Sandra Levy starts at the Nine Network this
week and no sooner will she have her feet under her new desk than she’s
off to Cannes to join some of her competitors and peers at the annual
TV industry conference, MIPCOM – folk like Tim Worner from Seven, David
Mott from Ten and some of the old gang at the ABC, as well as her boss,
Nine programming chief, Michael Healy.

MIPCOM is a giant fair for TV formats where the likes of Deal or No Deal, Big Brother or Australian Idol
could appear in a new guise and provide the answer to a programmer or
development chief’s prayers. Nine needs those, but the network she
joins isn’t in the best of health: revenue is tight, more cost cutting
is underway and morale is low.

Nine might be still winning in
the ratings, but it is taking a lot of money and a lot of resources to
do so. Using up episodes of Super Nanny that were supposed to be for next year, bringing forward new episodes of CSI, Cold Case and Without a Trace from 2006 into the last weeks of ratings to try and hold back Seven.

They will probably do the job, but at great expense for next year. CSI
etc are fading when used as repeats. A year ago, Nine was so far in
front that it could afford to cruise home to the end of the ratings period on a mixture
of repeats and some new programs of limited interest. This year Nine
is down a drama and a game show; the Today show is not working and the 6-7pm News and Current Affairs hour isn’t working.

And so far its new shows from the US haven’t set the world on fire in the early weeks of US ratings, while Seven’s have in Prison Break and Commander in Chief.
But that’s no matter, all that matters this year is to win and win big
over the next few weeks. That’s an old Seven Network trick, win or do
very well in the last few weeks of ratings and use the boost to hold
your advertising for the new year.

Currently, that’s what Nine
is all about: maintaining its higher share of advertising revenue than
its share of the audience would justify. Nine says it leads in the 25
to 54 age group, which it does, but it has lost share in this
demographic and Seven has gained. Ten and Nine have lost share in every
major demographic: Seven is the only network to have picked up audience
share in 2005.