If Channel Ten wants starts a Sunday morning talk show to accommodate the likes of Andrew Bolt, it’s in for a long, expensive learning experience.
Amanda Meade in The Australian reported today that Bolt has a mentor, the Ten shareholder and director Gina Rinehart.
But then non-TV business people the ilk of Rinehart have had an unfortunate track record at Ten over the past 25 years in not understanding the economics of TV broadcasting: she is in a line that includes Frank Lowy and Steve Cosser (who at least had a media background) in failing to understand that to succeed in TV you have to appeal to the middle of the audience, just as in politics you win by appealing to the centre of the political spectrum.
Rinehart has no life experience at all that she can bring to TV, except that she’s middle-aged and very rich, which puts her at odds with Ten’s core audience, and the way the network’s new shareholders want the channel to go, back to its low-cost roots appealing to 16 to 39s .
Andrew Bolt would make a great role model for someone who’s in that demographic.
All up there’s 850,000 to 900,000 viewers who tune in on Sunday mornings between 8-11 for a mixture of news, sport, weather, background information, politics and gossip and chit chat.
The programming, apart from the ABC, is general and the generalist programs on Seven and Nine dominate with well over half the audience each week.
At the moment Sunday morning TV is dominated by Seven’s Weekend Sunrise Sunday edition, which leads Nine’s Today by about 70,000-100,000 viewers, with the ABC’s Insiders back in third by 30,000 to 60,000 people, depending on the time of year.
Last Sunday Weekend Sunrise (8-10am) averaged 350,000 viewers, Weekend Today (8-10am), about 271,000 and Insiders (9-10am) about 220,000.
The ABC also has Inside Business at 10am about 150,000 (plus or minus 20,000) and sports program Offsiders at 10.30pm (about 130,000, plus or minus 20,000).
And bringing up the rear is Ten’s 8am offering, Meet The Press, which had just 26,000 people watching the half hour last Sunday.
And at 8.30am to noon last Sunday the Video Hits segments averaged just over 80,000 viewers.
That Video Hits completely out-rates Meet The Press should say something to Bolt and Rinehart about the difficulty of their crusade for a right-wing voice on TV.
The problem for them and Ten is that it has little or no credibility when it comes to news and current affairs programming, and never has.
Frank Lowy spent millions of dollars on costly current affairs programs for Ten, but they flopped for one very good reason. TV viewers do not associate Ten with current affairs programs in particular.
Ten’s News At Five does well around the country broadcasting low-cost, simply written and short material, but that solid performance only happens because the program starts an hour before the 6pm bulletins of Nine and Seven and two hours before the ABC’s main evening bulletins, and audience have shown that when they have a choice, they don’t go to Ten for their news and current affairs.
You only have to look at the weak performance of 6PM With George Negus (now 6.30 With George Negus) up against Nine and Seven to see the choice viewers made when confronted with an offering from Ten.
Viewers expect Ten to be light and bright, as The 7PM Project is. (Bolt apparently believes 7PM is a soft-left program. Well if it is, it’s got its aim right and found its audience. The 7PM project succeeds because its audience wants to watch it, not be lectured to by the likes of Bolt).
At the moment there are 350,000-400,000 people looking for some politics on a Sunday with Insiders dominating that. Laurie Oakes on Weekend Today commands the field because of his expertise and reputation (which Mr Bolt cannot hope to meet in this and future lifetimes). Seven’s Weekend Sunrise has a much less formal political segment mixed into its programming.
Overcoming the dominance of Laurie Oakes and then Insiders will be a big ask for a program and a neophyte TV presenter and a network with limited resources. If Laurie Oakes left Nine, the Insiders would move up the rankings and daylight would be second.
Sunday mornings is a bit of a black hole for Ten. Meet The Press, the token Sunday political chat show goes to air at 8am for half an hour, after a mixture of religious programs, which pay Ten to show their programs. Then Video Hits starts at 8.30am until noon.
And why Video Hits? Well it’s very cheap TV and costs Ten nothing because all the costs of the material are covered by the record companies. Ten makes whatever advertising revenue it can sell, which means it’s being effectively paid to show the videos, on top of getting the ad revenues.
So from about 6-8am and then from 8.30am to noon, Ten is in effect, being paid to broadcast other people’s material. All the production costs Ten has is the occasional hostings for the Video Hits segments and the normal station to air costs that have to be met anyway.
Ten makes a small amount of money no doubt, but more than its on-air costs, which means to replace any of this it would have to write a lot more ad revenue to cover the costs of the new program (and having been involved in early Sunday TV, revenue is scarce). Weekend Sunrise and Weekend Today would be hoovering up most of the revenue anyway by offering advertisers more than half a million viewers between them each week and the sales operations of both networks would make it very tough for Ten to crack the market.
In TV it’s bums on seats in front of TV seats tuned to your network that count, not political views and for that reason, what advertiser would want to be associated with an overtly conservative political host such as Bolt, and on a network that is appealing to a younger audience, not people 54 and over who are the main audience in this country for the right-wing chatterers? (As the radio ratings for Alan Jones and others show.)
There is another way to introduce a new program; get rid of Meet The Press and build it around Bolt, or perhaps expand Meet The Press to an hour to encompass Bolt. But that would mean Ten’s Canberra gallery reporters would be seen to having been supplanted by this Melbourne shoo-in. And would we see a dummy spit as a result?
Finally, having sacked Grant Blackley as CEO for the loss of revenue and earnings and the added costs of the 6-7pm news and current affairs gamble, is Ten going to gamble on a new program with all the costs (and the questionable revenue earning ability) that one built around Bolt will encompass, especially compared to the very low-cost operation Ten already runs from 6am to noon on Sundays?
Seven and Nine are quietly cheering Rinehart’s advocacy of Bolt (and her joining with Lachlan Murdoch to vet new programming purchases and ideas). It will make their life easier if there’s a shareholder and director with no understanding of TV (but with a definite political bent) having a big say at Ten. James Warburton will have his work cut out if he ever gets to run Ten.