On ABC 702 yesterday afternoon after 4pm, host Richard Glover tried to get a discussion going about good journalism versus bad journalism. The context was the decision by the Ten Network to axe 6.30 with George Negus. Glover tried and tried and then could only get two rather weak contributions from the audience, and he then let the topic die — which about sums up what happened to the Negus program: slow death by viewer indifference.

George Negus phoned Glover in the next half hour (while Glover was talking to Annabel Crabb about politicians and the media) and George was upbeat. At least Ten had a go, he said, and the product he fronted most nights wasn’t that bad. Which it wasn’t.

All three agreed that Negus’ competition, Today Tonight and A Current Affair, weren’t much chop and weren’t current affairs, which is also true. Negus and Glover also said viewers for TT and ACA were “rusted” on. Well they are, compared to Ten viewers, but that’s not quite the case overall.

So let’s look at the performance of 6.30 with George Negus, TT and ACA this year.

According to figures from Fusion Strategy in Sydney, 6.30 with George Negus averaged 420,000 in the first month it was on air from mid-January. It lost 11.7% of its audience from then to average 372,000 in the past month. Today Tonight has actually lifted its audience slightly, only 5000, but that’s enough: it averaged 1.153 million in January and February and 1.158 million in September and October (up to Tuesday night).

ACA has lost 62,000 viewers or 6.7% of its audience. Its average audience has fallen from 925,000 in January/February down to 873,000 in September and October so far. Last year it averaged 1.138 million, so the loss this year is quite substantial.

But it is not so clear: all news and current affairs programs have lost ground this year, even though total FTA TV viewing is actually up on last year. (That’s partly because of the rise of the new digital channels, especially Ten’s Eleven, which is now the third most-watched some nights. Eleven started in January and has attracted viewers who might have been watching the main channels, especially Seven and Nine, as well as taking people from Ten.)

That brings another factor into play: last year Ten was broadcasting Neighbours at 6.30pm on its main channel, but Neighbours was slowly dying much in the way 6.30 with George Negus did this year. When Ten shifted Neighbours to Eleven at 6.30pm and started 6.30 with George Negus, Neighbours’ audience decamped to Eleven (roughly 320,000 to 380,000 a night, depending on what night of the week it is). 6.30 with George Negus picked up its audience from the residual older Ten viewers who stated around after the News, or those from other channels who didn’t much like TT or ACA.

From the audience figures, especially in the past two months, 6.30 with George Negus and ACA have been fading away as viewers deserted both, but not for TT or the ABC. They have gone to the digital channels, besides Eleven. In fact between 600,000 and 800,000 people watched the digital channels from 6pm to 7pm, depending on the night.

ABC2 dominates some nights with over 200,000 viewers for its kids programs, with Eleven next and Go or 7TWO third. A year ago, the average audience for 6pm to 7pm would have been more than 300,000 fewer.

A final factor is Ten doesn’t have the same “buzz” about it this year for viewers. The 7pm Project has faded once MasterChef finished (it helped The 7pm Project with a late boost after 7.20pm with viewers switching channels early). Ten has failed with The Renovators. Ten has had a rough year and the overall image is one of a network floundering and broadcasting programs that on the whole viewers watched in declining numbers. That doesn’t help programs such as 6.30 with George Negus.

Now, all the news and current affairs experiments of the old Ten management have gone, as well as the long-established Late News/Sports Tonight at 10.30pm. Local weekend news broadcasts have been axed as well and a single national program of 90 minutes replaced it.

And to replace them, a breakfast program from early next year that will struggle to get viewers, just as the ABC’s Breakfast program has struggled (as has Ten’s early news at 6am). The trade-off between the axed programs and the new Breakfast program is unequal and odd, especially if Ten remains under profit and cost pressures.