More gains for Seven in the crucial evening timeslot of 6.00 to 7.00pm
Nine’s Sydney newsroom is a paranoid place at the moment. The network
is doing well nationally, but the Network’s premier news service is
having to adjust to being second.

Second to the Seven Network and those
former Nine folk of David Leckie, Peter Meakin, Ian Ross and Anna Coren
and the survivors of the previous regime at Seven. Nine was
second in the news ratings in Sydney last week, an unaccustomed
position.

And it was an even worse week for A Current Affair and Ray Martin. Beaten for the second week in a row nationally by Today Tonight and in Sydney, a position they are becoming accustomed to. It’s reality television for television executives.

So far this year Seven has been better at the key prime time slot of 6.00 to 7.00pm than Nine.

And that’s big news because if there was one thing that Nine was proud
of, it was its ability to dominate the 6.00 to 7.00 slot. It was the
bedrock for each night in prime time and it was the bedrock of Nine’s
ability to fight off attempts by Seven and Ten to attack later in the
night.

Of course this could all change this week and next. But with Seven
closing the gap, Nine seems under-equipped to counter the pressure.

And while Sydney isn’t the national market, it’s the biggest single
area of ad spending in the country, it’s the headquarters of all the
networks and it’s where winners are noticed and losers die a very
public death.

In short Sydney matters, the rest of the country are branch offices.

Crikey has remarked before at the inexperience of John Alexander, PBL
Media CEO, his Deputy at Nine, David Gyngell and the Network’s News and
Current Affairs head, Jim Rudder. They have no background with this
sort of slump in network TV in this country. They’ve never been near a
competitive news battle in their lives.

John Westacott has, back in the early 90s, but he is very busy trying
to stem the exodus of viewers from Ray Martin. Where so far he’s failed
and it’s looking like a more dramatic gesture may be needed.

New Sydney news boss Max Uechtritz is another who hasn’t been in the
middle of a commercial television news and current affairs battle,
except as an observer.

So it’s not a good time for the leading network to have three or four
of its commanders in the most important area either light on for battle
experience or distracted.

John Alexander, as CEO of PBL Media, will be the one in the end where
the buck stops. He has driven the dismemberment of the experienced
cadre of people at Nine in the past two years and the present situation
at the top is of his making, with the backing of the Packers.

Ian Ross, the old Nine News reader who was paid to stay off air, and then treated rather brusquely by the new Nine management.

Nine didn’t even accord him a call or a token counter offer when old
bosses David Leckie and Peter Meakin came a calling last year.

Ross read the Sunday night news and the early morning news and was a
Nine stalwart. He was getting the sort of ratings Sunday nights that
Mark Ferguson is now racking up.

So far this year in Sydney, Ian Ross’s news viewer numbers are up 16
per cent and Nine’s with Jim Waley, hosting Monday to Friday, are down
15 per cent.

The fluctuations are curious. Sunday night is still a Nine benefit.
Take last Sunday night, Nine news averaged 2.08 million viewers,
Seven’s news was around 620,000 viewers behind.

Come Monday to Friday and that differences disappears dramatically.
There are different readers in each city on weekends and during the
week.

But in Sydney for example on Sunday night, Nine’s news fronted by Mark
Ferguson, picked up 589,471 viewers, while Seven’s news was far behind
on 417,576.

But Monday to Friday that gap either narrows or reverses to give Seven a close win, as happened last week.

David Leckie and Peter Meakin have their detractors, especially around
the Packer camp. But both are experienced TV hands and know the first
thing you have to do is to show some small wins. Not big ones, some
small isolated victories over the market leader to show the market and
employees what is possible down the track.

Seven has won a Sunday night and won last Wednesday. These do not make a victory in the campaign, yet.

But towelling Nine nationally in the 6.30pm slot two weeks in a row, and in Sydney in the News and 6.30, are major wins.

The rest of Seven’s prime time schedule is scatty to patchy, but with
the first of several of the new ‘observational’ documentary-style
programs starting this week, the network has managed to give itself
something to work with.

It’s set at Westmead Hospital in Sydney and is a rip-off (Seven will deny it) of the great RPA series on Nine. Peter Meakin was the driving force behind that and his fingerprints are all over Medical Rookies.

It’s up against Nine’s Getaway on Thursday nights and if it
flattens Nine’s escapist travel fantasy show, then Seven could have a
good chance of winning the night.

But with silly comments in The Australian Media section last week from
Jim Rudder about Seven’s recovery in the 6.00 to 7.00pm slot still
ringing in a lot of people’s ears in the industry, it will be
interesting to see the next lot of spin.

Yes, Seven is helped by Deal or No Deal, at 5.30pm as a lead-in
for the news. That’s what lead-in programs are there to do. To deliver
a higher starting audience for the next program. It’s what Nine hopes The Price is Right will do, but doesn’t. Compared to Deal or No Deal, The Price is Light would be a more accurate name such is the paucity of its prizes and the greed factor.

As Homer Simpson would say to Jim’s comment about Deal or No Deal. Duuuhhh!

And if you look back a decade or so there are a couple of other examples of good lead in programs. The Price is Right has been there before, going back into the 80s. Remember Ian Turpis? Then there was Perfect Match (or “Pick-a-Box” as the industry comics described it) on Ten with Greg Evans, which pushed Ten News to win in the late 80s.

Then Ten, under the new management, went cheap and cheerful (and a
touch nasty in cost terms) and abdicated the 6.00pm slot and started at
5.00pm. There it says it wins, which it does, but it’s losing viewers
this year.

As one observer puts it, when the network’s news is winning the ratings
battle it’s the news that does it, not the lead-ins, but when the news
does badly it’s because of the poor lead-ins.

However, the battle has been joined. Kerry Stokes will pleased. Kerry Packer is upset.

Nine’s strong Sunday, but The Block still lags

Nine won the night nationally and Sydney on Sunday, and crowed. But
there was no boasting about the drubbing it took last week in the 6.00
to 7.00pm slot in Sydney.

In fact Nine’s performance on Sunday night was its strongest in a month
and a half. However, there was enough happening on other
channels, with some odd shows in the top ten (especially in the key
Sydney market) to confirm that viewers are becoming even more fickle.

Nine’s Sunday effort saw it finish well in front of Ten and Seven,
which faded, and in Sydney it was a similar story. Seven
definitely misses the costly reality program My Restaurant Rules
and has found nothing yet to fill the gap. But the back to back
comedies from 7.30 to 8.30pm might do something, if they settle in
viewers minds.

Nine’s Sunday night news and The Block finished one and two nationally. 60 Minutes also did well as did the movie Miss Congeniality and the Network had a strong night.

But Big Brother‘s latest eviction also rated well, holding promise for the remainder of the program with 1.61 million viewers. Seven’s The World Around Us episode on Bugs gathered 1.4 million viewers, Law and Order Criminal Intent won the 8.30-9.30 slot with 1.62 million viewers, beating Nine’s movie. And Law and Order did well in Sydney running second to the Nine News.

An interesting appearance in the top ten in both Sydney and Nationally was the second of the ABC’s BBC special, The Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, with finished seventh nationally with 1.42 million viewers and sixth in Sydney with 437,797 viewers.

A good performance and with The World Around Us, shows that there is definitely a market for family watchable documentaries or drama-docs, which the BBC series is.

Seven News was 600,000 viewers behind Nine’s.

Still more than 400,000 viewers left Nine’s News by 6.30, when The Block
started. Nine’s spinners said the program’s numbers Sunday night were
up 200,000 on the national average so far this year. Which it is, but
its down substantially on last year, an annoying fact that Nine forgets.

But its not forgotten inside Nine where the program is being constantly fiddled with.

So much so that some at Nine are wondering if there are too many cooks
stirring the same broth and that’s part of the reason for the loss of
‘freshness’ from last year.

A recent edition of The Block was extensively re-cut in a surprise move late one week.

Nine insiders say the Sunday night episode of a couple of weeks ago was
viewed late in the week and then the executive in charge of light
entertainment at Nine, Stuart Gardiner, organised for a Friday night
re-cut to try and give it more pizzazz and oomph.

Well, that was his view. Viewers though that it was more of the ‘same
old, same old’ from 2003 and the audience has remained stuck in a range
of just over a million for the Tuesdays and around 1.4 to 1.5 million
viewers on Sunday nights.

They are now marketing a DVD of The Block. Should be a screaming success.

And one of The Blockettes, Kirsten, is posing for the Ralph ‘lad mag in
the ACP camp (just as one of the Blockettes last year did a little show
and thrill number in the same ACP mag last year). Yes, its cross
promotion, so-beloved of CEO, John Alexander and David Gyngell and PBL,
but surely there can be limits.

Peter Fray

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