Research from Credit Suisse on audience share for August, highlighted by The Sydney Morning Herald, stated the Ten Network’s audience figures in August were the “worst since the turn of the century” and that more people watched Foxtel than Ten during the Olympics. Which is like comparing apples and blue cheese.

The measurement used by Credit Suisse is for all people watching TV. As Ten’s Neil Shoebridge pointed out, advertisers buy demographics to reach specific groups of viewers (even there Ten’s share figures and viewer numbers have fallen as the list of dud programs dragged down the size of its audiences). And the story fails to mention that Foxtel has over 200 channels (and only eight devoted to Olympics coverage) while Ten has just three. Ten’s main channel probably had more viewers than any single channel of Foxtel, but the News Corporation-managed pay-TV operator hasn’t made public (as the FTA networks do) the detailed figures of its viewing during the Games.

The audiences for all the networks bar Nine were lowered by the Olympics coverage on Nine. But when they finished, the audiences bounced back, except for Ten which suffered the now well publicised collapse. All this is known.

Secondly, a bit of background is needed here on ratings. In comparing ratings performance, the TV networks, advertisers and media buying groups strip out the once every four year Olympics (and the Commonwealth Games) for the purposes of looking at how the networks’ audiences vary from year to to year. But instead of comparing the August 2012 ratings with those of last year, the correct month would have been September 2008 when the games were held in Beijing Olympics. That’s the apples with apples comparison. In fact any comparison between August of this year and 2011 would have been ludicrous and irrelevant. But don’t tell Credit Suisse that. The realistic comparison would be to look at what happened in the two weeks before and after the Games and compare those to last year.

They would have found Ten’s audiences dipped after the Games ended because of its programming misses. Also, a year ago Ten’s weekly audiences (and especially those on Saturdays and in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth) were being boosted by its AFL coverage, which is not happening this year as Seven and Foxtel share the AFL coverage (which would have also boosted Foxtel’s audience figures in August).

So Foxtel had more viewers compared to what? Can you compare a broadcast available to subscribers not paying on a subscription TV operation like Foxtel, with a previous period where people paid for the coverage? Not if you want to make a genuine comparison. Credit Suisse made that mistake by comparing August 2012 and the boost to viewing numbers from the free coverage of the Games when Foxtel was a 100% subscription business. Of course the free coverage of the games last month boosted Foxtel’s audiences, it was always going to do that. It was free. By the way Foxtel’s audience numbers have retreated to normal (all paid) levels since the games ended.

Also, it is not “new” news that Foxtel had more viewers than Ten last month. The pay-TV operator regularly has more viewers each week since the games ended, and every Saturday night, in the NRL and AFL seasons, it quite often has more viewers for its 200-plus channels than most of the other networks do. Sometimes it has more viewers than all the networks. But no one channel has more viewers than the networks and their main channels which still provide the biggest TV audiences in the country. And in the summer non-ratings period, Foxtel regularly wins nights and the audiences of the FTA networks.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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