Seven down, Nine eases, Ten gains but the ABC is the winner in teleland’s viewing changes, as Terry Television explains.

This past week will mark an important event in Australian television. For the first time since Oztam ratings started in 2001, the Ten Network moved move into second place, after Nine, and past Seven, as the second most watched TV network in the country.

As of the end of viewing at 23.59 on Wednesday night, Ten had moved past Seven. Not by much, only three thousand or so people, but i’ts come as other changes in viewing trends continue to emerge in the Australian television audience.

Since 2001, both the Ten Network and ABC have added viewers, while Nine has lost some. The big loser has been the Seven Network. The big winner has been the ABC which has experienced a 20% plus jump in the average number of people watching its programs since the start of 2001.

And other figures show that as 2004 has gone on, the Nine Network in particular is losing viewers and market share, so too Seven. While the ABC and Ten are adding eyeballs. In fact Nine’s losses are accelerating this year as its news and current affairs battle and its weakening position in the vital Sydney market take their toll.

But the big picture, from 2001 to 2004 shows that in overall numbers from Oztam (Total People in TV speak), the Seven network’s ‘total audience’ has dropped from an average of 1.148 million in 2001 to just over 908,000 so far this year. That’s a sharp drop of 20% in round terms, although with the Olympics in the offing, that number will kick upwards.

The Nine Network has seen its audience drop in the five capital cities from 1.195 million (not that much in front of Seven) to only 1.169 million, down a small 26,000 people, making Seven the big loser.

More importantly, the people deserting Seven haven’t fled to Nine. The ABC and the Ten Network have been the big winners. The national broadcaster has seen its average audience jump by around 124,000 people, or 23% to 656,421 people. Ten has seen is average audience rise by just over 10% from 832,352 to 907,266, just behind Seven.

And this last week saw Ten’s average audience rise to 910,902 people, while Seven’s eased a touch to 907,413.

So far as the commercial networks are concerned they wouldn’t be all that fussed about the ABC picking up viewers. Ten picking up more viewers however won’t thrill Nine or Seven.The Packer network wouldn’t be too upset by what it would see as a small but manageable loss of eyeballs, while Seven would shrug its shoulders, say thank god Ten didn’t get them and plough on.

Seven makes great play for example of its improvement performance in the 25-54 and 16-39 demographics, the ones prized by advertisers for the ‘younger viewer’. But then Nine makes similar claims and Ten says ‘we still are number one.’

More worrying for Nine though is that Seven is making a habit of winning the 5.30pm to 7.30 pm slots in Sydney and nationally more weeks than not in the last three months, only to fall away because of poor mid-to-late evening shows (except for Blue Heelers and All Saints).

That is the toughest battleground in television this year and the bitterest, and Seven is winning and slowly improving its viewer numbers.
Nine is losing viewers and losing viewers badly in Sydney.

For years Nine executives boasted that more Australians got their news and current affairs from Nine than any other broadcaster. A line pinched from the ABC (commercial) Network in the United States.

That is no longer seen on Nine. Those days of regarding ABC news and current affairs viewers and those watching Seven and Ten’s news and more limited current affairs offerings, as fodder for A Current Affair, 60 Minutes and the National Nine News, are well gone at Willoughby. It’s become a battle to keep the ones they have.

The broad sweep of those average figures shows that in Sydney, for example, Seven lost 51,000 people out of the 239,000 shed in the past three and a bit years. By contrast Nine lost almost 20,000 viewers in Sydney of the total loss of 26,000. That is not a good situation. And it’s one the Network conveniently ignores in its jibes at Seven and its sharp loss of viewers.

If you then look at the progressive numbers for the first 30 weeks of this year against 2003, you find that Nine’s audience has slipped by only half a per cent nationally and in Sydney. Seven’s is down almost one per cent and 1.7% nationally.

In contrast Ten has seen its share rise by 0.9% and the bigger winner has been the ABC, up 1.6%, underlining what the national broadcaster has been known to many people as Anything But Commercial.

But that clouds the reality of Nine’s problems THIS YEAR. They are made clearer when you look at analysis they issue every week in their summary of the previous week’s numbers. Nine’s five capital total people share in week 30 of the ratings (the week ending July 24 was 29.1%, down a big 2.0% from the 31.1% in the same week (week 30 of ratings) 2003.

And in Sydney, the fall has been from 30.9% last year to a 28.2% share, a drop of an even sharper 2.7% (second only to a very sharp 4.1% fall in Perth). The Sydney drop is a mark of the damage done to Nine this past year by the management policies of John Alexander, Kerry Packer and to a lesser extent, the departed Jim Rudder and newish CEO, David Gyngell, especially in the 5.30-7.30 pm slots where Seven has been winning.

If you look at other cities, apart from Perth, there were much smaller falls in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide and those have been helping Nine keep its head in front.

On the same basis last year Seven share in week 30 nationally was 25.3%, this year its down to 22.8%. OUCH! Not good news for David Leckie. Ten’s share has jumped from 23.8% to 26.2% in week 30 of 2004, while the ABC has risen from 15.2% to 17.6%. A great performance.

So Nine still winning, Seven losing ground, Ten gaining and the ABC chortling. (Officially it doesn’t join the commercials in crunching its ratings numbers, which is a pity given the great successes this year of a variety of programs.)

But you have Nine shedding people in the 5.30-7.30pm slots to Seven, and Seven shedding people in the mid-evening and late night slots to Nine, Ten and the ABC.

When the market leader loses viewers like Nine has this year it’s a bigger event than Seven shedding people, Ten gaining and the ABC performing very well.

Nine’s losses open opens up possibilities to Ten, and even Seven, especially if the latter can keep its news and current affairs going well.
But its biggest problem is the almost desert-like look of its mid-to-late evening programming where there’s only a couple of areas where still-loyal viewers still drop in. But they are doing that in fewer numbers.

A lot is being hoped for from the Olympics and the post Olympics push. Maybe too much!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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