For years the Ten Network has listed as its objectives two things: to get a 30% share of the commercial viewing audience and to match that with a similar share of TV ad revenues.

For years the Network has either fallen short, or reached the 30% ad revenue share, only to fade in later periods. Both have proven hard to gain and maintain.

And yet, in its toughest year financially since the 1990s when it was bailed out of bankruptcy, Ten is having its one of its best years ever on the screen.

Ten’s TV business has experienced a 15% fall in revenue and losses for most of 2009 so far. Costs are being cut and its Canadian parent, Canwest, staggers from one monthly deadline to another to try and keep its creditors from bankrupting it.

But Ten is winning the 16 to 39, 18 to 49, adding share in the 25 to 54, and gaining viewers with its strong daytime line up; it averaged an All People 6pm to 10.30pm prime time share of 30.3% across the first half of 2009 ratings (weeks 7 to 28).

That OZTam figure includes Ten’s One HD sports channel: the Ten main channel has a 29.7% share, One has a 0.6% commercial share built up quickly from its start in April.

Ten’s overall share was up from 28.84% in the first half of 2008. Ten went close in 2007 to reaching 30% with a share of 29.5% for the year. In 2004 it had a share of 29.9% when Big Brother and Australian Idol were in full swing.

By any measure, Ten is the success story of the year, but it will not do as well in the second half of the current year and its share will ease. But it is doing well because of axing Big Brother last year (and leaving millions of dollars of production money in the pot), it knew it had to take risks to find new programs and rebuild audiences after last year’s under performance. That Ten has done, but getting a payoff from advertisers will be much tougher because of the weakness of the advertising market.

We will learn next month what its TV revenue share figures are when the industry releases first half numbers.

Ten says it will be marketing its winning programs aggressively to advertisers for 2010 and the rest of this year. Those advertisers who supported the new programs got bargain rates given the weak market and the untested nature of the shows. Next year rates will jump sharply for the programs like MasterChef and The Biggest Loser.

Seven said its prime time 6pm to 6pm to 10.30pm share averaged 36% in the first half of this year, unchanged on the share for 2008. Seven lost a touch of share in 25 to 54s (It said it lifted viewers from the first half of last year), the main advertising target demo. Seven is well on the way to winning the year in All People and 25 to 54’s.

It was up slightly in 18 to 49s and 16 to 39s, but Ten’s MasterChef Australia and Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation and The Biggest Loser and So You Think You Can Dance Australia made life very difficult for Seven and Nine in the younger demos. Female viewers especially have been drawn to MasterChef across all demos.

Seven said it was:

Up in primetime in total viewers, 18-49s and 25-54s on weeks 7-28 in 2008: up 1.4% in total viewers, up 1.7% in 18-49s and up 3.0% in 25-54s. In audience share, Seven is up in 16-39s and 18-49s and equal in total viewers on the same period in 2008, and leads in total viewers and 25-54s. Seven’s total viewer lead over Nine (2.4 share points) is six times Seven’s share point advantage in 2008.

Ten also lifted viewers in the 16 to Under 55s group (which is the overwhelming bulk of the TV audience) to make it the only network to rack up year on year gains in all demos and All People.

Nine was the loser, losing ground in every demographic as well as All People. Nine’s share is now the second lowest ever, sitting just above the 2007 average of a 32.9% commercial share. Nine’s boss, David Gyngell, talked earlier in the year of getting a 35% share of audiences and TV advertising. He has neither. His aim was also off with his end of half review; it was issued two weeks ago to the amusement of the industry and advertisers.

Last week saw Nine hit its lowest share of 2009 official ratings so far of 23.0%. That was down on the week before and the Network finished third behind Ten on 23.1% and Seven on 27.5%. (Nine had a share of 22.9% in week 5 of the year which was in the summer ratings period).

But for all this effort from Seven, Nine and Ten, I doubt that there was a dollar of real profit earned in the first half of 2009. Sure they might have had positive trading profits, but they are worked out before tax, interest, depreciation and amortisation are accounted for. Seeing all groups have big debts, interest is a large cost, especially for Seven and Nine.

It is doubtful there will be any better performance in the second half of the year. Nine is offering advertisers special rates if they allocate 35% of their ad dollars with it; that’s a recipe for financial ruin.

We have no way of knowing how Nine and Seven are going. The Seven Network refuses to make any meaningful figures available. CVC and PBL Media do not disclose any information on earnings, except in generalities and rare interviews where nothing substantial is provided.

In fact we know more about Seven’s share buying in Consolidated Media Holdings last week than we do about how the Seven Network performed financially in the first half of the current financial year.