TV year: How Seven won, Ten survived and Nine slipped back – and digital finally made its presence felt

While the next few weeks will see several of the free to air TV players appear to be competing in the new reality show Extreme Hibernation Challenge, it’s fair to say they were all hard at work over the weekend.  

On Sunday – and indeed into today – it felt like every few minutes my inbox was pinging with a new analysis of the year’s TV ratings. Virtually every one was accompanied by a note explaining why their interpretation of OzTam data was the fairest way of looking at things.

First the five city prime time share numbers for 2009 (excluding non-ratings weeks and ignoring the new digital channels), which is Seven’s preferred metric:

  • Seven 28.8%
  • Nine 26.8%
  • Ten 22.2%
  • ABC1 16.4%
  • SBS 5.8%

Or the 6pm to midnight numbers, as preferred by Nine:

  • Seven 28.1%
  • Nine 26.6%
  • Ten 22.4%
  • ABC 17.0%
  • SBS 5.9%

    And the top 20 TV programs (averaged across the series – metro numbers only):

  1. Underbelly Nine 2.127m
  2. Packed to the Rafters Seven 1.872m
  3. Masterchef – Challenge Ten 1.736m
  4. Seven News – Sunday Seven 1.602m
  5. Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation Ten 1.602m
  6. Masterchef Ten 1.529m
  7. Thank God You’re Here Seven 1.516m
  8. World’s Strictest Parents Seven 1.510m
  9. Border Security Seven 1.499m
  10. Seven News – Monday-Friday Seven 1.493m
  11. Find My Family Seven 1.479m
  12. The Zoo Seven 1.475m
  13. NCIS Ten 1.449m
  14. Dancing with the Stars Seven 1.437m
  15. RSPCA Animal Rescue Seven 1.433m
  16. Nine News – Sunday Nine 1.430m
  17. Midsomer Murders – Sunday ABC 1.421m
  18. Surf Patrol Seven 1.415m
  19. Triple Zero Heroes Seven 1.389m
  20. Customs Nine 1.381m

And for individual episodes/ events:

  1. Masterchef – Announcement of Winner Ten 3.726m
  2. Masterchef – Final Ten 3.293m
  3. AFL Grand Final – Match Ten 2.878m
  4. The Melbourne Cup – The Race Seven 2.673m
  5. Underbelly – Episode 1 Nine 2.582m
  6. NRL Grand Final – Match Nine 2.528m
  7. AFL Grand Final – Post-Match Ten 2.448m
  8. State of Origin I – Match Nine 2.322m
  9. Australian Open – Day 9 Primetime Seven 2.316m
  10. Australian Open – Men’s Final Seven 2.246m
  11. Hey Hey Reunion #2 Nine 2.213m
  12. Hey Hey Reunion #1 Nine 2.149m
  13. State of Origin II – Match Nine 2.134m
  14. Twenty/20 Cricket: Australia v South Africa Nine 2.123m
  15. The Biggest Loser – Announcement of Winner Ten 2.094m
  16. Twenty/20 Cricket – Australia v South Africa Nine 2.039m
  17. State of Origin III – Match Nine 1.907m
  18. The Biggest Loser – Final Ten 1.798m
  19. TV Week Logie Awards – Arrivals Nine 1.698m
  20. AFL Grand Final – Pre-Match Ten 1.697m

So who are the winners?

Seven has the best case.

Although Nine is within a couple of percentage points of share, that matters a lot when it comes to negotiation time. For a media agency or big advertiser, efficiency of the buy is important when looking to quickly build a big audience. And in a two network deal, there’s a premium for the network with the best reach.

Advertiser sentiment also matters. They don’t want to be associated with networks perceived to be lacking momentum.

But Ten dodged a bullet in terms of how it finished the year, mainly thanks to the surprise hit of Masterchef. However, back in February or March when agency deals were being done, that wouldn’t have been factored in. So Ten’s revenues for the year were probably less than it deserved. The question now is, can Ten persuade agencies that despite Celebrity Masterchef’s ratings being softer, the next series of Masterchef, which by now will already be being shot, will deliver big again?

For Nine, it’s going to be all about perception. Will Underbelly 3 be as good as Underbelly 1, or as average as Underbelly 2? I chatted last week to somebody involved in the filming who believes it’s going to be the former. Then there’s the Hey Hey factor. Assuming it’s recommissioned, how big will it be?

But the biggest new factor will be the first full year of free to air digital channels. Thanks to their advent, the second half of the year saw Ten spend many nights with less than 20% for its main channel. That squeeze will get worst as audiences fragment with the arrival of the third digital channels for each player – ABC3 starts on Friday.

There’s a good perspective on this at TV Tonight, where David Knox points out that for the first time a digital show (Go’s Wipeout – 363,000) beat an analogue one (Ten’s Are You Smarter? – 340,000)

Within a couple of years, a media agency could make a rational deal that excludes Ten from its schedule altogether. The squeeze will be even worse news for SBS. Indeed, I wonder what the future holds for that network.

And speaking of the public broadcasters, although the ABC officially doesn’t care about ratings, it released some helpful analysis today.

The most fascinating stuff is around the ABC’s iPlayer and video downloads , which doesn’t get picked up by OzTam.

ABC iView (which is treamed from the site) has had more than 6m views since April, with an average of about 600,000 visits to iView per month. Last month, there were 286,000 visitors and 1.054 million visits to ABC iView. That suggests that iView will have a massive impact next year.

And video downloads of ABC content have amounted to 7m.

Interesting also to see how important adland show The Gruen Transfer is to the ABC – the 1.3m the final episode of the second series pulled in on May 20 was ABC1’s fourth biggest audience of the year. The penultimate episode was also ABC2’s sixth biggest show with an audience of 138,000.

The Gruen Transfer recorded 258,000 vodcast downloads this year (across the series rather than per episode). It recorded 70,000 views via ABC iView and in April it was the most viewed program on iView.

Meanwhile journos’ favourite show (until they’re on it)  Media Watch achieved a series average of 736,000 this year, peaking at 936,000 on October 12.

Media Watch also recorded 149,000 views via ABC iView and 869,000 vodcast downloads (across the series).

Next year will be the one where the full impact is felt. But what is certain is that now the ratigns season is over, the coming weeks are going to see a lot more crap telly.

Tim Burrowes


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