The Nine Network finally has a runaway ratings freight train to rival all comers, with spinny-chair mega-hit The Voice dominating TV screens. And it’s not just Nine cashing in.
After failing to win a single ratings week in 2011, it’s the shot in the arm the debt-ridden Nine Entertainment Co needed. With an average audience of more than 2 million, Seal and his fellow judges led Nine out of the wilderness and back to the ratings promised land.
Nine Network director of development Adrian Swift says The Voice could go on to become the biggest show of the past decade. “I’d love to achieve that, I’m a real beliver in the show and the format,” he told Crikey this morning.
Swift declined to talk figures for The Voice, but he did say the show was well on the way to making a profit and driving up share across the rest of the network. He reckons now that the show has been seen it will really start making some dough.
“I think there’s always a fundamental disconnect between your ability to monetise on season one versus season two,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll well and truly cover our expenses on season one but I think season two is where one makes a little bit more hay.”
Not that it would have come cheap. It’s rumoured Nine paid $20 million to buy the rights (similar prices are said to have been fetched for Ten’s Australian Idol and Seven’s X-Factor in the past) from production company Shine Australia, which was licensed by its creator, legendary Dutch reality tzar John De Mol from Talpa. Swift says those figures are off the mark, but declines to provide a number.
Nine has also taken a gamble on the show’s high production costs. The Voice, like Australia’s Got Talent and X-Factor, is what those in the business call a “shiny floor” TV show. Everything is supposed to look flashy, to give off the vibe of star power.
In the US, where The Voice has been huge for struggling network NBC, the Hollywood Reporter calculated the price per hour at $2.3 million per episode. Locally the show may not be quite that costly, but still the revolving chairs, expensive lighting, live band and studio crew wouldn’t be coming cheap.
And then there’s the judges: Seal, Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem and Joel Madden. While they may not quite be the megastars Nine has made them out to be (only Goodrem has had a local number-one hit this past decade), the quartet would be taking home a decent wage.
In the UK, Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am is reportedly being paid 500,000 pounds to sit in a revolving chairs, while Christina Aguilera is supposedly getting an extraordinary $10 million to shoot NBC’s third season.
Those figures would be unfeasible for the local format so a better comparison might be the “lesser” US judges like Cee Lo Green, who are said to have banked $US75,000 an episode in that version’s first season.
Still, there’s coin to be made and advertising has been one of the key revenue drivers. For Nine, some reports put the figure for one 30-second spot as high as $100,000.
And it may get better next year. By comparison, Ten’s reality behemoth MasterChef pulled in $60 million in its successful second season (although that show was stretched right across Ten’s schedule).
The Voice also has two corporate sponsors, Ford Focus and Australian Super, who would have paid an upfront fee. Shows like MasterChef have pocketed between $2.5-3.5 million for those kinds of deals in the past.
There’s also the online side. The Voice streams every performance shown on its website, with ads set to autoplay before each video. So far, the number of videos streamed from Ninemsn is well into the millions. The show’s YouTube channel, which also carries ads, has had more than 8 million video views.
Another revenue stream is voting. As with most reality shows, fans are invited to vote for their favourite singers to keep them in the competition. Traditionally, punters register their support through SMS or phone voting for 55c (for which a slice heads to Nine as well as telecoms Hutchison, Optus and Telstra) and can vote as many times as they like.
One of the show’s new innovations has been giving punters the chance to also vote for their favourite singer by downloading the song via the Apple iTunes store. After charging $1.69 to an approved credit card, two votes are then registered for the artist plus a copy of the song to keep.
Fans (or “customers” as Apple calls them) can vote up to 10 times per week. There are almost 100 songs available to purchase as performed by Voice contestants.
In terms of the revenue from iTunes voting, Swift says Nine doesn’t get a cent. As part of a deal done by Talpa, Apple keeps part of the listed price (traditionally 30%) with the rest going to the publisher (in this case Universal). Fees would then be passed on in the form of royalties to the songwriters (contestants mostly sing covers).
“We, Channel Nine, don’t make a banana out of iTunes but it’s a great story for us because it shows people are really engaging with the show,” he said.
The method has already proved extremely popular. Earlier this week four songs from Monday’s battle rounds sat in the iTunes singles top 10, and eight of the top 20. The best of those was Central Coast crooner Karise Eden’s Nothing’s Real But Love which sat briefly at number one.
Swift says voting numbers so far have been “unprecedented”, with a “very large number” registered via the iTunes purchase. He says that popularity is helped by iTunes providing the opportunity of a “value exchange” for viewers, meaning they get to keep a studio version of the song along with registering their vote.
“For us it’s less about us trying to take money out of people’s pockets for voting, much more about getting people to engage with the show,” he said.
The show has even managed to crack the traditional charts. On last week’s pre-live show ARIA singles chart, four Voice songs made the Top 50 (including Melbourne teenager Lakyn Heperi with two entries).