Say goodbye to Australian Idol; the only way it will grace Ten’s TV spectrum in 2011 is if its new talent program Don’t Stop Believing flops, and if does, it will be a very expensive decision because Ten has shovelled  millions of dollars into new programming and a big change in the 6-7 pm timeslot.

Tuesday’s press release from Ten, timed for the launch of the 2011 line-up in Perth at a breakfast, didn’t quite capture the scope of the changes  apparent from the glitz and glamour of the slap-up couch dinner affair at Fox Studios in Sydney’s old showgrounds last night. The round-Australia launch party concludes in Melbourne tonight.

Thanks to the success of MasterChef Australia and the kids’ version, Ten is all swagger and confidence: last year it told the media and advertisers to trust them and wait and see. Now that it has happened, Ten is confident enough to make the biggest change seen in TV programming for decades.

That involves Neighbours and The Simpsons moving onto Eleven, Ten’s third digital network. Neighbours gets a PG classification with more naughty bits, etc, because the content classification rules are easier on the digital channels than on the main channel. It will run at 6.30pm Monday to Friday from early January, when the change happens.

To replace them, Ten will introduce an extra hour of news and current affairs, at a cost of $20 million. There will be a half-hour current affairs program at 6pm and a state local news (Sandra Sully has been named for Sydney already, meaning Ten will have to find a new host for the national late news). The local state news will run with the Ten News at Five on weekends as well, producing the only hour of news on FTA TV on Saturdays and Sundays.

And the Adelaide Ten News At Five, which is currently done out of Melbourne, and the Perth 5 pm news, which is done out of Sydney, will move back to their home cities with the new local news programs starting next year, meaning that Ten will do all its news out of each capital city. That will be a big positive.

But forget all these new programs and the successes such as MasterChef, The 7PM Project and Glee, if this huge switch in programming doesn’t work, then Ten’s year will flop and it will be expensive in terms of cost and management.

It’s an enormous change by Ten, in the 6-7pm slot. It avoided taking on Seven and Nine by running its news successfully from 5pm to 7pm and building up an audience of about 800,000 to as much as a million on the odd night. Now it is taking on two better-resourced news and current affairs hours and trying to keep some of the 600,000- 00,000 who watched The Simpsons and Neighbours in the past year.

Ten argues that at the moment all it needs is to maintain its current 19 share in 6-7 pm to be successful. That’s even though the bulk of viewers will be going to Eleven to follow The Simpsons and Neighbours.

That means Ten will have to replace the departing younger viewers with people a bit older (from 25 to 49, but they wouldn’t say no to 40 to 54s).

Between 2.2 million and 3.2 million regularly watch Seven and Nine’s 6-7 pm programming. Sometimes on Sundays and Mondays its higher, upwards of 3.5 million, especially in winter.

A 19 share equates to about 500,000-600,000 a night. A bit less than what Neighbours and The Simpsons currently pull, but in terms of what Ten’s objectives are, a better quality audience.

That’s Ten’s thinking, the network has the money and the success (and the profits, and no controlling Canadian shareholder saying “no”). It sounds like a dream to people at Seven and Nine (naturally).

Those viewers will have to come from somewhere. At the moment those viewers watching Seven and Nine between 6pm and 7 pm are doing it out of habit, they are rusted-on viewers of both networks, and while some may have caught some or all of Ten’s News At Five, the audiences for both networks explodes at 6 pm as people turn to both for the news.

How Ten convinces about half a million or more people to switch and change these long-held viewing habits, will be the be the big programming question for 2011 (and of recent years) for all networks.

Seven and Nine’s news and current affairs hours skew heavily to over-55s and the upper years in the 25-54 group and to grocery buyers, which are some of the most important demographics in TV. These are not Ten’s traditional viewers, a point that some of its big 16-39 advertisers such as KFC and Coca-Cola, might raise a query or three about.

And Ten can’t expect Seven and Nine to lay back and allow their audiences to be pillaged and seduced away. They will respond with heavy promotion, bigger budgets and a lot more resources, especially Seven, which built its comeback on winning and retaining dominance from 6pm to 7 pm. Seven’s David Leckie is not going to lose the 6pm to 7 pm slot to Nine because Ten’s Grant Blackley wants some of his viewers.

That will involve either higher costs, or cuts elsewhere in the budgets, or dropping non-performing programs, such as Ten has done with So You Think You Can Dance gone and Idol down and all but out the door.

Ten is taking an enormous risk; it’s a bit of a juggle trying to hold 16 to 39s via the Eleven channel at times, while trying to grab older viewers from Seven and Nine. No one has tried that in Australian TV. Advertisers who have given Ten hundreds of millions of dollars over the years for its 16-39 approach won’t be happy if their numbers drop as Ten tries to go broader from 6pm to 7 pm.

Ten will persevere.  (Its bosses went out of their way last night to emphasise this by pointing to the way The 7PM Project was allowed to settle down and spend months building an audience.) If the changes at 6pm to 7pm don’t work (and it’s a big ask), Ten’s whole year goes up in smoke and the careers of quite a few highly paid people at the network will be shortened. That much is at stake.

Another successful MasterChef won’t save 2011 if the 6-7pm project at Ten is the biggest loser.