This week has seen the launch of Ten’s third channel ELEVEN. ELEVEN so far has been fitting in well with the other four general entertainment digital channels 7TWO, 7mate, GO! and GEM with nightly overall ratings shares similar to those channels. For two of the three nights, ELEVEN has been the second most watched digital channel, beating SBS ONE. ELEVEN has beat GO! on one of those occasions as well.
It may be too early to tell where ELEVEN will ultimately sit amongst the multi channel environment given that there is usually some novelty associated with a new channel when it first starts and the extraordinary news events of the week.
One thing is for sure though, ELEVEN will help the shares for the Ten network improve, but at the end of the day, the Ten network are still going to be dragged down, in comparison to Seven and Nine by 24 hour sports channel ONE HD. Seven and Nine now each have two general entertainment digital channels that frequent the top 5 digital channels, while Ten now only has one – which is, of course better than none like it was up until January 10, 2011.
ELEVEN, combined with the new News services being introduced to early evenings on Ten, is part of the Ten networks’ 2011 strategy to reposition themselves in the ratings battle and thereby make Ten as a network more competitive against Seven and Nine. ELEVEN is aiming at 13-29 year olds while Ten will be moving more towards a 25-54 target.
The idea of a 24 hour sports channel on free to air TV is not necessarily a bad one, but the problem is ONE HD lacks content that attracts mainstream viewers pretty well most of the time. As it stands, sport is mostly concentrated to weekends in any case, which means weekdays – in the absence of any major sporting event – become filled with sport replays and various international sporting events or shows.
In ratings press release to the media, ONE HD is compared to Fox Sports where it is often reported that ONE is the most watched sports channel compared to Fox Sports. This kind of comparison is not comparing apples with apples. Firstly, only 34% of all households have subscription TV, and secondly, not all of them subscribe to Fox Sports.
Not only that, Fox Sports is a subscriber pay based system, with some on air advertising as well and is now spread over four channels, all also available in HD, plus its own sports news channel. Subscribers pay a monthly fee for access to Fox Sports, but at the same time, they have a choice of many other channels to watch. Even if you take into account that about 65% of all households have access to free to air HD, ONE HD, if truly more successful that Fox Sports should be attracting at least double the numbers of any single Fox Sports channel. Overall, it doesn’t.
ONE HD, in order to remain competitive in the free to air space needs more exclusive events. When the AFL season starts, changes to anti-siphoning laws will mean some AFL matches may air on ONE HD before they do on Ten in some markets – this will certainly help their situation, but again, that is only on weekends.
ONE HD currently airs the Australian NBL, it also has netball, Indian IPL cricket, Hopman Cup Tennis (which should only have been on ONE), various iron man events, various US sports like NFL and basket ball, UFC – which rates really well for ONE, and it’s biggest draw card – the Formula One series – which this year, will actually be broadcast in true HD (previous years it was upscaled). Apart from the Commonwealth Games last year, the F1 has given ONE some of its best figures in ratings.
So what should ONE HD do on weeknights or when there is no live sport to broadcast? ONE HD cannot simply look at the subscription based model of Fox Sports and replay sporting events during the week as very few viewers watch them. No reason why they can’t during the day, or after midnight, but in free to air TV, ratings are only counted for 6pm – midnight. The channel therefore needs to re-think its nightly prime time strategy.
With shares for ONE HD on many nights being the lowest of all 15 free to air digital channels, ONE HD will only drag down Ten unless they so something different on the weeknights when there is no live sport to air. Ten and ELEVEN, if to have any hope in winning against Seven and Nine, will have make up the extra share that Ten is not getting from ONE HD.
What is even more disturbing about free to air channel shares, is that, one night this week, ONE HD had a share of just 0.3%. On both Sunday and Monday night, before ELEVEN even launched, ELEVEN had shares of 0.1% – meaning viewers were actually watching promo loops on ELEVEN long enough for it to show up in ratings. ABC3 regularly beats ONE HD in shares, and it is only on air until 9pm.
Even in the Ten board room, they would surely be looking at these figures and questioning the viability of leaving ONE HD as a full time sports channel. When James Packer bought into Ten last year, rumours surfaced about the possible axing of ONE HD for this very reason. There are even Facebook pages protesting against the possible loss of ONE HD.
ONE HD is a long term plan for the Ten network, in which they have heavily invested. The idea of axing the channel completely is very unlikely. In time, the channel will attract more and more sporting events as it grows. When sport started on pay TV back in 1995 – they too had very little main stream Australian sport.
In the meantime, and to remain competitive in the free to air space, here are some ideas that could help the channel lift prime time nightly shares:
1. Diversify. Not just show sports, but shows that can be deemed as being related. They are already trying movies on Sunday night which are having only a mild ratings benefit. Possible ideas for shows could include fishing shows, series similar to Whacked Out Sports (seen on 7mate), Ice Road Truckers (seen on FOX8, but pretty sure Ten have FTA rights), Fear Factor, sporting documentaries, even documentaries like Big, Bigger, Biggest, looking at heavy machinery, large engineering projects, etc (although 7mate have already taken a large chunk of this corner of the market) could be possible candidates for a modified ONE HD.
Shows like Sports Tonight should be on at a more regular and user friendly time like 7pm or 7.30pm weeknights, followed by a regular nightly prime time line up, that would only give way for a live sporting event.
2. ONE HD becomes part time. This idea proposes that ONE HD is only exists on weekends – say from Friday 3pm – until Monday 6pm*. That leaves all sport on the weekends, allowing the channel to do something different on Monday to Thursday nights. Day time and late night programming could revert back to sport, but prime time Monday to Thursday could be a general entertainment based channel that would attract much greater audiences.
For now, the channel shall be referred to as TWELVE HD. It could be used to air HD content including shows like Glee, Lie to Me, NCIS, even Neighbours which is filmed in HD, as well as new Simpsons, which is made in HD, movies, and more. It could draw some shows from ELEVEN, and could be used to premiere shows in HD that are seen on Ten or ELEVEN later.
Alot of what is on 7mate came from 7TWO originally, so the idea of taking shows from one digital channel for another is nothing new. Same with GEM now airing a few shows that have previously been on GO. Ten would then be a lot more competitive on these nights.
3. Further down the track. As ONE HD picks up more events, it could start having “destination nights” – the idea is similar to Monday Night Football (Fox Sports do with the NRL). Games for key sporting competitions could be played on weeknights, thereby drawing viewers to watch ONE HD on weeknights.
This would help figure on nights such events fall, but there would still be issues in the respective off seasons that would need to be addressed.
Out of the above ideas, option 2 would deliver the best ratings benefit and truly help Ten compete against Seven and Nine. Option 1 would help increase shares a little, but not to the extent that option 2 could. Option 3 is a long term scenario, that will not help immediately.
* A Monday 6pm finish ensures that ONE HD is able to cover F1 live on Sunday nights, as well as US events that are live on Monday our time.
Channel shares and ratings discussions based on OzTam Five City figures, week 3 (Jan 9-15), 2011.