If fewer people watch TV this year, you can blame not only the attractions of Netflix and Stan but what the usual networks gave us as viewing fare over the summer non-ratings periods. Once again we have been given a third rate collection of repeats and weak shows on top of the cheap sport the commercial networks resort to over summer to cut costs.

So that’s why TV viewing next week (starting Monday January 29) will be the best week of the season– and it is no coincidence it will be the last of the summer period, and the first of the 2018 ratings battle kicking off between Seven, Ten, Nine (with coy competition from the ABC and SBS, and of course the great pretenders, Foxtel/Fox Sports).

But why the concentration on the new ratings year and not summer? Why can’t they give us the same fare all year round? The simple answer is that it would be too expensive to begin with, even if there was enough content to fill 52 weeks of the year with new programming. So to lower costs and preserve content for the rest of the year the networks have slowly expanded summer TV to run from the start of December to the end of January.

Those two months of summer TV are a balance of costs. The networks want to keep them as low as possible, especially with ad revenues still floating downwards. Just as the networks have been giving us more and more reality style programs for their cost/revenue effectiveness, so to do they like to give us long hours of sport in summer. The format and sports rights might be expensive, but that cost can be offset over hours and hours of broadcast when the networks don’t have to spend money on making or buying other programming. It’s why cricket coverage starts an hour before actual play, for example. It’s cost cutting and containment.

But in reality the networks hand us, every summer, an easy excuse not to watch them, especially if sport is not your thing. So streaming video services such as Netflix and Stan flourish, as does the fastest growing of all, Telstra TV. And what do the TV networks do after helping us move to the competition? Why they whine constantly about unfair playing fields and call for weaker regulation, cost cuts, getting rid of children’s TV, freeing up ad rules around gambling services, and no doubt they will soon be wanting to show more grog ads, And we can include Foxtel, with its failed Presto streaming venture with Seven West Media, to that collection of whiners who help us choose not to watch their offerings every summer then moan about the outcome.

Just image our collective fates if streaming video hadn’t been invented?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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