Bluey (Image: Supplied)

The end-of-year ratings are in, and as usual all the major TV networks have claimed victory of some sort or another.

Nine declared itself the winner for the second year in a row. Seven insisted it won the back half of the year (omitting its big loss in the front half). Ten pointed out share gains, but forgot to mention that the under-resourced ABC beat it to third place.

But when it comes to the key question — did they attract more or fewer viewers in 2020 compared to 2019? — both Nine and Seven flopped. Viewers increasingly looked elsewhere, be it at the ABC, Ten and SBS, pay TV, or streaming.

In terms of share gains, the ABC did best of all. The national broadcaster gained 1.2 percentage points to 18.4%, while Ten rose from 16.5% to 17.2% and SBS from 7.9% to 8.8%. Ten was in fact the best performer of the three commercial networks in terms of share gains.

The share losses should really worry Nine and Seven because they reflect a loss of viewers in prime time. Nine’s fell 1.7 percentage points to 27.7%, while Seven dropped to 27.2% versus 29.0% last year.

Here are the prime time total people shares for 2020 and 2019. These figures include the main or primary channels and the various digital channels:

Source: Network data, Oztam

So why did Seven and Nine lose share this year? Too many reality programs that either looked like clones of what the others had on offer, or were simply big duds (especially at Seven, where My Kitchen Rules and House Rules were multi-million-dollar failures and won’t be back; Nine was at least held up by Married at First Sight and Australian Ninja Warrior).

Both networks started 2020 with the aim of programming strongly for Sunday through Tuesday nights, then depending on the AFL (Seven) and NRL (Nine) to get them home on Thursday, Friday and/or Saturday. Of course COVID-19 ruined that approach by forcing delays to the football seasons, while the NRL under-performed all year. The AFL was much stronger once it started for the second time, and its solid support meant the audience would rose on 2019.

2021 will see Nine and Seven offering more of the same — strong programming early in the week, then sport and dross to fill out Thursday through Saturday. But it will be up to the ABC, Ten and SBS to provide the interesting new and old programs in comedy, lifestyle, arts, doco and drama, areas that Nine and Seven now eschew.

For mine, the winning programs of 2020 were (in no order): Bluey, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, Four Corners and the various Rick Stein food travel shows on SBS Food (in a year when you couldn’t travel, visiting parts of Europe with Rick was a substitute).

I also spoke to Insiders most Sunday mornings, had Vera ruined by Mad As Hell’s take-off, and Dan Andrews’ daily COVID-19 briefings were background music. Back Roads was good again as were the 60 Minutes reports involving Nick McKenzie and others from Fairfax. The Front Bar, Have You Been Paying Attention, Hard Quiz, Operation Buffalo and Mystery Road were among the other standouts.

Peter Fray

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