You just have to be very careful when assessing statements from TV networks. The financial stuff is usually straight up and down, it’s difficult to spin the numbers, except in the accompanying press release.

But when it comes to ratings and staff changes, then you need the skills of an old-fashioned Kremlinologist or finder of angels on the head of a pin to look through the spin to the real story. It’s not what they leave out, hoping journalists and others forget what they have said or done in the past.

The Seven network likes to set itself apart from Nine and Ten, but in reality, spins with the best.

Take this statement this week from Seven’s director of programming and production, Tim Worner. Issued on December 1, it said he was announcing “several key appointments”. Well, yes, and no.

“Going forward, it is now clear that our part of this business is changing very fast and we will need to change in order to meet the growing demand for Australian content, not just on Seven but on all the various platforms across the Seven Media Group and the local and international media landscape in general. With this in mind we’re making a few changes to our team structure,”  Worner said in the statement.

“These are key moves, and they will go a long way towards ensuring that this time next year we are again where we want to be — and that is winning with a whole bunch of shows, a lot of which will have been built and launched in the preceding twelve months,” he added. “The appointments involve key programming and production executives: Janeen Faithfull, Brad Lyons and Graeme Hill.”

Well, no, its more a case of “deck chairs, any more deck chairs to be moved?” Not on the Titanic, the Seven Network is nowhere near an iceberg nationally, but in Melbourne, its case of “berg ho” as the network’s ratings performance worsened this year, especially in the key 25-54 demographic where much of the ad dollars are spent.

In fact, the latest change is all about reversing an experiment from 2008, which went horribly wrong this year and saw Seven lose share in the second biggest TV market in the country, Melbourne.

“Janeen Faithfull is being appointed to a new role as Head of Content and Rights Management, taking over the management of rights Seven owns, acquires and exploits as well as retaining her role in managing the investment in Australian production. Janeen will also be responsible for growing our business in a number of areas and will work more closely with our other key business units across the Seven Media Group.

“Brad Lyons will be returning to Sydney as Head of Production, taking over the creative control of our growing number of Australian shows and running our team of Executive Producers. Lisa Fitzpatrick (Head of Program Development), Dan Meenan (Head of Factual) and Lucy Brodie (Manager, European Office) will also report to Brad.

“Graeme Hill will be returning to Melbourne as Program and Communications Manager following the very successful launch of 7TWO.”

Did you spot the key parts of that announcement?

To help you, go back to September 2, 2008, when the Seven Network announced:

“Brad Lyons has been appointed Program and Communications Manager, Melbourne, after tremendous success over the past eight years as Seven’s Head of Program Development. He has been behind the development and execution of many successful Channel Seven productions, including Dancing With The Stars, Deal or No Deal, My Restaurant Rules, RSPCA: Animal Rescue and most recently, Find My Family.

“Lisa Fitzpatrick will move into the role vacated by Mr Lyons to become Channel  Seven’s new Head of Program Development. Lisa has worked on projects spanning drama, comedy and infotainment, and been Network Executive Producer for shows including Better Homes and Gardens, It Takes Two and Make Me A Supermodel.

“Graeme Hill has been appointed Program and Communications Manager, Sydney, after four hugely successful and productive years in the equivalent role at Channel Seven Melbourne. Graeme has previously been Program Manager at Seven Queensland and Seven Adelaide, and Head of Scheduling in Sydney. (He was appointed programmer of 7TWO, Seven’s successful digital channel which launched late this year).

“Dan Meenan will become Seven’s Head of Factual Programming. In this new role he will oversee all of Seven’s factual programs and the creative development of new factual programs. Dan is Executive Producer and part of the development team behind some of the most popular factual programs to air on Australian television, including Border Security: Australia’s Front Line and The Force: Behind The Line.”

So 16 months after being sent to Melbourne, Brad Lyons is coming back to Sydney, Lisa Fitzpatrick is being moved to a new gig to accommodate his return and Graham Hill is going back to Melbourne for a third time to retrieve the network’s position in that market.

Hill has runs on the board; he re-established Seven’s presence in Melbourne, was then shifted to Sydney to allow Lyons to be moved to Melbourne to get programming experience and then very successfully brought Seven’s first digital channel, 7TWO, to market in October.

According to figures from Fusion Strategy in Sydney, Seven didn’t have a stellar year in Melbourne in 2009, especially in the second half of the year.

In fact Lyons’ programming efforts just got the network’s HSV 7 home over GTV9, by just 5000 viewers (all people, 6pm-midnight, weeks 7-48, bar Easter in  2008 and 2009 and no Olympics in 2008). Seven won with 347,000 viewers, down from 349,000 in 2008. Nine increased its audience to 342,000 from 335,000 in 2008 (that’s a rise of 2.09%), Ten was the real star, up 6.07% to 297,000 in 2009 from 280,000.

But in the important 25-54 age group, where most of the ad money is spent, Nine won Melbourne with its audience up 3.77% to 165,000. Seven’s was up 2% to 153,000, Ten’s was up more than 7% to 150,000.

As I said, hardly a stellar year in Melbourne for Seven, so management in Sydney, led by Worner, the programming boss, has found a bolt hole in Sydney for Lyons and sent back a trusted programmer in Hill to retrieve the situation in 2010.

And why the changes so soon after the previous ones where made? (Remembering that TV networks do not change successful programmers all that often: Worner is in the hot seat at Seven and has done well, as has David Mott at Ten. Michael Healy at Nine is a veteran of many ratings battles).

Failures or poor performers get shunted and new (or successful old blood) are brought in to try and reverse the situation. That is what Worner’s December 1 statement is all about.

Peter Fray

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