ABC looks for a balance of opinion. The first of three pilots of the new “balance” program of ABC TV will be done at Ultimo on Thursday: the one referred to by Editor In Chief, Mark Scott, in his address to the Sydney Institute. Called A Difference of Opinion, it will see Jeff McMullen tackle the problems of the day in a dozen one-hour forum style programs next year. This is what the ABC said on its website in a press release: “ABC TV’s Director of Television Kim Dalton said, ‘The program will be agenda-setting and offer an opportunity for people to get their point of view across to the decision-makers in our community. The ABC must be the place where Australians can come together to discuss and debate some of the key and contentious issues facing the nation.’ … A Difference of Opinion will involve a different panel and audience each week, providing a wide range of opinions under McMullen’s guidance. It’s planned that the show will be recorded on the day it goes to air to ensure topicality.” And this what Mark Scott said in a summary of his Sydney Institute speech: “A new content category called Opinion is being recognised within ABC content for the first time. This is content presented from a particular point of view about a matter of public contention. This content will be signposted and the requirement for impartiality will mean a range of views must be presented over time … And next year, Jeff McMullen will host a new televised discussion program for us, A Difference of Opinion, that will ensure that on contentious issues of the day, there is opportunity for the full range of opinions and perspectives to be heard.” There is a lot riding on this program for Scott and others at the ABC who believe in balance. Balance sometimes means boring in TV and when you try to generate some light and shade by questioning, one or both sides can take offence. By trying for a same day broadcast (that night after taping during the day) it will limit the ability of upset parties to lobby Scott and others to try and have changes made. – Glenn Dyer

ACMA takes a closer look at reality TV. First it was balance and bias in the ABC, then media diversity and ownership, now the Federal Government is looking at reality TV: a decision that was set in train by the turkey slapping incident broadcast on the Big Brother website earlier this year. The Federal Communications and Media Minister, Senator Helen Coonan and her pet public servants in the slow moving Australian Communications and Media Authority have given the conservatives another Christmas present with the news, slipped out on Melbourne Cup Day, of an inquiry into commercial TV’s Industry Codes of Practice for Reality TV. The news will give heart to all the hypocrites on the Government backbench (such as Adelaide MP, Trish Draper, and the Queensland National party MP, Paul Neville) who seek to impose their views of commercial morality on Australian TV. To placate them, Senator Coonan said an inquiry would be held on the Codes of Practice and ACMA has now revealed the process: it will be open season on Big Brother and any other “reality” program which has upset people. “The Australian Communications and Media Authority will investigate whether the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice provides appropriate community safeguards with respect to reality television programming in the free-to-air commercial television sector, following an incident in the Big Brother house earlier this year.” The report should be with the minister around a month before series seven of Big Brother is due to start in May next year. Ten starts auditions for next year’s series in a fortnight’s time. The brief this time is “the life of the party”. Oh dear, that sounds ominous – Glenn Dyer

Seven star won’t win Dancing this time. Believe it or not, the Seven Network will be happy to see the back of Home and And Away‘s Chris Hemsworth who was flicked from Dancing With The Stars last night. Not that there was anything wrong with his performance – it just didn’t sizzle and viewers (including Home and Away fans) picked up on that. Dancing did better last night with 1.787 million viewers on average for the hour and 45 minutes or so – adding around 200,000 viewers to what it had been averaging so far this series. It was the number one primetime show (the Cup was the most watched program on the day). Hemsworth’s departure means that there won’t be any nasty rumours speculating that Dancing is really a “benefit” for Seven to showcase its talent (Seven stars have won the first four series). Hemsworth was included in the list of dancers after internal lobbying at Seven for a network “star” to be included. Originally it was decided to avoid including any network people in the current series to avoid the snide comments, but a couple of late dropouts left room for the network boosters to push their case. Three couples are left to battle it out for the Dancing With The Stars crown: chess player Arianne Caoili and partner, Carmello Pizzino; athlete Tamsyn Lewis and Arsen Kishishian; and AFL football star Anthony Koutoufides and Natalie Lowe. It’s a pity Jana Pittman won’t be around to comment on Ms Lewis’s performance. Now that would create some dance floor sizzle! – Glenn Dyer

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: Tuesday nights and after hours of partying and indulging ourselves in the fiction that we understand what thoroughbred race horses, jockeys, trainers and the opposite s-x are all about (not to mention food, wine, the police and the taxi service of every major town and city on Cup night), we settled down to watch TV and gave the Seven Network a gentle surprise: signs of life in the near corpse that Series Five of Dancing with the Stars had become. But the day belong to the race that stops a nation (or as NZ websites and media put it, the Race That Stops TWO Nations!). Seven’s Cup coverage averaged 2.062 million, the quarter hour the race was in, 2.242 million (the figure for the race will be out Thursday). Dancing with the Stars was the top program in prime time with 1.787 million(1.667 million a week earlier). All Saints averaged 1.546 million, Seven news, 1.496 million, Today Tonight, 1.470 million, Home and Away, 1.414 million with Nine’s 20 to 1 running sixth with 1.353 million. Nine’s repeat of CSI was next with 1.293 million, Nine News was ninth with 1.256 million and A Current Affair was 10th with 1.242 million. Nine’s Temptation was low on 1.182 million and Seven’s late coverage of the Cup averaged 1.034 million. the 7pm ABC News averaged 1.007 million and the Tuesday edition of The Simpsons on Ten cracked the million mark with 1.007 million as well.

The Losers: Bert’s Family Feud held up in the face of the bigger audience over on Seven where Deal or No Deal had a high (for recent weeks) of 985,000 thanks to the cup coverage. Bert got 588,000 which is about his right weight this year. Ten News was also strong with 863,000 with the first news coverage of the Cup Carnival. Rove Live on Ten averaged 707,000, The Wedge, 701,000 and The OC returned with 797,000 viewers.

News & CA: Seven News and Today Tonight won nationally and didn’t need the usual sizeable Perth margins. They won everywhere bar Brisbane. The Cup was well and truly gone by news time in the north. Ten News At Five averaged 863,000, ABC News, 1.007 million and The 7.30 Report as down to 676,000.

The Stats: Seven lifted its share because of the Cup influence and won with a share of 34.6% (32.4%) from Nine with 27.9% (31.6%), Ten with 18.4% (17.9%), the ABC with 13.1% (14.0%) and SBS 6.0% (3.9%). Nine leads the week 28.5% to 27.8%. In regional areas Prime/7Qld averaged 32.5% just in front of Win/NBN for Nine with 32.3%. Southern Cross (Ten was on 17.4%), the ABC with 12.0% and SBS with 5.8%.The Cup coverage (the Race averaged 855,801 viewers in regional areas).

Glenn Dyer’s comments: The Melbourne Cup was another good example of the sort of audience that free-to-air TV can gather in this country and of course another couple of million people were not measured being in pubs, clubs, offices, outdoor areas, race courses and crowded into unmeasured homes watching the race and having a good time. You could quite easily get an audience of five million or plus for the race and a very high average (even if no one really watches except for that five minutes of fame and frustration. It is a big hole in the Oztam ratings system and advertisers are getting a cheap deal from Seven (and from Nine with the NRL Grand Final) and from Ten with the AFL Grand Final. Measurement of out of home audiences is inadequate for the networks and their shareholders and great for advertisers and their agencies who don’t really want to moan about what Nine, Ten and Seven charge for these big one-off events. Tonight Ten will probably get between 1.8 million and 2.2 million people watching the last episode of Thank God You’re Here from 7.30pm. It’s a 90 minute show and will dominate the night. Next week Ten shuffles repeats of House back into the 7.30pm timeslot and Seven and Nine will expect to do better. Ten will be hoping for a bigger audience for the new ep of Tripping Over at 9pm. Seven had Criminal Minds and a 45 minute version of Border Security at 7.30pm. Nine has McLeod’s Daughters at 7.30pm, CSI Miami and then ER. The ABC has Spicks and Specks and The Glass House.