No matter how the figures are spun, there was only one winner from the 2006 commercial TV battle: The Seven Network.

Nine won most measures in All People and in the 25 to 54 age group, Ten won the 16 to 39 and its now favoured 18 to 49 group. Nine also won the over-50s but Seven won the battle of the bottom line with higher profits in the year to June and it will earn higher profits in this half year. It is, after all commercial TV we are talking about.

SBS has ads but is not in the running and the ABC lost viewers this year (as did SBS but this was clouded by the broadcast of the Ashes tests from England in 2005 which boosted audience levels). 

What the figures issued by Nine did not disclose was that 2006 continued the loss of commercial share, total share and audience numbers that was seen in 2005.

Both Seven and Ten had very good years this year: Ten now has to translate that into higher revenues and earnings just as Seven is doing.

The bragging rights for winning the ratings, as Nine has, is important for network morale, but the way Nine has been winning them in the past two years, it’s been a bit of a curse. Despite the wins, Nine has been slowly losing share, audience, revenue and profits.

That makes a mockery of the valuations in the sale by PBL of half of PBL Media (which contains Nine) to the private buyout group, CVC. Seven’s more robust financial performance, rising share and rising audience explains why Kerry Stokes was able to sell half of Seven (and his magazines and YahooSeven!) to KKR for a proportionately larger amount of money.

Seven’s finances are in far better shape and are more robust: 2007 might see that change because of the AFL costs and the likelihood Seven and Ten will have to broadcast all eight AFL games each weekend.

Putting that to one side it’s clear Seven and Ten are in far better shape for the 2007 ratings battle than Nine is. The real danger for the network is that it suffers another share and audience drop next year. In the top 20 regular prime time programs Seven had 11, Nine had five and Ten had four. It’s that sort of dominance that lifted Seven’s revenue share (and also enabled Ten to repair the damage caused by a poor 2005).

Nine could not capitalise on its rating successes: it used them to defend revenue share, not grow it.

Here’s how the stats look:

Excluding the Commonwealth Games (and the Olympics in 2004 on Seven) Nine’s commercial zone 1 share has fallen from 38.7% in 2003 to 35.8% in 2006. It was 37.0% in 2005. Nine still won.

Seven’s share has risen from 32.4% in 2003 to 35.1% last year and 35.7% this year.

Ten’s share has gone from 28.9% in 2003 to 28.5% this year after falling to 27.8% in 2005.

Commercial share is the one method of comparison where the bragging rights really matter but so also does the performance of the network audience.

Both Ten and Seven increased their audience sizes this year: Seven’s rose 15,456 to an average 1.206 million (from 1.91 million in 2005) from 6 pm to 10.30 pm: Ten’s audience rose from 943,656 in 2005 to 967,213 this year.

Nine’s audience fell by 44,712 people to 1.211 million from 1.255 million in 2005. The ABC audience fell 26,091 to average 693,324 and SBS lost 34,205 to 218,098.

SBS’s 2005 audience was boosted by the Ashes Tests from Britain and a world cup qualifier in November.

In terms of share, Nine lost share, as did the ABC and SBS; Ten and Seven added share.

In the 6 pm to midnight timeslot Seven and Ten added share and audience, Nine lost audience and share, compared to 2005.

The one timeslot Nine did pick up viewers was the over 55 where Nine had a commercial share rise of 0.7%, as did Seven. Ten lost viewers in this demographic.

There’s no mention of audience figures or losses in the Nine press release nor was there any comparison with 2005 or previous years.

Including the Commonwealth Games, Nine had the most watched program (the opening ceremony); exclude the Games and Ten’s broadcast of the AFL Grand Final was the most watched even.

The most watched non-sports event was the interview Tracy Grimshaw did with the two Beaconsfield miners, Brant Webb and Todd Russell.

In news and current affairs, Seven beat Nine for the second year in a row; helped by usually strong margins in Perth. Seven News and Today Tonight beat Nine News and A Current Affair.

Peter Fray

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