Today marks my second anniversary writing for Throng Australia.
It all started two years ago, on May 6, 2009 with a post about frustrating TV scheduling discussing how time on free to air TV are never what they really are, and how EPGs that are not up to date to the minute means that shows can start up to 15 minutes late or sometimes, early as well. As recently as last Wednesday, the premiere of BIG on Nine was advertised as a 9.30 start, but ended up starting at 9.44. While the EPG for Nine was correct with a 9.44 start, it is still a far cry from the advertised time of 9.30pm.
The free to air TV landscape has changed considerably in the last two years. So much so, our networks are still getting used to it, understanding the new demands the multi channel environment place on them.
In May 2009, ONE HD was just six weeks old, after having launched in March that year as the first free to air full time sports channel and taking away Ten’s high definition channel. Nine’s first multi channel GO! was nothing more than a speculative rumour of a channel that was believed to be called GO!99, while nothing – not even a whisper was coming out of Seven about its multi channel plans.
Both Seven and Nine at the time were broadcasting HD break aways for around 6 hours a day, with break away programming for a few hours in the middle of the day, and more late night. HD break away programming gave viewers more options, but rarely offered any significant programming.
Overall, there were then 8 full time free to air digital channels, including SBS News as one of them. SBS News became SBS TWO in June 2009. Add to those 8 free to air channels another two for 7HD and 9HD, and there were 10 channels at times. Yet Freeview promotions advertised 15 free to air channels!
In May 2009, a little cooking show called Masterchef was airing on Ten six nights a week including 7.30pm Sunday and 7pm Monday to Friday. The idea was just starting to catch on, with an average of 1.2 million watching each night. Last year, at the same time 1.6-1.7 million. This year Masterchef is almost at 2010 levels – but the difference being, this year, it is the first week – the top 50 week.
Meanwhile, in May 2009, Nine were having problems with their Tuesday night programming, with shares around 6% below that of Seven and Ten. Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation was reaching over 1.6 million (nowadays, it‘s usually half that), NCIS 1.5 million. Seven’s Tuesday night included All Saints, still drawing over 1.1 million viewers. Nine’s Tuesday night was filled with Two and a Half Men, 20 To 1 and Underbelly repeats – none of which were doing anywhere near the business of programming on Seven and Ten.
Scroll forward two years and we do indeed have 15 free to air channels – the number effectively doubling that of 2009. 16 if you include community TV – which also has gone digital over the last 12 months. While the extra channels give viewers plenty of choices, they have redefined the level of ratings that determine what constitutes a show being a success or not.
At the same time as having these extra free to air channels, the amount of HD content has dropped to its lowest level in years. Free to air, prior to 2009, was a prime source for HD content. Now, with Foxtel launching over 30 channels in the past two years, most of them in HD, Pay TV has taken over as being the major broadcast source for HD TV – for those who can afford it.
In 2009, anything less than a million in prime time was effectively a flop. Now, figures below a million in prime time on main channels are a regular occurrence. Networks often have to accept prime time figures of 600,000 – 800,000 for some shows. This all just makes any show that surges past the million and over the 1.5 million mark all that more successful – which brings us back to Masterchef – even with 15 channels of choice, the phenomenon is still stronger than ever, and if the first week’s figures are anything to go by, then we are set for another record breaking year for the show.
And, again, Nine are faced with difficulties on Tuesday night, despite airing two of their high profile shows – AFP and Sea Patrol. The combination of Masterchef and NCIS on Ten and Australia’s Got Talent and Winners & Losers on Seven all that more stronger than Nine’s offerings.
So far 2011 has been a one sided ratings race with Seven winning every single week of the ratings year as well as the two Easter non-ratings weeks. With strong programming on its main channel, and two digital channels with well defined programming and objectives, nothing seems to be able to stop the network this year.
Ten, in reaction to low ratings are relaunching ONE HD as more of a general entertainment channel during prime time. The channel will still offer sports, but also mostly young male oriented programming in the evenings perhaps aimed to capture some of the market 7mate have taken. The new ONE, Masterchef on Ten, and ongoing and growing success of ELEVEN will see Ten a lot more competitive over coming months. As it stands, in the first week of Masterchef have ranked second, behind Seven and ahead of Nine for a number of nights of the week, as well as first on Monday night when the finale of The Biggest Loser aired.
Nine, on the other hand, are dogged with constant programming changes, digital channels that seem to have no real direction and shows that simply cannot pull an audience. The combination of unstable programming, last minute scheduling decisions, a lack of time to promote anything new on the channel and a fairly large degree of viewer dissatisfaction with the network are placing Nine in a precarious position for 2011.
Looking forward, and 2011 will almost certainly be another year that is won by Seven. Seven has The Amazing Race Australia premiering soon, Packed to the Rafters to return later in the year and a number of new titles set to premiere over coming months. Ten and Nine will fight it out for second, but it all depends on what Ten does post-Masterchef.
Nine does have Underbelly Razor later this year, but interest on the franchise is dwindling – so it will be interesting to see how it goes. Then there is The Block to air at 7pm weeknights – a gamble, which may or may not breathe life into Nine’s early evening.
After Masterchef, Ten have The Renovators which is set to be the next big reality competition series, described as being the Block on steroids. The network also has new Aussie series Inside Out, essentially a remake of hit series from the late 70’s and 80’s Prisoner.
In the meantime, here at Throng we will continue to keep you up to date, bringing you the latest TV news, ratings information, programming summaries, up to the minute programming amendments and much, much more.
Now for another year.
This time next year, in 2012, Masterchef will be back for its fourth year, while Seven will be in control of the free to air AFL broadcast rights, for at least four games a week. Still no word if any games will end up on Ten, or even Nine. At the same time, all Nine AFL games each week will be able to be seen live on Fox Sports.
As for free to air, TV channels, unless there is a drastic change in the way the networks are allowed to arrange their digital channels, we won’t see any new channels in the next 12 months, unless, of course, there is a miracle at SBS and SBS THREE materialises!