Seven looks to current affair to fill its Sunday evening black hole. The Seven Network is investigating the viability of starting a Sunday evening current affairs program at 6.30pm. The plan, which is in its early stages, has been suggested by Nine Network import, Mark Llewellyn, as a way of improving Seven’s weakest night of the week. Seven loses the night to Nine by six to nine points and then has to spend Monday and Tuesday catching up. If Seven could develop a strong Sunday lineup (something it has been unable to do in four years) then its winning margins over the week would be more substantial. Seven sources suggest the program will be like 60 Minutes on Nine, not a clone of the abortive Witness program that failed so spectacularly and ended in expensive (for all concerned) court action involving Jana Wendt suing Seven and winning the financial equivalent of around $2 million in damages. Other sources say the program would be more like a Sunday evening version of Sunrise. In other words, light and bright but not too deep. The host is uncertain but Chris Bath comes to mind as her newsreading efforts in Sydney on Friday, Saturday and Sunday have improved as the audience has warmed to her. She has wins over Nine heavyweights, Mark Ferguson and Mike Munro, on those nights. Meakin has already suggested this program to Seven management a couple of times since he joined three years ago. There were serious discussions in 2004 but the costs vs. income ratio could not be stacked up in either of the preferred slots: 6.30pm Sunday evenings or 9.30pm Wednesdays. Wednesday is now out: Seven has so much US product and local light entertainment/factual ideas that the 9.30pm slot on Wednesdays is easily filled. – Glenn Dyer

The axe falls on Backyard Blitz. The Nine Network’s death touch continues. As widely expected, Nine has killed off Backyard Blitz after seven years of doing essentially the same thing: fixing up the gardens of needy or ratings friendly people. The program was looking tired this year but Nine programmers can take some of the blame. It didn’t help the program’s appeal to viewers when it started the year in the near-death timeslot of 7.30pm Friday nights. Nine started it there because it had this great idea called Clever for the 6.30pm timeslot on Sunday evenings. We now know that Clever wasn’t that smart – it lasted four eps and is now pushing up flowers at Willoughby – and when Blitz was brought back to its old slot the audiences were hardly outstanding. November in an even year is a bad time for Don Burke and his company, which produces Backyard Blitz. In November 2004 David Gyngell axed Burke’s Backyard and got bagged by Mr Burke. November 2006 Blitz is axed: this time Don doesn’t unload on the boss, says Eddie’s going great but was quoted this morning: “I think there are programming problems there”. Don’s right, there are programming problems at Nine and the way Backyard Blitz has been handled this year exemplifies that comment. – Glenn Dyer

The 300-pound gorilla in our cosy magazine duopoly. Some unkind souls reckon I’ve got it wrong about News Ltd and its ability to run a magazine empire (putting to one side the fact that News sold its profitable magazines to Seven as part of a short-sighted deal that got it nowhere). People remind me of the TV Guide deal in the US that cost News the best part of US$2 billion in write-offs and losses. News Corp doesn’t have a successful magazines business in the empire, so why will it be able to make the FPC collection work (it isn’t as profitable as Seven’s Pacific or PBL’s ACP magazines)? News hasn’t shown much in the way of skill in growing and nurturing media assets in this region: it sold its New Zealand newspapers to Fairfax back in 2003 and then watched it lift returns and profit margins. All true, I suppose, but the News Ltd buy is not the one that Seven and ACP/PBL would have wanted to see. They would have preferred BBC Worldwide as the buyer because they have no other media assets in this country to work and expand margins with. Seven and PBL/ACP don’t need a 300-pound gorilla with deep pockets throwing money around in an effort to make its expensive purchase work. There’s nothing more destructive of salaries, ad rates and other costs than a new entrant with deep pockets looking to grow the just acquired business. And the local mags market was such a cosy duopoly between ACP and Pacific. Seven will be happy to be a distant under bidder (although they really wanted FPC, the price was too rich). The FPC deal has substantially lifted the value of Seven’s magazine holdings. That will be reflected in brokers’ reports in the near future. But if Seven (Kerry Stokes really) was happy to pay a lot of money for 14.9% of West Australian newspapers (based on dividends its self funding) why not shell out for a strategically important acquisition like FPC? Or are FPC’s finances so bad that News was the only buyer, especially with the FPC suburban papers in the bag? – Glenn Dyer

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: Well, you can view last night as a narrow win for Nine, which it was, but also a narrow loss by Seven without its ratings winners in the schedule. Idol did the job for Ten: 1.551 million people tuned in to watch the verdict episode: that’s more than 210,000 fewer than the performance ep on Sunday night. Odd! Second was A Current Affair with 1.404 million, then Nine News (1.338 million), Seven News (1.325 million), Criminal Minds (1.303 million), Home and Away (1.297 million), What’s Good For You (1.284 million), Temptation (1.283 million), Today Tonight (1.267 million), Law and Order: SVU (a repeat with 1.121 million) and the 7pm ABC News (1.051 million). An average night at the end of a ratings year – network and viewer fatigue in evidence. The second part of the ABC News and Current Affairs special at 8.30pm averaged 884,000. It was boring, uninspiring and cynical. Just a collection of cut-up stories. No interviews, no retrospective look at the place ABC News and Current Affairs has in Australian TV. It was almost contemptuous.

The Losers: Seven’s Standoff: viewers are being a little wary of this one: 792,000 watched last night. It will continue into summer to try and build an audience. Enough Rope with Andrew Denton: not so much a loser as a downer. Robert Hughes was OK, but there was so much of him. The Show and Tell section at the end of the program with the doctor from Alice Springs Hospital was far more interesting and relevant. He made more sense than most things Tony Jones has done on Lateline on the issue of Aboriginal health, life and society and the failings of everyone involved. It deserved more of Enough Rope last night: a genuine Australian tragedy.

News & CA: Wins to Nine News and A Current Affair. Nine News won Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. Seven News won Sydney and Perth. Today Tonight won Perth and lost the rest to ACA which ended 137,000 viewers ahead. ABC News did well as did The 7.30 Report which averaged 852,000 last night. Ten News At Five averaged 839,000. Sunrise (410,000) beat Today (274,000).

The Stats: Nine won with a share of 27.5% (27.6% a week earlier) from Seven with 26.5%(26.4%), Ten was third with 23.1% (22.0%), the ABC was on 16.3% (16.5%) and SBS was on 6.6 (7.6%). Nine won Sydney, lost Melbourne to Seven, won Brisbane and Adelaide and drew Perth with Seven. Nine leads the week 28.9% to 24.9%. in regional areas WIN/NBN won with a share of 31.3% to Prime/7Qld with 24.9%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 22.7%, the ABC with 13.8% and SBS with 7.2%.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Over at Nine there will be high fives at winning Monday for the second week in a row: over at Seven they will know they have Nine’s measure. Nine won narrowly with a near normal Monday night lineup: Seven was without Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy. Seven has Criminal Minds in the 8.30pm slot and being developed for an 8.30pm program next year (probably Wednesdays, but what about Sunday night?). Nine had What’s Good For You, What a Year and a repeat of Cold Case and won by a point. Just not good enough. The prospect for Nine next year on Monday nights is fresh eps of Cold Case and…? For Seven it’s Housewives then Grey’s and a win. Nine’s 2007 lineup is starting to concern analysts and others in the ad industry: earnings forecasts are being downgraded. Killing off Backyard Blitz, while understandable, does nothing to help Nine. Where will the show come from that will attract the 1.1 to 1.2 million viewers Blitz was finding on the odd times it was on Sunday evenings at 6.30 pm? Tonight it’s once again Dancing with the Stars: 1.7 million last week, so any advance on that is good news, anything less will confirm that it needs some work on the format over the break. Nine has a fresh 20 to 1. Seven also has All Saints. Ten has… well, The Wedge, The OC.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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