Battle of the titans. A $40 million-plus battle royal erupts on national TV at 7.30pm next Tuesday — one that could determine the future financial position and ownership of the struggling Ten Network, raise questions about Nine’s creative and programming skills, and inject doubts into the Seven network’s ability to maintain its high share of the weak $3.9 billion (and static) national free-to-air TV ad market.

There will be three high-profile reality programs starting that night: the 2015 season of Seven’s House Rules; the emerging giant of the renovation scene, Nine’s Renovation Rumble; and Ten’s ageing but still solid MasterChef Australia.

Its high-stakes stuff for all three, but none more so than Ten. MasterChef (MCA) perked up last year and helped lead the network out of its ratings-collapse nadir in the first few months of 2014. The question is whether My Kitchen Rules’ success on Seven has poisoned the well of viewers.

If MasterChef can’t build on its recovery last year, it threatens Ten’s future. The network needs the ratings success and revenue from MCA to survive. A weak showing by MCA next week could inhibit Ten’s chances of raising money from Foxtel and shareholders.

Meanwhile, Nine was so concerned about the damage House Rules could do to its mid-year ratings that it commissioned a spoiler program and is going head to head with Seven, making this obvious by using past winners of House Rules as contestants.

For Seven, the danger is that Renovation Rumble will undermine House Rules just as Seven is looking for it to build on last year’s excellent figures. — Glenn Dyer

A tale of two headlines. Yesterday’s release of Ten Network Holdings’ half-yearly results made dismal reading for investors. The company posted a $264 million net loss for the six months. Revenue is down. Earnings are down. The company is operating within a $200 million loan guaranteed by its three principal owners, including that wunderkind of the media world, Lachlan Murdoch.

Not surprisingly, today’s Sydney Morning Herald headlined its coverage: “Ten could run out of money”. But what headline did the subs at The Australian conjure up for their story on the same woeful numbers? “Ten back in picture with ratings boost”.

Marvellous what a difference it makes when daddy owns the paper. — David Salter

Revenge gone cold. It’s official. Like their Australian counterparts, American TV  viewers have had their revenge on Revenge — it is over. ABC Network announced that the four-season soapie would end on May 10 in an episode called “Two Graves”.

Speculation had been growing in the US as audience figures slid and key characters died. A big tip-off was the decision to eliminate one of its two leading ladies, Madeleine Stowe.

Further fuelling rumours was a recent ABC promo, which asked viewers to “be there for the final four episodes”, according to a recent report on deadline.com. Here, the Seven Network will have to find something else to hold up the back end of Monday nights. — Glenn Dyer

Ten teeters on knife’s edge.  As Ten’s interim profit report explained yesterday, the network is the one with the most on the line next Tuesday night. According to the board and the company’s auditor, Ten’s financial position is precarious.

Ten’s board warned that it is nearing the limits of its $200 million loan (from the Commonwealth Bank) and will need to recapitalise if its share of television advertising revenue weakens in a volatile market. Ten’s $264 million loss for the six months ended February 28 was much worse than expected after it wrote down the value of its television licences by another $251 million. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation and revenue were both lower than a year ago.

Ten said in its statement to the ASX that it could be forced to take emergency measures in the next year. That statement was designed to protect the board legally by giving an assurance about the company’s financial position to the best of their knowledge in the event the Network’s financial woes deepen and it’s forced into the hands of administrators or receivers.

The Commonwealth Bank, with its four-year $200 million loan (guaranteed by James Packer, Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon) is the creditor most interested in that statement.

While the directors remain confident that they can raise more capital, there is no certainty as highlighted by the drawn-out talks with Foxtel over a placement at 18 cents a share. Ten reckons it could raise $100 million from shareholders on top of the $85 million from Foxtel. But there is no sign of investors, especially the big ones — Packer, Murdoch and Rinehart — supporting that idea. Gordon can’’t because of the current media law restrictions on ownership.

So if MasterChef stumbles, or has weak ratings, and those continue through May and into June, then the network’s future will face rising questions. Watch for any move from the CBA. — Glenn Dyer

Video of the day. SBS’ The Feed addresses the recent controversies at, well, SBS …

Front page of the day. The Baltimore Orioles play in an empty stadium as a result of police directions stemming from the riots in the city. It’s the first time a Major League baseball game has been played without a crowd.

Peter Fray

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