. We’re very happy to have Big Bash help us launch our survey schedule.”

McGarvey said it is the third year in a row Ten has kicked off the official ratings period with I’m a Celebrity…

“Celebrity has launched our year incredibly successfully over the past two years, it grew in year two,” she said.

McGarvey is confident there is room in the market for Celebrity, MKR and Nine’s Married at First Sight.

“There is room in the market for lots of big shows, it’s better for the industry that there are strong, robust programs across free-to-air television at the top of the year, it’s great there’s so many big shows on, they lift the entire free-to-air business,” she said.

“MKR has a very solid audience, it’s done a great job and Married at First Sight is also very well made but the difference with Celebrity… is it appeals to the family audience and has comedy in it. We’re looking for a slightly different audience.”

The 2017 I'm a Celebrity cast

The 2017 I’m a Celebrity cast

McGarvey said Ten wants to produce a program that is “well executed, appeals to our audience and offers something different to everything else on air.”

Referring to MKR and Married at First Sight, she said: “Those shows do well with a broad audience but we condition Celebrity as a family show that you can sit down to watch it with your kids or your grandma, there’s something in it for everyone. The comedy is something unique in a reality format.”

For Ten, McGarvey said the network wants to “maintain the audience that we have”.

“Last year we had a very solid schedule, we probably had a bit of a patch-work schedule after Celebrity and Masterchef coming on but this year we have Biggest Loser: Transformed coming on and we think a franchise like that is a great opportunity for us in terms of potential growth,” she said.

“We’re very interested in how we can maintain the traction we’ve seen over the last three or four years.”

Nine kicks off the expanded Married at First Sight at 7:30pm tonight and for Nine the focus is on growing its audience in key advertising demographics.

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Michael Stephenson, Nine Entertainment Co., chief sales officer, told Mumbrella: “Hopefully it’s very clear to everybody that we’re focused on delivering audience 16-39, 25-54 and grocery buyers.

“With Married at First Sight starting I’m confident we’ll deliver growth and growth in the demographics.

“It’s proven historically to be very pure in terms of the composition of its audience. Over 60% of its audience historically has been in 25-54s.”

Michael Stephenson:

Michael Stephenson: Optimistic on Q1 launch with Married at First Sight

In terms of its competition – My Kitchen Rules and I’m a Celebrity – Stephenson said Nine doesn’t “spend too much time thinking about it to be honest”.

“MKR is a great show. As I’ve said, I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what that number will be but what I’m confident of we’ll grow the thousands of people in the demos versus what we were last year and that is our focus.”

While Stephenson is “optimistic” on what the show will deliver for Nine in terms of ratings, for Seven’s Ross Married at First Sight is not something he is overly worried about.

“Married at First Sight is a successful program for Nine,” he said.

“They did run it against us last year during My Kitchen Rules, it didn’t do too much but you never take these things for granted. We take our competition, both Nine and Ten, very, very seriously.

“Nine changed the format up, they had a very poor start to the year last year with a lot of failures, they’re obviously trying to rectify that.”

Ross is referring to Nine kickstarting 2016 with a revival of Australia’s Got Talent. The talent series returned to Nine in February last year with a metro audience of 785,000 and while it pulled in consistent numbers it struggled to compete against the likes of MKR, finishing up in March with a healthy audience of 908,000.

The return of Nine’s renovation reality program Reno Rumble in March also didn’t deliver the big numbers the network was after with the premiere delivering 395,000 metro viewers.

Nine quickly dropped the misfiring Reno Rumble from its 7:30pm prime time slot, switching it in favour of Married at First Sight, after the show failed to break 450,000 metro viewers in its first four outings.

But while Nine had a troubled start, Seven had similar problems at the end of 2016 with Zumbo’s Just Desserts stumbling – after it delivered a metro audience of 1.081m on debut, the cooking competition fell to 762,000 metro viewers on its finale.

Seven also saw The X Factor become the surprise flop of the year, launching with 904,000 viewers but failing to gain traction with viewers not warming to the new judges to finish with a metro audience of 751,000. Ross confirmed the show would not be returning to screens in 2017.

It was the final part of the year that emphasised for Ross how important a good start to the year can be.

“Last year was our best Q1 in recorded ratings history, if we can top that again this year I’ll be really happy. It was that start to the year that enabled us to hang on to all the key demos across the whole year, even if we had a few programs stumbles here and there,” he said.

“The start of the year is absolutely crucial and it becomes a great launchpad to launch Q2 and Q3, if you can get a good set-up numbers you can bank in Q1 it keeps things looking pretty good for the remainder of the year.

“That said, Seven has a pretty consistent audience across the entire year because our key platforms are local programming, Seven News is number one now, The Chase is number one, Home and Away is in there week-in, week-out and we have a lot of sport, we have a lot of what we used to like to call ‘bricks in the wall’ that manage to give you a consistent audience across the year whether all the other programs are working or not.”

Stephenson agrees on the importance of Q1 performing well.

“We’ve had a great launch platform in the summer of cricket this year which plays a significant part in your ability to launch well,” he said.

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He said Married at First Sight is “demographically” the right show to launch the official ratings season with.

“It can deliver us growth in the first quarter of the year and that is very important to us,” he said.

“I’m confident we will deliver growth in those demos and when do the rest of our content slate, which we’ve been very open about for some time, is incredible strong.

“Out of that we still have The Voice, with three new coaches, and with Kelly Rowland and Boy George joining adds a completely different dimension to that show.

“Ninja is going to be off the Richter scale good; we’ve got another series of The Block, we’ve got Doctor Doctor, Love Child, House of Bond and Chopper, you think about the NRL, the Netball, we’ve got the Ashes at the end of the year, Hamish and Andy still to come.

“We’ve got a fantastic schedule for the entire year but if I think about the next eight weeks or so, Married… in conjunction with House Husbands and Travel Guides, which is going to be a noisy show and a family favourite which is Planet Earth, which will aggregate families around the television at 7:30pm – which is always fantastic for total viewing.

“You throw on top of that some US programming – I think Lethal Weapon could be something that generates a good audience for us on Sunday nights.

“I feel really great that we can deliver for our advertisers audience growth which they’re all focused on, and if we can do that, we’re off to a good start.”

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