A sudden loss of audience from the last quarter hour of the News to the first quarter hour of A Current Affair on Tuesday night probably cost Nine a win over Seven in that night’s ratings.

Because of a particular story at the start of ACA just after
6.30 pm, the program lost 16% of its audience as viewers upset with a
story on a paedophile either went elsewhere to other stations or turned
off.

It was a rare, dramatic example of just the importance of programming the right story at the right time in a TV schedule.

And why, in the end, despite what all the clever programmers and
executives might think to the contrary, the viewer is always right!

It also generated recriminations ACA on Wednesday and within the upper levels of Nine and the programming department. So what happened?

It’s something of a cliché that television executives go over each
day’s ratings trying to second guess their own business and the
opposition.

But it’s true. Knowing what works or doesn’t, especially in specific
timeslots, can be the difference between success and failure, gain and
loss, or career.

It might sound like micromanaging, but this apparent nitpicking
attention to detail in the schedule is what programming a TV schedule
is all about.

Even to the placement of stories or segments within magazine or news or
current affairs programs. What starts a program, fills the middle and
ends it. It’s all about gaining and holding viewers.

This extends down into individual programs, from the smallest weekend
lifestyle program, to the mega national operations, such as Nine’s A Current Affair and 60 Minutes, Seven’s Today Tonight, and Australian Idol on Ten.

The various news broadcasts are analysed for content and reaction in the market place, especially in prime time.

And the only way to do this is to examine each day’s ratings against
the content of the various programs, and try and work out why viewers
tuned in or tuned out.

Analysis of who was watching, by demographic and socio-economic profile
can be produced and pawed over. The total number of people, men and
women and children can be extracted, tossed around and pondered.

There’s the element of scientific analysis, but quite often its gut feeling. And sometimes its bleedin’ obvious.

Nothing better illustrates this than the half hour from 6.15 pm to 6.45 pm on Tuesday.

The changes in audience numbers on the Nine network from the last quarter hour of the Nine News, to the first quarter hour of A Current Affair, shows a dramatic switch in viewing habits.

In fact the turn-off from the News to ACA spread over the two
half hour periods was such that the change could very well have cost
the Nine Network a win on the night (in total people). Seven scored a
rare win over Nine in Sydney, and nationally. The Sydney win was
conclusive and enough to offset losses in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne
and Perth. Nationally Nine ran second by just 0.3% – 30.2% to 29.9%.

According to figures from Oztam, the average number of people who
watched the Nine News was 1.294 million people, while the number of
people who watched ACA was an average 1.193 million, a drop of
101,000. But being averages that disclosed the true size of the fall,
which was more than double that around 223,000!

Those averages for the News and ACA are taken from the figures
for two 15 minute periods. The last 15 minutes of Nine News was watched
by a total of 1.362 million people, this dropped to 1.139 million
people in the first 15 minute period of ACA.

That was a fall of more than 16%, substantial and enough to spark some debate at ACA and Nine on Wednesday.

And the reason they could come up for the fall. The first story on Tuesday night’s edition of ACA on a paedophile. Important, but clearly not one that many viewers wanted to see. It was a Martin King story set in Adelaide.

In Sydney the audience dropped 12%, Melbourne about 18%, a massive 25% in Brisbane, 14% in Adelaide and one per cent in Perth.

It was put at the top of the program instead of the expensive exclusive
with the family that survived the crocodile attack in north Queensland.
ACA and Nine paid a reported $200,000 plus for the rights and ran it after the paedophile story.

That was more to the liking of ACA viewers. By the time the second quarter hour period came around, 100,000 viewers had tuned back into ACA. But it was still 123,000 people down on that last 15 minute period of the News.

That in turn didn’t stop more people tuning in for Frasier, but by 7.30pm when the Seven program, Dancing with the Stars appeared, audiences watching programs on Nine and Ten and the ABC tumbled.

But they had been weakened by that lead program on ACA just after 6.30 pm.

And such was the closeness of the win for Seven that had most, if not
all those 223,000 people stayed with Nine then the Network probably
would have snuck past Seven on the night. But would not have closed the
gap in Sydney.

The loss of viewers was also the reason why Today Tonight on Seven snuck past to win by an average of 26,000 people.

But if the people watching the last 15 minutes of Nine news had have stuck with ACA in the first 15 minutes of that program, then ACA would have beaten TT nationally by around 140,000 viewers.

And that would have been enough to lift Nine’s share and cut Seven’s in
the 6.30pm to 7pm slot, and quite possibly reverse the ranking
nationally at the end of prime time viewing.