There were huge audiences for news broadcasts yesterday evening because of the terrible fires in Victoria. More than 5.5 million people watched the flagship evening broadcasts on Seven (1.903 million), Nine, 1.883 million, the 7 pm ABC broadcast, 1.036 million and Ten News at Five with 726,000.  And you can throw in the 1.628 million who watched the first program of Seven’s new current affairs program Sunday Night, which had extensive coverage of the fires at the start and end of the broadcast last night; the thirst for information yesterday was quite apparent.  This desire to be informed wasn’t quite apparent on Saturday, except in Melbourne.  Victoria’s terrible bushfires meant Saturday night in Melbourne, all news broadcasts had big audiences, but Seven won with an hour news with 569,000 to 509,000 got Nine, 486,000 for Ten’s News and 445,000 for the 7 pm ABC News.  Melbourne audiences for all the networks bar Ten were again high last night. Ten’s audience in Melbourne dropped to 281,000 ( or more than 200,000) compared to the strong figures on Saturday. It was up against the cricket on Nine with Australia finally batting batter, and Seven’s special extended news broadcast that started at 4.30 pm. Last night’s preliminary ratings are imprecise because of last minute program changes to accommodate news broadcasts, especially in Melbourne where Seven, Nine and the ABC in particular has updates and longer than normal bulletins. Nine and Seven also had late night one hour specials as well. In Melbourne Nine topped the broadcast with 825,000, Seven was on 527,000 and the ABC on 402,000. Nine was helped everywhere by the cricket as a lead in. The final readjusted figures to take account of the different programs, start and finishing times won’t be known until later today. In Sydney, the cricket’s influence was seen with Nine News averaging 592,000 and Seven News 529,000. It would seem from the rankings for last night, Nine didn’t have a news broadcast in Perth.  Seven’s new current affairs program, Sunday Night, started well at 6.30 pm with an average 1.628 million. Seven showed enormous flexibility to have bushfire coverage at the start and end of the program, with only the segments on the Britt Lapthorne story remaining from the much-promoted line up. That flexibility comes from being live. That would have terrified Nine’s 60 Minutes. it has the capacity to go live, but doesn’t do it well as all the producers are untested (except one or two older heads) in doing live programming week after week.  When the opposition demonstrates the flexibility to cover a big story like Sunday Night did last night, 60 Minutes either has to step up to the plate, or confine itself to being a recorded current affairs program specialising in lightweight stories like ‘flirt’ interviews with movie stars and the like. It’s a bit hard to assess Sunday Night on last night’s performance. Mike Munro was his usual Jurassic Park self, but wasn’t too ponderous out in the field. Chris Bath was OK, but has to learn to relax in the studio. She was still in news reading mode, but that’s something that wears off. The music, look etc were all okay without being outstanding, or intrusive. The audience looked like trained dummies: if they are there to participate, then they should be animated, if not, get rid of them. It is not Sunrise. This morning, Seven’s Sunrise kept going after its normal finishing time at 9am. Nine went to Kerry Anne Kennerley’s morning program, one segment being a free plug for tonight’s Underbelly drama premiere. Really. Yesterday morning Weekend Sunrise did OK and kept going, but the co-hosts were in Sydney. Today on Sunday at least sent Leila McKinnon to the bushfire story in Victoria. Today on Monday and 60 Minutes will have to learn that flexibility. Weekend Sunrise averaged 482,000, Today on Sunday got a big boost, up to 389,000, Insiders averaged 227,000 at 9am for its return program for 2009.  Barry Cassidy handled the fires well all morning: his interviews with the senior Victorian policeman, Kieran Walshe, and Julia Gillard was pretty smooth and struck the right balance. The ABC had a solid Noon national news broadcast.  Meanwhile, the last week of summer ratings was won by Seven, with Ten second and Nine a close third. Thanks to the tennis and strong Tuesday to Thursday (Ten won Monday night and was competitive on other nights) Seven won with 33.2% to 23.4% for Ten, 23.1% for Nine and 14.1% for the ABC and 6.1% for SBS. Seven’s normal programming on Friday night out rated the one day cricket where New Zealand beat Australia. Nine will be hoping the premiere of the Underbelly prequel tonight, the return of Getaway in Thursday night and Australia’s win in the one day cricket last night, will push it closer to Seven and past Ten this week in the first week of official ratings. Victoria’s terrible bushfires meant Saturday night in Melbourne, all news broadcasts had big audiences, but Seven won with an hour news with 569,000 to 509,000 got Nine, 486,000 for Ten’s News and 445,000 for the 7 pm ABC News.  But Nine’s biggest problem will remain at 6 pm to 7 pm. Nine lost Sydney heavily last week. Nine lost Sydney on Saturday night, 287,000 to 392,000 for Seven.  Nine had another bad week nationally and in Melbourne. Seven has increased its lead on Nine nationally over the first six weeks of 2009, with that coming in Sydney. Seven News (1.37 million viewers) leads Nine News (1.15 million viewers) by 220,000 viewers across the television year-to-date – a 19% audience advantage for Seven News. Seven News is up 5% in viewers on the same period last year (weeks 1-6, 2008). Nine News is down 9% in viewers.  In Sydney, Seven News with 350,000 viewers, leads Nine News with 310,000. Nine News is down 11% in viewers on the same period last year.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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