Terry Television wonders about the Seven
Network…

On Sunday night June 27, an episode of Better Homes
and Gardens
appeared on the Seven Network, up against Nine’s The Block at
6.30pm. To put quite bluntly, Better Homes tanked, compared to the Lisa McCune
sweet animal documentary program it replaced for the week.


Better Homes
attracted one million viewers. Sounds
like a big number, and on the ABC, it would be. But when the World Around Us has
been pulling between 1.2 and 1.6 million viewers in the past couple of
months, Seven just threw away the extra viewers.


Better Homes
has been running on Saturday evenings
at 6.30 pm and that’s where you’ll find Nonie and the gang next weekend. Next
Sunday, Lisa McCune will be back taking on Nine’s The Block, which claimed its
second biggest audience of this season on Sunday night.

Still, the 1.6 million viewers, some of whom
would not have watched The Block was down a massive one million viewers on a
year ago, such has been the drop in the program’s appeal to
viewers.

On the face of it a small point in the greater
scheme of things in the weekly ratings battle. But it does once again show the
problems the Seven Network is facing. There is a worrying capacity for
self-inflicted wounds in the battle to renew itself.

The Network under the leadership of former Nine
CEO, David Leckie, but with the head programmer a Seven veteran in Tim Worner
seems to be lurching from success to failure with alarming regularity in the
past few weeks.

A Seven insider tells Crikey that for years there
has been a mantra at the network, Fix the 6pm to 7pm slot, the so-called news
and current affairs hour, and success will follow. That the news and Today
Tonight are fully competitive with Nine’s product is a matter of record
now, and yet the rest of the schedule stubbornly refuses to shift, especially on
Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

And, a former Seven insider says there was another
mantra drummed into executives over the years, that ‘change means death’ Shift
the program, shaft the program is another way of putting it.

And the above example of Better Homes and Gardens,
once a stellar performer for the network, but now needing a real revamp and
freshening up has had at least four time slots in its life with
Seven.

But Burke’s Backyard, also a fading great for Nine,
has been in the same timeslot on Friday nights for Nine for years when
its been
in the schedule (ignore the following Saturday or Sunday afternoons in past
years). Nine also understands the mantra about timeslots and viewer habits, and
they follow it.

Years ago a book with a great title was written
about the a wannabe mafia led by Joey Gallo gang in New York in the 1960s.
Called The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, it was made into a moderate
movie. But the story line was about the inept blunderings of the Gallo gang as
they tried, unsuccessfully to takeover another gang’s business.

And it recalls some of Seven’s efforts. Resting the
World Around Us when it was doing well, and replacing it with a tired looking
lifestyle program that was born more than ten years ago, and looks it, wasn’t
the sharpest bit of programming this week.

It sort of backfired on Seven and allowed The Block
a free kick.

And that’s the dilemma for Seven and the greatest
challenge now for David Leckie as CEO. Peter Meakin, who was hired by Kerry
Stokes, has done his bit and helped Seven’s news and Today Tonight to become
competitive with Nine’s offerings. Sunrise is running all over
Today. Now Leckie has to find the mid-evening programming
to complete the task.

Apart from a modest improvement in the ratings of
Las Vegas on Monday nights, and solid efforts by those old stagers, Blue
Heelers
(being revamped) and All Saints (revamped and not so tired) Leckie has to
look to find three, maybe four major winners for the 8.30pm slot and
beyond.

Not having a chat program like Rove Live (TEN), nor
a late evening News, which could be easily cobbled up into something a bit more
(like Seven and Nine did with Clive Robertson and Nine did with Graham Kennedy
in the late 80s) is also a weakness.

And there’s nothing Seven can do to lift its game
in the mid evenings this year. They’ve had their chance.

Forget
the Olympics, they will be a two week wonder in August. Advertisers
know about it and have planned accordingly. Seven will get good
numbers, and will boast about it. But no one will be worried. When the
games finish, life will return to normal.

Nine plans to make Seven’s relaunch of itself after
the games, as tough as it can be. Ten will weigh-in with a push of its
own.

No easy yards for Leckie or Seven, just more
frustration and jibes about low ratings.

Since Stokes moved on Seven around a decade ago,
the Network has had six or seven CEOs. Bob Campbell was in charge when Stokes
took over but had blundered with an advertising deal. He went. Can anyone
remember some of the others? Julian Mounter who told Seven managers that the
board would not be getting the ratings. He departed soon after. Chris Chapman?
Kerry Stokes (twice), Maureen Plavsic, the most recent before David
Leckie.

Former Bond Media executive, David Aspinall is
still around Seven trying to be a toe cutter, sorry, cost cutter. There
have been a number of rumours, much denied by Seven of a falling out between
Aspinall and a Seven director, while there have been other reports that Aspinall
is on some sort of leave.

Now on Monday there was a report from Seven that
Aspinall is on a month’s leave, according to a memo from CEO David
Leckie. And if you had to look at a sacrificial lamb at
this stage, look no further than head programmer, Tim Worner.

And yet, despite all these problems for Seven, the
irony is that at Nine there’s a siege mentality, especially in the Willoughby
headquarters in Sydney.

Nowhere is it more evident in the second floor
newsroom and in the third floor management offices.They are feeling very much
unloved there at the moment, blaming everyone but themselves for the
problem. But you’d much rather be in Nine’s position than
Seven’s.

Peter Fray

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