Terry Television glimpses the future, in Sydney at least, and wonders if Nine will regret its latest cast-offs.

Despite the big sales effort by Nine news duo Max Uechtritz and Jim Rudder in today’s Media section in The Australian, life is getting tougher for Nine, especially in television’s most important market, Sydney.

The Mark Day authored piece in The Australian featured heavily the sort of ‘twins’ approach (Big Arnie and Danny de Vito, perhaps?) with one starting a sentence and the other finishing. Check it out here.

It read impressively and much of what they had to say was sensible about the new style of news coverage. And yet it was all about coverage, not content. And while there was some acknowledgment from them and Day to the small national gains Seven has been making with the 6pm news and Today Tonight, the bigger Seven gains in Sydney were mentioned almost in passing.

But Sydney viewers didn’t worry, they handed Seven a rare midweek win on Wednesday night. Seven won by the barest of margins, 29% to 28.9% for Nine and Ten with 21.8%. Nationally it was Nine’s night with 28.5%, to 26.5% for Seven and Ten with 23.5%.

But what propelled Seven to its best midweek performance in Sydney this year was the story. Today Tonight was the top rating program, followed by Home and Away, the sort of audience handover situation that Nine delivers from 6pm onwards, or rather used to.

News and ACA is Jim Rudder’s direct responsibility, with John Westacott the report at ACA (and 60 Minutes) and now Max Uechtritz in place in the Sydney newsroom. Despite Rudder’s condescending comment that Seven news is being helped by the success of “Deal or No Deal” before the news, he did reveal that Nine is pushing The Price is Right to an hour to try and match Deal. This happens next month.

So, according to Jim, Seven news its getting a boost from a successful program before it. Does that mean Jim, that Nine’s News is being harmed by an unsuccessful program? It sure does. Fancy Nine having to depend on Larry Emdur to try and arrest an easing in its News and ACA ratings. Which means Nine has blinked first in trying to arrest the drop off in viewing between 6pm and 7pm, especially in Sydney.

You can forget comments like those from Jim Rudder. The move to expand Price is a sign Nine’s management and programmers have taken control take to try and arrest a weakening ratings situation. That’s real thinking of the Network. And at Nine they are worried about the damage Seven is having at 6pm to 7pm, the most important hour in the 24 each day in the schedule for commercial networks.

In Sydney, Nine News finished fourth, closely followed by Seven News just 4,000 viewers behind. ACA finished ninth with 392,700 viewers, almost 95,000 behind TT. Blue Heelers was the third most watched program in Sydney, and suddenly Wednesday night was Seven’s, thanks to the turn on from 6 to 7pm. And why is Sydney so important? It’s where the Networks are headquartered, where the television bosses live and where more than 35% of the national ad spend on television happens each year.

Nationally, Nine’s News was the most watched program on Wednesday night, followed by Today Tonight, then The Simpsons, then Seven News and then A Current Affair. However, the national gap between ACA and TT was due to the slump in ACA’s Sydney audience, which is not good news, no matter the spin from Jim or Max.

Consider this in Sydney, around 62,000 viewers had switched from the Nine News and went elsewhere, but not to Ray Martin and ACA.
Nationally there was a drop from the News on Nine to ACA on Wednesday night of around 224,000 viewers, a big turnoff.

But nationally Seven sees a turn-on from the News of around 70,000 viewers, which is what advertisers want. In Sydney the turn-on from News to TT for Seven on Wednesday was 37,000 viewers, for Nine there was a turn-off of almost 26,000 people.

This is only one night, it may sound like nitpicking but its what programmers and station bosses look for. Its also a sign that the news and current affairs campaign of Rudder’s predecessor, Peter Meakin, now at Seven, is making definite inroads into Nine’s leadership position, despite the double ham act from Jim and Max.

The fact that Nine is reprogramming the 5pm to 6pm slot as a trial is a sign of deepening concern at the industry leader. Elsewhere in the schedule might be tough times for Seven, but some small wins are appearing for CEO David Leckie and news boss Peter Meakin, at the expense of their old employer.

As the Italians say, “revenge is a dish best eaten cold” and that too applies in the world of television. It’s a phrase that Seven executive chairman Kerry Stokes has been known to use over the years.

Ten and Aunty pick up Nine’s latest castoffs

Some interesting news has surfaced out of Network Ten – it has bought a couple of shows from Nine, which it picked up under its output deal with Warner Bros, part of the huge Time Warner group.

The most noteworthy of these is the Fox Network series “The OC”. Nine aired three episodes of OC in the non-rating summer but with a younger viewer appeal it was thought to be a better fit with Ten than Nine’s schedule.

Ten has picked up both the first and the recently commissioned second series, with June 22 as the start date for the first series. Nine has also on-sold the Home Box Office (also part of Time Warner and part of the Warner Bros deal) series “Carnivale” to the ABC.

More information appeared in the US trade paper, The Hollywood Reporter, from its Australian correspondent. Nine’s head of programming, Michael Healy, told the newspaper, “it was a financial decision to sell ‘The OC’ and ‘One Tree Hill’ to Ten and ‘Carnivale’ to the ABC”.

“Our goal is to be in a position to program the broadest and best, and by selling programs that may not suit our current schedule, we could finance the acquisition of ‘CSI: NY,’ which we will, and develop several local concepts.”

CSI isn’t part of any production deal Nine has and it has had to pay increasing amounts of money to buy the Miami spin-off and now try for the New York version, despite stories to the contrary in various newspaper media pages this week.

You’d have to wonder then why Leckie and his boss Kerry Stokes haven’t been prepared to pay big money for series like CSI New York, simply to get some product to compete with Nine and Ten in the mid-evening time-slots Monday to Friday.

Word is that Leckie and Seven will in fact try for CSI: New York. If they win they will have a hold on part of a franchise program Nine has used skilfully here. If they fail, then Nine’s costs will have been forced up.

The on-sell caused Crikey’s mind to wander back to some of the programs Nine has let slip in the past. Seinfeld is one of the best known. Ten made it a success. Rove was trialled on Nine and now is doing well for himself and Ten. Everone Loves Raymond, now a good rater for Ten, was tried at Nine and Seven and both ended up dropping the rights.

With OC Nine could be bitten again, given that it’s a sort of a newer version of the Fox series 90210 which helped establish and then cement Ten’s position in the so-called youth demographic of 16 to 39.

Despite Nine’s public aversion to that demographic, it’s a determined stalker of viewers in the age group and has been doing very well attacking it this year, much to Ten’s pain. So you’d be entitled to wonder why Nine has handed over an interesting program to its main competitor this year, which has shown in the past it is skilled at recycling Nine’s cast-offs and making them a ratings and financial success.
Anything it seems to gang up on Seven and David Leckie and apply a bit of a ratings squeeze, even if it means helping Ten add pressure to Nine itself on some nights.