By Glenn Dyer

While the Nine Network lost market share
as Seven clambered to the top in the ratings, the other major network,
Ten, has also been a casualty. As the official ratings battle was
suspended for Easter, Ten had lost ground among all age groups compared
with last year, although it hung on to its lead in its target 16 to 39
age group.

Ten says it’s been a tough fight and that at the same
time last year it wasn’t leading in the 16 to 39 group. That victory
didn’t come until the impact of Big Brother and Australian Idol later in the year, helped also by Seven’s sharp loss of audience as 2004 went on.

Investors
have chosen to ignore some of Ten’s woes, although the shares have been
sold down from the high of $4.40 in January amid the hype of a possible
deal with John Fairfax. Ten shares closed at $3.66 last Thursday before
the Easter break.

Tomorrow Ten reports its first half result.
From all accounts the numbers will be pretty good because they will
reflect the booming first quarter when earnings rose 33% to $140
million. That was the quarter which ended last November. Tomorrow’s
figures are for the second quarter to 28 February, which include the
boom month of December followed by the traditional slow period of
January and part of February.

But the interim result will also reflect start-up costs for the under performing X-Factor and the axed local version of the US series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Ten will make a virtue of its cost containment. And with advertising
revenue predicted to slow to a 5-7% growth this year, cost control will
become the big mantra for all the networks, as it was back in 2002 and
2003 when the last slowdown happened.

And suffering from a missing X-Factor

It may be non-ratings, but Ten’s costly X-Factor
is in serious trouble. It bombed on Sunday night, with the audience
plunging to only 706,000 people, down more than 300,000 on a week
earlier. As a result of the poor performance – and a poor result for
repeats of Law and Order, Criminal Intent and NCIS,
Ten finished fourth behind the ABC in third place. Ten’s audience share
of only 17.3% was well behind the ABC’s high 20.4%. Nine won 29.5% to
Seven’s 28.5%. SBS was back on only 4.2%.

On Monday night Ten recovered as X-Factor
climbed back up to an average national audience of 866,000, still in
the area where the endangered species list is compiled. A repeat of Law and Order helped
lift Ten from Sunday night’s low and it finished with a share of 19.8%,
in front of the ABC on 18%. Nine again won 27.7% to 27.0% for Seven.

But the result was again skewed by the absence of Desperate Housewives
and the preponderance of repeats of other high rating shows by the
networks, except for the news, the current affairs programs and shows
like X-Factor. The absence of Lost, Desperate Housewives and only highlights of Dancing with the Stars
saw the Nine Network have its biggest win of the year last week, the
first of the fortnight of non-ratings for the Easter break.

Nine
won with 29.4% to Seven on 25.9%, ten with 21.2%, the ABC on a high
18.3% and SBS on 5.1%. After two nights of this week, Nine leads
narrowly. Nine News and A Current Affair did well last night beating Seven’s News and Today Tonight
nationally and in Sydney. That saw Nine win the night 27.7% to Seven’s
27.0%. But judging by the close finish Seven will win next Monday night
when Desperate Housewives returns.

Peter Fray

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