This week and next are what is called in TV a non-survey ratings period. It’s when the networks supposedly shut up shop because of Easter, the school holidays, and (sometimes) Anzac Day. In the annual ratings battle, this period of time usually doesn’t matter and networks normally “rest” their key programs.
The pre-streaming video thinking behind this is that audience levels will be lower because of the break and holidays and ad rates will be lower — but costs will remain the same. As a result, the commercial free-to-air TV networks don’t screen their best content and instead hold on to them until official ratings resume. The ABC and SBS compete, arguably unfairly, with the commercial networks by screening interesting programs — one such example is the ABC screening an episode of British drama series Vera last night, pulling in more than 1 million viewers.
This year Seven isn’t holding off its key programs during this period. The network is keeping My Kitchen Rules in the schedule — and airing it on Easter Sunday night — because it is desperate to build up audience numbers after the show was badly mauled by Married At First Sight and lost 300,000 or more a night.
Nine, however, will be running dead for these two non-weeks and will resume the battle after the break. Ten is ending Dancing with the Stars over the break and keeping Bachelor in Paradise and Gogglebox Australia in the schedule.
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This is short-sighted thinking when Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now (which will be armed with much-anticipated final season of Game of Thrones from today) are just waiting for jaded or bored or angry viewers to log on and look for something to watch. Many are already drifting away from free-to-air TV or become occasional viewers. Shutting down some of the most popular shows can only serve to compound this.
The rationale behind decisions in commercial television is often hard to understand — but when the idea of a non-ratings survey persists at a time of intense competition from streamers and social media platforms, you have to wonder if the networks’ management teams are in touch with the real world and deserve to survive.