The Nine Network and its chief executive, David Gyngell, have failed to protect the reputation of the network’s AFL Footy Show franchise in Melbourne, a failure revealed in the plunge in the audience of the once-dominant program.

Since the Sam Newman atrocity against football writer Caroline Wilson on 10 April, the average 9.30pm to 11pm audience has dropped by 16%, while the show is off more than 20% from the peak audience achieved in those seven weeks.

On 10 April the AFL Footy show averaged 453,000 viewers in Melbourne and it peaked at 486,000 on the night of 1 May. Since then it has dropped noticeably to average 380,000 last night. That’s the lowest since 10 April and one of the few times it has been under 400,000 for quite a few months.

Along with continuing weakness for the NRL program in Brisbane and to a lesser extent, Sydney, the slump in the Melbourne AFL audience has pushed the overall national figure from 1.081 million on April to (it peaked the next week with 1.2 million nationally and 480,000 in Melbourne as people tuned into watch after what Newman did the previous week) 923,000 last night.

In recent weeks Seven has put a program called Trinny and Susannah Undress the Nation at 9.30pm on Thursdays and it’s aimed at female viewers in the hope of dragging them away from the AFL Footy Show. But not all Nine’s 73,000 loss is female; some male viewers have drifted away as well. Seven’s audience has risen from an average of 211,000 on April 10 in Melbourne to 260,000 last night.

Compare David Gyngell’s lack of public sanction against the Footy Show and Sam Newman to the move by Kerry Packer back in 1993 when he pulled Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos and axed host Doug Mulray while the show was going to air.

Complicating matters for Gyngell was the defence of the Footy Show and Newman at the Logies by co-host, Gary Lyon, even after he seemed to say ‘sorry to Caroline Wilson on the Monday night show, Footy Classified. Newman has also sledged women in AFL clubs, bringing a defamation writ from one female club board member, and Newman and the program’s attitude have been defended by former host and Nine CEO, Eddie McGuire in a column in a News Ltd tabloid in Melbourne.

AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou has described the Newman comments as unfortunate and indicated that Nine has been told of the AFL’s displeasure, but so far there’s been no public apology or comment from Gyngell. Contrast, again, his reaction to the sledging of Nine’s Sydney Newsreader, Mark Ferguson by Todd McKenney on Mix FM six week or so ago. Nine pulled $1million of ads from Mix and leaked the story to the Daily Telegraph.

It adds to the impression that Gyngell is soft on sexism. Nine has always had a blokey, male-centric culture and it has lost of none of that under Gyngell. The Underbelly culture is how one former executive now describes it.

But it is costing Nine money and reputation in Melbourne. It is a problem of its own making, adding to by the PR stunt of the ANZ Bank yesterday which let it be known that it had told Nine that its ads – running in Brisbane and Perth – were not to appear on the Footy Show in Melbourne.

The ANZ said through a spokesperson that the AFL Footy Show, in its present format didn’t suit the ANZ. She said “It didn’t allow us to connect well with our customer base”. That’s an insult to Nine.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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