Commercial TV execs look back on a tight year

Seven and Nine's final battle for the TV year's ratings crown was one of its closest to date and the end of the year saw CBS' acquisition of Ten go ahead. Zoe Samios checks in with Seven's Angus Ross, Nine's Michael Stephenson and Ten's Beverley McGarvey to discuss the results.

This year’s TV ratings battle saw Seven nab its 11th consecutive annual win, but programming boss Angus Ross isn’t so comfortable. After all, Seven’s main channel only squeaked a 0.1% win over Nine.

It was one of the closest contests in recent years, with Seven narrowly claimed the ratings win in main channel and overall share, while Nine snatched up the key advertising demographics – 16-39, 25-54 and Grocery Buyer with Child.

Tim Worner, CEO of Seven West Media with Kurt Burnette, chief revenue officer and Angus Ross, Seven’s director of programming at this year’s upfronts

The official ratings season wrapped up with Seven achieving an average audience share of 20.1%, just ahead of Nine’s 20.0%. Ten finished with a 12.6% audience share across total people while the ABC was just behind on 12.2%. SBS had 5.2%.

On a network basis – including multi-channel offerings such as 7Two, 9Go, ABC2 and Eleven – Seven claimed 29.6% of the audience, ahead of Nine’s 28.1%. Ten Network had 18.0%, ABC 17.1% and SBS 7.2%.

Ross tells Mumbrella the final quarter – which saw the premiere of The Wall, Instant Hotel, US drama The Good Doctor and the Rugby League World Cup – gave the final push the network needed to end the year.

“That final Q4, we said we were going to come home with a wet sail,” he says.

Seven’s The Good Doctor premiered with 1.062m metro viewers, The Wall – 974,000 metro viewers, while Instant Hotel reached 695,000 on its first night.

“The Wall did exactly what we needed it to do as a piece of stunt programming over several weeks. We think it took some of the wind out of Family Food Fight which is what we needed it to do and Instant Hotel, we are going to bring that back next year, we might tweak the format a little bit but it delivered strong demos for us and we think we can build that show,” Ross says.

But Ross is not dismissive of Nine, particularly in this year’s third quarter which contributed significantly to the tight finish.

“They have a bunch of good shows,” he admits.

“Ninja Warrior obviously took the market by storm in that Q3. They have a good bunch of shows over the year, so do we. But that Q3 is something we’ll be addressing next year and we’ll be taking the fight up to The Block better than we did this year.”

However, he’s incredibly impressed with the efforts of Good Doctor which held strong in the last few weeks of the year on both Tuesday and Thursday nights, finishing with a mid-season finale metro audience of 1.123m last night.

The Good Doctor’s total audience – including overnight, time shift, encores and VPM was 2.34m.

“When I last spoke to you I was saying how tough drama has become across both US and Australia. It came in and we were running it twice a week and it also delivered big numbers on a Thursday night which has kind of been a night where that hasn’t happened,” he says.

The Good Doctor has delivered Seven some of its biggest audiences this year

“It’s been remarkably consistent in its overnight numbers and it’s now the most time shifted show ever.

“It makes people think again that good stories, no matter where they come from, will stand up to the viewer’s scrutiny. And in this case it certainly performed above expectations which we are obviously very happy with.”

For Michael Stephenson, chief sales officer at Nine, the network’s success started as early as Married at First Sight in March – which he argues is the network’s most successful show for the year.

“The reason I say that is we went to the ad market over 12 months ago now and said that in 2017 we’d grow audience and grow our audience share and to do that we needed to do two things, one was we needed to launch the year really strongly and then deliver consistency for advertisers across 12 months of the year,” Stephenson says.

Stephenson is happy with Nine’s performance, as the company has delivered consistency and growth to advertisers

“To launch with Married at Last First Sight with an extended series, for it to resonate with audiences on TV, in on demand on 9Now, within 9Honey was for me an absolute highlight.

“The way in which brands communicate with audience changes, it was a great example of brands being able to use a platform. They were able to integrate their brands into the story and then tell that story across every part of our Nine ecosystem.”

However the biggest surprise, he says, came from Nine’s Ninja Warrior. The program averaged more than 2.410m nationally across the series, with the final episode cracking 3.087m nationally. When looking at total exposure – which combined OzTAM’s overnight figures with time shift to 7, encore and VPM – Australian Ninja Warrior had an audience of 2.782m.

Stephenson describes the result as “quite outstanding” and is confident it will perform “equally as well” next year.

“It brought families back to the TV again, that’s what delivers big TV audiences and the talkability around the water cooler and offices and schools around the country was awesome,” he says.

But unfortunately for the Nine, Family Food Fight did not give the channel the audience it needed to polish off the year.  The show premiered with 614,000 metro viewers while the finale attracted 594,000 across the five metro cities.

Stephenson reflects on it, arguing: “Demographically it was pure in terms of the profile of its audience, if you think about the percentage of its audience which was 25-54 which is clearly our focus was a good number. Would we have liked the audience to have been greater? I think everyone would accept that yes we would.

“What we feel really good about though, and that’ll be up to Michael Healy and Hugh to determine what happens for next year but there are so many great things in the show, so many great story arcs, themes that we see a huge opportunity to build on some of those things.

“The Shahrouks became a household name. That doesn’t happen overnight, but it did happen with that show. And clearly food resonates with Australians so the genre is right, the theme right and our opportunity is now to build on that next year to make it more successful.”

Over at Ten, chief content officer Beverley McGarvey, is pleased with the year just gone – particularly with The Bachelorette Australia’s efforts.

We’re thrilled audiences fell in love with this year’s season like never before, with television audience numbers up 57% on 2016 – an incredible feat for any show in its third series,” she says. 

McGarvey says Ten’s acquisition by CBS will be a ‘gamechanger’

The Bachelorette Australia kicked off the year with its highest premiere yet – at 951,000 metro viewers. It finished the season with a metro audience of 1.640m, while nationally the finale pulled 2.2m – Ten’s biggest audience of 2017.

“Gogglebox, The Bachelorette Australia and Have You Been Paying Attention? all recorded their biggest audiences ever this year – a fantastic result for us. We’re also pleased that several other of our key shows grew their year-on-year audiences or commercial shares in 2017, including I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, the KFC Big Bash League, the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League and Studio 10,” McGarvey says.

She adds CBS’ acquisition of Ten will be an “absolute game changer for Ten”, not to mention a positive for the industry.

“CBS is a global entertainment giant and one of the most successful media organisations in the world. The deep experience, knowledge and expertise that CBS brings to our company will be a major asset and we look forward to working closely with them to build Ten’s presence in Australia,” she says.

The Bachelorette delivered huge audiences for Ten in 2017, but McGarvey says the CBS acquisition is a game changer

Both Stephenson and Ross welcomed the competition from Ten.

“Competition is always great from my perspective and I want everybody to continue to invest in local content and continue to grow audiences because that creates great demand for what is the greatest medium around and that is television in all of its forms. I wish those guys the best of luck,” Stephenson says.

Ross adds: This is a business driven by Hit shows. The more hit shows across the network that are keeping FTA audiences at healthy levels as happened this year is good. Obviously I want us to have more of them but with Channel Ten, they’ve announced a lot of their schedule so I think the true shape of what CBS’ input will be, there’ll be a time lag on that.”

This year – Nine won the advertising demographics for the year – the main three demographics being 16-39s, 18-49s and 25-54s.

Nine had 21.1% of 16-39s (compared to Seven’s 19.8% and Ten’s 17.0%), 21.7% of the 18-49s (Seven had 19.6%, Ten 16.5%) and 21.6% of 25-54s (while Seven had 19.7% and Ten 15.9%).

Stephenson says winning the demographics is incredibly important, given the vast majority of advertising revenue is bought against those – or subsets of those demographics.

“We are here to deliver content for consumers and audiences for brands and brands by demographics, because brands need an element of targeting when they are trying to target a consumer. So the benefit of television is clearly it delivers those demographics at scale. But in all of my years in television, I’ve never once received a brief for total people, it’s always against the demographic,” he says.

For McGarvey, the 25-54 demographic is key, despite not winning overall share in that space. However she’s pleased certain franchises have continued to show growth in their target demographic.

“Ten is a commercial broadcaster and our target market is people 25 to 54 – the demo that matters most to advertisers. We’re thrilled that this year we grew key franchises in 25 to 54s, including Gogglebox, The Bachelorette Australia, Have You Been Paying Attention?, I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, theKFC Big Bash League, the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League, Studio 10 and others.”

She’s also not concerned by ABC’s increasing audience share – after the network finished the year on 17.1% and main channel share was 12.2%.

“ABC’s audience is much older that TEN’s – around 18 years older – and if you look at Network Ten’s prime time audience this year, we rate more than 11 share points higher in our key target market of people 25 to 54. We are a commercial broadcaster, competing for viewers and advertising dollars against our commercial rivals,” she says.

Seven also missed out on winning share across the demographics, but Ross says Seven can definitely improve from its performance this year.

He’s also confident the restructure to the programming team – which will see the departure of Brad Lyons – will “deliver a good result” for the network next year.

“I’m greedy, I’m a programmer and we like to win everything which is what we did the year before. We won 25-54s, we won all people. You always want to win everything.

“All I can look at is what we’ve delivered to our sales guys over the past few years seems to have worked pretty well for them based on the revenue share they have written. But I think we can improve on our performance this year. It wasn’t our best year as Tim has already said.”


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