SEVEN WEST MEDIA Kerry Stokes annual general meeting
Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes (Image: AAP/David Moir).

Surely Kerry Stokes was having a lend of everyone when he joyously greeted the news that the first leaders’ debate in this election in Perth would be broadcast exclusively on the Seven network at 7pm tonight. Seven put out a statement on Saturday saying:

Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes described the historic event as a ‘wonderful coup for WA … At last Perth and WA are being treated with respect from our leaders.

Well, Seven isn’t treating viewers with the same “respect” when it comes to the timing of the broadcast in eastern states.

The debate will take place in Perth and will be broadcast in WA live from 5pm on the Seven Network’s main channel (which is an hour before the start of prime time for TV ratings and ad dollars at 6pm). In eastern states, however, (where most of the voters are) it will be broadcast on 7TWO (one of Seven’s much less popular digital channels) from 7pm, which is in the heart of prime time.

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There is a grubby reason for the way Seven has programmed it: ratings and TV ad revenues for an under-pressure Seven West Media, which is 41% owned by Kerry Stokes through his main company, Seven Group Holdings.

On the main channel, Seven will be showing Home and Away at 7pm in the east and will then go to the first half hour of its reality program House Rules. These are big ratings and revenue generating programs for Seven. Instead of disrupting this programming, airing the debate on 7TWO will protect much needed TV ratings (and money) on Seven’s main channel as that is where most of the ad dollars are spent.

Seven is behind Nine in a tough 2019 ratings race and needs to make up ground. Screening the leaders’ debate on the main channel would see viewers flee to Nine’s A Current Affair or to the 7pm portion of The Project on Ten.

Seven says it will show a commercial-free “encore” (that’s a repeat) of the debate from 9.30pm on Seven’s main channel when it will be flattened by Media Watch and Q&A on the ABC, which dominate TV at that time. The reason it will be commercial-free is because ad rates at that time of night are much lower than at 7pm, so the impact on Seven’s finances will be small.

And there is an extra reason to be sceptical about Mr Stokes’ boasting — in the week before Easter, over 30 journalists on his West Australian Newspapers publications in Perth took voluntary redundancies. That was the centrepiece for what Seven called a $10 million “cost out”.

So it seems costs and revenue matter more to the Seven boss and partial owner than putting the debate on Seven’s main channel in prime time and continuing high-quality journalism in a city where he and Seven dominate the media.