Big Brother 2007 is off and running but it made a faltering start last night with the worst opening night’s audience in the program’s seven years. While it was watched by an average of 1.549 million from 7pm to around 9pm, that was the lowest ever and Nine’s 60 Minutes beat it with 1.603 million viewers.

The program was off 14 per cent from last year’s 1.80 million viewer average and well down on the 2003 peak of 2.22 million. Figures from Oztam show that in the core audience, the 16 to 39 age group, the audience last night was off 19.8% and down 13.1% in 18 to 49. Its Commercial Share (between Ten, Nine and Seven) fell by around 7 points to 36.1%.

Still, Seven was squeezed, as forecast on Friday. It finished third with the likes of Australia’s Got Talent averaging 1.398 million and Ugly Betty down to 1.216 million. Grey’s Anatomy averaged 1.3 million. But Seven would be relatively happy, it was the biggest night on local TV so far this year. Ten took viewers from Nine while the ABC was very solid (19% share) with Robin Hood and Curtin between 7.30pm and 10pm. Ten’s Rove averaged 1.073 million running straight after BB.

From 8.30pm Nine showed an NRL game, the match between Newcastle and the Brisbane Broncos, billed as a “goodbye” to star player (and Nine personality), Andrew Johns, who retired two weeks ago. It bombed, averaging just 498,000 in Sydney and Brisbane. Nine showed a CSI repeat elsewhere and it averaged 646,000, followed by a repeat of CSI Miami, which averaged 620,000.

The housemates this year conform to the BB stereotype, white and young — not a sign of Australia’s multicultural make up. The six men and six women are notable for looking very similar to most of the housemates of past years.  And the oldest is 32, as Ten employs a similar tactic to last year’s Australian Idol to make it more appealing to older viewers in its key demographics (the last AI winner, Damien Leith, was 29).

The whole thing was pre-recorded on Saturday night and taping was stopped twice because audience members were streaming it onto the internet illegally. Is that a case of Ten dying by a sword of its own making? The program depends on voting from mobile phones and the internet is a major part of the deal as well. Mobile content this year will be a big part of the add-ons for subscribers. There’s a delicious irony in that members of the audience (in the target 16 to 39 demo) were smarter than Ten and its producers, Southern Star.

Someone at 3 Mobile (who are a “partner” of Ten) “inadvertently” posted images from the pre-record on the 3 website on Saturday and someone put vision up on YouTube before it had been broadcast on Ten. Viral marketing anyone?

But chat forums seemed to like it and tonight we’ve been promised more mystery and two more housemates. Ten will be happy the launch went smoothly as the sale process is moving into its final days. Three private equity buyers are left in the running and the network wants BB to be bright, attractive and safe.