Nine claims the grand prize, but gets second. Once again it’s all in the spin. The Nine Network trumpeted today that “Horse racing is returning to the Nine Network”. Nine said it will cover a winning selection of Group One races at the Autumn and Spring Carnivals in Sydney and Melbourne this year, with 13 race meetings and more than 70 premier races, in conjunction with TVN. Nine is broadcasting Seven’s leftovers, the races they broadcast in previous years when they didn’t have the AFL or the V8 Supercars. (Seven launches that season in Sydney tonight.) Nine doesn’t have the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Seven has kept that and for all the commentary by Messrs Mitchell and McGuire, Nine has second prize. Harold Mitchell and TVN have been desperate to find a home for the non-cup races since Seven let them go (Seven has the V8 cars as well). And a question: is there any quid pro quo for Nine from Harold Mitchell by way of extra ad dollars for Nine and getting Mitchell out of a hole? Some in the TV industry wonder if it is a repeat of the Harold Mitchell inspired deal that saw Seven cough up a million dollars a year (for five years) to sponsor another of Harold’s loves, The Australian Opera, allegedly in return for advertising.

Nine’s empty current affairs claim. The item isn’t online in The Australian‘s media section today but the news in the Amanda Meade column about the relaunch by Nine of 60 Minutes this week shows how seriously Channel Eddie is taking the move by Seven to schedule Ugly Betty against it at 7.30pm Sundays. Ugly Betty will drag female viewers away from Nine across the spectrum, but especially in the 16 to 49 groups, and will probably also drag them away from Ten’s The Biggest Loser which goes to air at the same time. For all the bravado of 60 Minutes EP, John Westacott, and Nine News and Current Affairs boss, Gary Linnell, the move by Seven will leave 60 Minutes with an ugly demographic profile of its own: people aged over 55 and an audience dominated by men. Still good for advertisers but not the mix advertisers crave. But there was something else in the Media section item: the claim by Gary Linnell that Nine was still number one for news and current affairs. Apart from 60 Minutes which had a very good year last year (but which is more flash and celebrity driven these days), Nine News and A Current Affair are running second to Seven, Today is third behind daylight and Sunrise in the mornings and Weekend Sunrise is far in front of Sunday, which has lost audience and share since being revamped and losing staff in last year’s purges. Amanda Meade points this out in her piece but for Linnell to have mentioned it indicates the desperation at Nine. As for the Sunday program’s return, it did have a fine start last Sunday. But it has lost the access to stories from CBS, especially its namesake, CBS’s Sunday program (and 60 Minutes is paying for up to 25 stories!), it has lost access to ITN news items and will now have to use CNN material) and it has had its travel budgets slashed. But when staff say they can’t afford to fly to Perth, how can you take it seriously as being prepared to cover local and foreign affair. — Glenn Dyer

Where was Ray when Hicks needed him? In a press release yesterday the Nine network promoted this story from this weekend’s Sunday. “Veteran journalist Ray Martin presents the definitive story on alleged Al Qaeda operative David Hicks and the five years he has spent languishing in an American military prison in Guantanamo Bay. Last week, “What’s happened to the Aussie fair go? What’s happened to the notion of innocent until proven guilty? What’s happened to David Hicks is bloody appalling. I’m ashamed,” Ray says. “SUNDAY travels to Adelaide to interview David’s father Terry Hicks,” and the story also features David’s lawyer and a psychiatrist who says the abuse handed out to Hicks “could only be predicted to drive him mad.” The Seven network’s Weekend Sunrise program interviewed both a fortnight ago, while Sunday was on break. But the release does call into question a point: since when are the views and opinions of a TV reporter more important than those of the talent? The answer must be, when they are Ray Martin’s. So then is Ray Martin bigger than the story on the fate of Mr Hicks? Or is the fate of Mr Hicks more important? In any case Mr Hicks’ fate has been appalling for several years ago. Where was Sunday, Nine and Ray Martin when Mr Hicks’ case really needed a kick along and when he was fronting A Current Affair from 2003 to the end of 2005? — Glenn Dyer

New Matilda puts the New back in New Matilda. The weekly internet based journal New Matilda plans to become a daily bulletin of news and commentary. Editor Jose Borghino said yesterday that the journal’s new owner, Gold Coast hinterland based Duncan Turpie, plans to invest more money, which may mean hiring more staff and paying contributors, most of whom have previously been paid little or nothing. What precisely will this mean? Details are in short supply. Borghino says there will be meetings over the next few weeks to sort out the details. Initially the effort is likely to focus on commentary but “of course we would love to break news.” How much money will there be to spend? Borghino has not yet been given a budget. He has always argued that contributors need to be better paid. He hopes this may now happen. Supporting content worth reading is a problem for all small publications. Crikey is not immune. Opinion is cheap in every sense of the word. Reporting – breaking news – takes time, experienced journalists (or a lot of luck), and money. How much will Turpie plough in? How sharp and how broad can New Matilda become? Watch this space. Or alternatively, watch theirs. — Margaret Simons

Moral police off the beat. Communications Minister Helen Coonan was so keen to jump on Big Brother naughtiness last year that she didn’t bother to check if it actually fell under the purview of any her regulators. But it appears that none of the Government’s moral policemen are prepared to assume responsibility for the sleaze that infects free to air TV during late night ad breaks. In Senate Estimates last week, Family First Senator Steve Fielding has been quizzing Ministers trying to find out who is responsible for TV advertising and standards. On Monday Fielding was told that TV advertising was not the responsibility of the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Communications Minister Helen Coonan said the Attorney General’s Department was responsible. The next day Justice Minister Chris Ellison denied it was the Attorney-General’s Department’s responsibility. Instead, Fielding has been referred off to the Advertising Standards Bureau – an industry, not a statutory, body. — Christian Kerr

Last night’s TV ratings
The Winners:
Another strong night for Seven but one where there was a settling of audience numbers for some programs, a big drop for a newbie on Ten and some fun on the ABC between 8.30pm and 9.30pm with Spicks and Specks returning and a thoroughly entertaining and incorrect first episode in the new series of Extras which at last showed its worth. Seven’s Border Security at 7.20pm was a repeat but was still the top show on the night with 1.453 million (shows how much viewers thought of some of the other offerings). Today Tonight was next, back to a more normal 1.385 million viewers with more Corbygate material. Seven’s Heroes at 8.30pm was third (1.323 million – down 170,000 or so on last week), followed by Seven’s Serious Crash Unit (also off last week’s figures with 1.304 million), Seven News (1.278 million), House (1.237 million), McLeod’s Daughters (1.148 million) and A Current Affair (1.086 million). Home and Away was weaker with 1.086 million (The Biggest Loser impact) and Seven’s Prison Break – On The Run, was also down on 1.076 million. Nine News was down as well at 1.037 million, and Cold Case was off a touch at 1.036 million. Nine programmed two Without A Trace episodes back to back, the first new, the second a repeat and coded it for the ratings as one program (9.30 to 11.30pm). It averaged 1.032 million, which was also down a touch from a week ago. Spicks and Specks returned with 995,000 viewers on average and Extras had a solid 777,000. Orlando Bloom was wonderfully narcissistic and Ricky Gervais dissembled about his sitcom’s worth in a way worthy of the most commercial of producers.

The Losers: Ten’s ConTest. Just 692,000 viewers, down more than 300,000 from the opening 1.009 million last week. Will be put out of its misery soon at this rate. Neighbours, 644,000. maintaining the weakness evident for the past month, off up to 250,000 on some performances last year. Seven’s 24, The New Beginning, at 10.30pm, 570,000 isn’t to be sneezed at but there’s nothing new. Bert’s Family Feud 514,000. Average, likewise Deal or No Deal with 724,000.

News & CA: Seven News and Today Tonight again beat a surprising weak Nine News and A Current Affair. It’s not just the Corbygate material. Nine News and ACA have had a spotty start to the year, unlike 2006. And that’s the big story in this area so far, not the Corby stuff which is just another ratings generator when all is said and done. Nine weak in Sydney, very surprisingly in Melbourne at times and to a lesser extent, in Brisbane. TT beat ACA by 299,000 viewers and Seven News beat Nine by 205,000 and both won all five markets. Ten News averaged 787,000 and its Late News/Sports Tonight, 389,000 at 10.30pm. Nine’s Nightline 315,000 at 11.30. The 7pm ABC News averaged 958,000 and The 7.30 Report, 714,000. Lateline averaged 213,000, Lateline Business, 110,000. SBS News averaged 198,000 (6.30pm) and 222,000 (9.30pm). In the morning 7am Sunrise 451,000, 7am Today, 264,000.

The Stats: Seven won with 31.5% share (30.03%) from Nine with a share of 26.6% (27.3% last week). Ten was third with 20.9% (25.0%), then the ABC with 15.9% (13.1%) and SBS with 5.1% (4.3%). Seven now leads the week, 29.7% to 28.8% and should win. Seven won all markets bar Adelaide. It was though a different story in regional areas where Nine won through NBN/WIN with 31.2% from Prime/7Qld with 28.1%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 19.0%, the ABC with 15.9% and SBS with 5.2%. WIN/NBN lead the week from Prime/7Qld.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Another weak night for Nine and Ten was surprisingly lower, thanks to the sharp drop off in the Con.Test. It wont be back and will either prop up 7.30pm until Thank God You’re Here is back shortly, or Ten will push something else in that might get figures higher than last night’s. Nine had high hopes of last night’s ep of Cold Case doing well. Viewers are OK with it but it is no longer a must watch. There were no must watches last night, except the repeat of Border Security. Heroes is slow and boring for America. Compared to the combination of Spicks and Specks and Extras last night, one was entertainment in the best form, the other pretentious American-made television. Tonight Seven returns a full Lost series to its proper timeslot of 8.30pm and then brings back Bones (a small hit from late last year) at 9.30pm. Ten has a bit of Jamie Oliver and the Two Law And Orders while Nine will be strongish with Getaway, Missing Persons Unit and RPA. Catalyst returns on the ABC instead of that silly Psychics program at 8pm.

Peter Fray

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