McCrann on News Ltd and Foxtel. Is News Ltd gearing up for an assault to try and snatch control of Foxtel from Telstra and or its partner, PBL? Why else would Terry McCrann raise the Foxtel ownership question in his column in the Daily Telegraph today? Especially as it came so soon after the settlement of the AFL broadcasting deal with Foxtel and the AFL, Seven and Ten (and little Austar). Like Mark Day in The Australian media section, McCrann doesn’t write casually about things to do with News Ltd’s business and financial affairs. McCrann quite rightly points out that the AFL deal “focuses the question about the Pay TV group’s future ownership and operation”. Now that’s a big call because from what the industry has heard James Packer might have been an obstacle to a quick settlement of the AFL deal, but was he that big a problem that news would contemplate buying him out? Would Telstra sell after investing billions in the business and in the HFC cable only to be rorted continually by news and PBL through their joint ownership of Fox Sports, for years the most profitable Pay TV business in the country? And why raise the ownership question now? Next McCrann will be writing about the need for “fresh ideas and management” and there you have it – “Somebody has to build Foxtel into a bigger media strategy.”

Humphrey employs some gamesmanship. There’s a wonderful American colloquialism; “playing a sucker off a break”. It comes from the game of pool where a very good player cons a less talented player by appearing to be not so proficient. Its meaning has expanded over time to be ‘conning” someone. It seems that’s what happened to the Nine Network CEO, Eddie McGuire and programmer, Michael Healey over the past couple of days. Humphrey B Bear (or rather his producers) has played the suckers at Nine off a break very impressively. And they didn’t forget the media. This story in yesterday’s Fairfax papers in Sydney and Melbourne brought a flood of coverage about “the bear being boned” by Nine and Eddie. It was a case of The Bear v Eddie and his “mob”. By the end of the day the score was Bear 100, Eddie nil. Nine sought peace by contacting the Bear’s producers and commissioning new episodes and issued a lovey dovey statement full of puns. And this story ensued this morning. The Bear and his mates had a couple of things going for them and they used them brilliantly. Eddie and Nine are on the nose, especially after the “boning” comment about Jessica Rowe last year and Nine tried to kill off the Bear back in 2000, so it has form. The Bear and his mates had to make a delicate juggle in their campaign though. All the show’s producers wanted was a new contract and to give a dithering Nine a hurry up, which happened. (It’s why you sometimes read about TV starts being upset or being head hunted by another network. Mostly its all about improving the pay and conditions of the current or expiring contract and being re-signed). So it would seem Nine really had no need to go to the trenches or rush out the statement. It was ‘played off a break’ by the Bear and his mates who also ‘conned’ the media.

Digital TV receivers on the uptake. Digital TV receivers are now in around a quarter of all free to air TV homes in Australia, according to Digital Broadcast Australia. This doesn’t necessarily include the 1.7 million or so subscribers of digital Pay TV on Optus, Austar and Foxtel. Digital Broadcasting Australia (DBA) says 302,000 digital television receivers were sold to retailers and installers in the three months to 31 December, bringing total unit sales since digital television commenced transmission in mid-2002 to 2.3 million. It said that based on the cumulative sales figures reported for the three months to December 2006, the estimated home take-up of free-to-view digital television has now reached the two million mark or around 25% of Australia’s 7.8 million homes, DBA said. However, it pointed out that of the cumulative figure, around 125,000, is “believed to be in store inventory while another 175,000 homes are estimated to have more than one receiver, putting the likely number of single units in use at about two million.” Total reported sales of digital television set top boxes and integrated digital televisions to retailers and  installers for 2006 were 996,000 units up from 642,000 units sold during the 2005 calendar year. Growth in the sale of digital television receivers to retailers and installers was shared across Australia with Queensland and Western Australia reporting the highest growth levels during 2006.

Last night’s TV ratings
The Winners:
A strange night, made hard by the possibility (up until late Sunday night) that the deciding ODI final would be played in Adelaide yesterday. But the rain saved Nine from that disruption, although on its performance last night, it would have been glad of the cricket being broadcast. Nine did poorly against moderate opposition on Seven and Ten. It doesn’t look good for Nine for the year if this is the standard of programming to come. Overall, just 11 programs with a million or more viewers compared to 13 on a much more entertaining Monday night. Top again was Today Tonight with its Schapelle Corby-ladened content with 1.504 million (down half a million from Monday night), Seven News was second with 1.433 million and Seven’s movie, Shall We Dance (Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez) an unlikely third with 1.225 million viewers. Tuesday nights at 7.30pm on Seven is the dance-o-rama slot it seems! A Current Affair (with lots of counter TT/Corby content) was 4th with 1.190 million. (No lift at all for ACA from its catch up last night). Home And Away was 5th with 1.187 million, followed by Nine News with 1.161 million and Ten’s NCIS which weakened to 1.133 million (off around 200,000 or so viewers). The first new Simpsons ep of the year averaged 1.110 million for Ten, the first new All Saints for Seven (at the odd hour of 9.40 pm) averaged a lowish 1.081 million, the Simpsons repeat at 8 pm averaged 1.068 million and the repeat of CSI (How many times is this?) averaged 1.050 million at 8.30pm for Nine.  And in the 9am battle, a tie between Nine’s Mornings with Kerri Anne and Ten’s 9am with David and Kim. Could be close this year in this timeslot. A lot of money is riding on who does best. Grumpy Old Holidays on the ABC at 8pm, 996,000.
 
The Losers: Nine’s new 20 to 1 hosted by Bert Newton. Just 981,000 at 7.30pm and beaten by Richard Gere and a dance movie. Very poor. Bert’s Family Feud though edged higher to 529,000, Seven’s Deal Or No Deal,  835,000. Nine’s Justice at 9.30pm. Just 835,000. Australian viewers know its not good, just like US viewers did. Just 13 or so eps to go. Temptation, not really a loser, although the format is looking very old. It averaged 897,000, squashed by The Biggest Loser (993,000) on Ten and Home And Away on Seven and the ABC 7pm news (991,000). Advertisers will not be liking that. The OC on Ten, dying slowly, 625,000.
 
News & CA: Today Tonight was again the clear winner nationally (by 314,000 viewers) and all metro markets over Nine’s A Current Affair. ACA loaded up with its version of the story but didn’t get any traction. TT lost half a million on Monday but that was understandable. Have viewers already decided/changed their minds about new host Anna Coren? Seven News won nationally by 272,000 and in every market but Melbourne. Neither program needed to use Perth to claim a national win. The 7pm ABC News was solid and The 7.30 Report lifted to 920,000 (not many Richard Gere or dance fans there). Lateline averaged 172,000 at 10.30pm, Lateline Business, 104,000 at 11.05pm. Ten News was also solid with 925,000 viewers (won the hour) and the Late News/Sports Tonight package averaged 381,000 and Nightline 255,000 at 11.35pm. On SBS World News Australia at 6.30pm averaged a low 127,000; the 9.30pm update, 178,000. In the morning 7am Sunrise with 444,000 beat 7am Today with 271,000.
 
The Stats: Seven won with a share of 32.1% (25.4% a week ago) from Nine with 25.4% (29.1%), Ten with 21.9% (24.1%) the ABC with 15.5% (15.3%) and SBS, 5.2% (6.1%). Seven won all five metro markets and has pulled to within shouting distance of Nine and should go past tonight. Nine leads 29.4% to 29.2%. Ten claimed it won the 18 to 49 group from 7.30pm to 9.30pm, which it did. It has to be positive, 18 to 49 is its new target demographic. But there are two real ratings battle: commercial share, zone 1, 6pm to 10.30pm and the broader all networks 6pm to midnight. Nice try Ten. Seven won the 18 to 49s last night. In regional areas a win to Prime/7Qld with 30.6 from Nine affiliates, WIN/NBN with 28.8%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 20.4%, the ABC with 15.1% and SBS with 5.0%.
 
Glenn Dyer’s comments: An odd night in that Seven’s movie at 7.30pm surprised everyone. Seven is keeping the slot warm for Dancing With The Stars which returns next Tuesday evening. Nine’s 20 to 1 would have disappointed first time up. It is looking dated and same old, same old. But if this is as good as Nine can program on Tuesday evenings its going to be a miserable year for the network. It programmed repeats of CSI on Tuesday nights for most of last year against Dancing With the Stars. It probably has nothing else go in the slot and has effectively conceded the night again this year. Tonight, how will Heroes go on Seven at 8.30pm? A big question, it will probably lose more audience but Seven will win by a narrow margin. Heroes holds the key. Nine has the flat line of McLeod’s Daughters, Cold Case and Without a Trace. It did OK last week first out but didn’t inspire Shock or Awe in rival networks. Ten’s Con.Test faces its moment of truth tonight at 7.30pm. It was not a good start last week. Judging by the figures Monday night for Eddie’s 1 vs 100 and Seven’s The Rich List viewers might be tiring. The Con.Test was the weakest of the trio last week. Complicating matters is the return of Spicks and Specks to the ABC at 8.30pm. That’s an interesting game show because they have fun and don’t take themselves so seriously.

Peter Fray

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