No matter how it spins it, the Nine Network is about to be crunched by major advertising groups in the wake of less-than-promised ratings for the Commonwealth Games.

The news of the pressure on Nine finally surfaced in the media today. But the real story is the complete mis-selling of the games by Nine. According to ad industry executives, Nine based its sales campaign on Sydney and didn’t take account of the situation in other markets.

The games have underperformed everywhere, even in Melbourne, where the loss of audience has been the smallest. Nine promised advertisers that the Games would out-rate Seven’s telecast of the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 and the Athens Olympics in 2004.

While Nine’s telecast has just about matched or crept past those two telecasts – which were based on a delay of 8-11 hours in prime time – remember that the Melbourne Games are largely in prime time and, being on home soil, should have attracted more viewers.

They haven’t. The Network is facing a shortfall of 18% to 20% in promised audiences and advertisers say the network, whose sales team is confused at the moment, is not resisting claims for make-goods ads that effectively run free of charge in all sorts of programs to make up the audience loss.

Out of prime time programs with good viewer profiles (such as Sunday and Business Sunday) will be particularly hit as that’s where the Network has traditionally placed make good ads to try and maximise the high AB profile.

Nine’s audience this week has been settling towards 1.8 million after starting at more than 2 million. Reports say the audience figures suggested by Nine were higher, 2.5 million or more a night. The high rating swimming and Australia’s performance couldn’t produce that sort of figure.

Nine Network (PBL) paid $56 million for the Commonwealth Games broadcast rights and in its 2005 financial accounts provided around $23 million for losses. The rest of the network provided around $5 million, possibly more, of their own. As it turns out, the make-goods and revenue shortfalls may produce even bigger losses that that.

Peter Fray

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