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We sure miss those Friends

Media commentators (including yours truly) are often observing how television audiences have drifted.

We just don’t flock to the screen the way we used to in years gone by. There are now so many competing interests: Pay-TV, DVD, internet, (illegal) downloads and gaming. Plus there is widespread cynicism at both the offerings and the programming habits of our major networks.

But I was reminded just how dramatically audiences have fallen when I stumbled across some old newspaper clippings this week that detailed the weekly Top 20 shows in Melbourne in June 1999.

Only eight years ago top rating shows like Friends soared with huge audiences of 945,000. Yes that’s 945,000 for one show, one night in one city. That’s the sort of figure you’d get for a major sporting event these days. In fact the ARIAs got about that audience this week -nationally.

Just compare these two lists of audiences and you’ll see what I mean:

Melbourne May 30 – June 5 1999
1. Friends Nine 945,000
2. Jesse Nine 792,000
3. Blue Heelers Seven 702,000
4. News Nine 635,000
5. ER Nine 580,000
6. A Current Affair Nine 569,000
7. News (Sun) Nine 566,000
8. Better Homes and Gardens Seven 556,000
9. News (Sat) Nine 552,000
10. Cricket (Aus vs WI) Nine 540,000
11. News (Sat) Seven 531,000
12. Home Improvement Seven 530,000
13. Good Medicine Nine 528,000
14. Our House Nine 526,000
15. Water Rats Nine 519,000
16. Ally McBeal Seven 504,000
17. Dharma and Greg Seven 493,000
18. Funniest Home Videos Nine 490,000
19. The Footy Show Nine 487,000
20. 3rd Rock from the Sun Seven 484,000

Melbourne Oct 21 – 27 2007
1. Border Security Seven 552,000
2. Spicks And Specks ABC 515,000
3. The Chaser’s War On Everything ABC 513,000
4. Summer Heights High ABC 501,000
5. The Force Seven 496,000
6. City Homicide Seven 495,000
7. Dancing With The Stars Seven 486,000
8. The Simpsons TEN 471,000
9. The Simpsons TEN 461,000
10. 60 Minutes Nine 459,000
11. Kath & Kim Seven 451,000
12. National Bingo Night Seven 446,000
12. So You Think You Can Dance TEN 446,000
14. House TEN 440,000
15. News (Sun) Nine 430,000
16. All Saints Seven 429,000
17. Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? TEN 424,000
18. Australian Idol TEN 420,000
19. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Nine 407,000
20. News ABC 396,000
20. Missing Persons Unit Nine 396,000

As you can see the #1 show in Melbourne last week (Border Security 552,000) only equaled the #9 show in June 1999 (Nine News). That’s some drop off!

The two lists also illustrate some other interesting trends:

  • ABC and TEN have improved considerably. From 0 entries in 1999 to 5 entries for TEN and 4 for the ABC in 2007.
  • Three of the entries in the 2007 list are repeats (Simpsons / Kath & Kim).
  • A drama now considered a hit (City Homicide 419,000) would barely make the top 20 in 1999.
  • Australian content rules in 2007 (17 entries over 13 in 1999).
  • Comedy remains as popular than ever (7 entries in both lists). Despite some failed sketch shows this year networks should keep investing in comedy production if they want a breakout hit.
  • News and current affairs have suffered a huge loss of faith, with a shift to observational series.
  • Scripted drama / comedy drops from 9 in 1999 to 7 in 2007 (although gag writers for ABC shows level pegs the lists).
  • We love to sing and dance in 2007. Three entries in 2007 plus one music trivia show, none in 1999.

While it should be pointed out the ratings system changed with the introduction of OzTam in 2001 there is no denying, we need a lot more convincing before sitting down at the box these days.

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17 Responses

  1. If channel 10 definitely shows Friends, then I recommend them putting it on at 7pm. I like many people watch the news and current affairs but too old to watch H&A and too young to be a game show fanatic – I would prefer to watch a comedy at that time.
    Loved it when either ch9 or 10 would put Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier and The King of Queens at the 7pm timeslot.
    I also miss back in the 90’s when shows like Perfect Strangers used to be on ch7 at 7pm.

    Can i also point out, even if this isnt quite relevant in this topic, that i would love to have a 8 week break of H&A and neighbours over the summer – Ch7 and 10 rush these back on during the non-rating season instead of giving it a good hiatus like other programs. I want to see something different over the summer.

  2. Sure.

    May 27 – June 2 2007 Melbourne

    1 Grey’s Anatomy Seven 515,000
    1 It Takes Two Seven 515,000
    3 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Nine 486,000
    4 All Saints Seven 477,000
    5 60 Minutes Nine 463,000
    5 Desperate Housewives Seven 463,000
    7 Seven News – Sun Seven 446,000
    8 CSI: Miami Nine 435,000
    9 Seven’s AFL: Rnd 10: Collingwood V Fremantle 433,000
    10 Spicks And Specks ABC 431,000
    11 House Ten 428,000
    12 The Simpsons Ten 426,000
    13 My Name Is Earl Seven 424,000
    14 A Current Affair Nine 415,000
    14 Where Are They Now Seven Seven 415,000
    16 NCIS Ten 414,000
    17 What’s Good For You Nine 412,000
    18 The Chaser’s War On Everything ABC 410,000
    19 National Nine News Sunday Nine 404,000
    19 Police Files – Unlocked Seven 404,000

    Even accounting for winter weather in May vs October, there’s no change.

  3. Might be a bit better if you compared your May 1999 figures with those of a similar week this year, rather than October.

    I’m sure your point will still stand, just better to compare apples with apples.

  4. i’m stunned Nine has let Friends go given the ratings success it had – i would have thought Friends could have easily slotted into Nine’s 5-6pm hour especially given some of the other stuff they’ve tried in that slot. Then again Nine have made some baffling programming choices of late. Be interesting if Ten does take it up and put it on at 6 or 7pm.

  5. If Channel 9 want a good lead in, into the news, why don’t they put that on at 5:30. Surely some of those almost 1 million would return. It would definitely rate better than antiques roadshow and bargain hunters.

  6. The thing I notice from the 2007 top 20 is Australia has a Cronulla incident every week Border Security gets into that list. That has to be one of THE most racist television shows in living memory! Today Tonight would be proud…

  7. What i’m wondering is if the ratings system we use really takes downloading into account?

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but ratings are calculated by Oztam (and Nielsen in the US) sampling a small number of homes and enlarging that figure to get the overall number.

    Now i realise they sample from a wide array of homes, but are these people actually going to download shows instead of watching them when they know their viewing habits are being recorded?

    Just a thought.

  8. I don’t agree at all we were easier to please in 97. It’s not 67 we’re talking about here. It’s only ten years ago. A show like Frontline aired from 94-97 and that was smarter than current ABC comedies.

    There are also several entries on the 2007 sample list that I would argue are rubbish or aimed at a dumbed-down audience.

    No, we watched more telly back then because of a variety of reasons. Now we have more entertainment choices how to spend our time.

  9. I think it’s more that people were easier to please back then. Now we are quite more critical of programs and expect better product, much more than the crap the networks dish out.

    Comedy Inc or The Wedge? You can’t be serious. And they have the nerve to complain that no one watches Aussie shows anymore.

    There’s a reason.

  10. Really David, is TEN going to get Friends? That would mean it has aired on all 3 major networks. Remember it’s first season premiered on Seven in 1996…

    Nine actually streched the final season of Friends ( 18 eps, instead of the usual 24 )from Februray to November in 2004. That’s 10 painful months! They did a similar thing with Sex & the City that year, although SATC’s season was longer than usual, so it wasn’t as bad as what they did with Friends. It was that act by Nine in 2004 plus the fact they skipped 4 years on their daytime soaps in the same year, that started my lack of respect and interst in the network. Plus the fact that Seven in 1995 got all the good shows. I miss Friends and SATC, but Houswives and Lost made up for it when they premiered here in 2005. But I hope the reruns do well on TEN, if one show deserves to be rerun, it Friends.

  11. We are more spoilt for choice now obviously. But the networks don’t do them sleves any favours. Back in 1999, most shows started at their scheduled times, not 10 or even 15 minutes later. This now happens every night. It’s their own aggressive programming strategies that are doing themselves in. They treat viewers like morons, who don’t have anything better to do than sit through overlong episodes of Aus Idol and DWTS. They treat us with contempt, becuase they don’t care that we might be missing the start of one show becuause the earlier show on another channel has finished late.We do have lives and we also may need to get to sleep at a reasonable time. It’s no wonder that people are turning to other means of viewing.

  12. Downloading copyright content is illegal regardless of whether it has aired.

    Also the point was about the trend of illegal downloads rather than Friends itself.

    On another point even accounting for the phenomenon that was Friends, the downward trend is more than obvious across the board.

    I believe TEN is looking at repeating it. 6 or 7pm weeknights anyone?

  13. I don’t think any show since 2004 has quite captured audiences like “Friends” did. There have been some spectacular starts/seasons, but “Friends” rated consistently well for eight years and only floundered a little in its final season, when Nine (in its wisdom!) stretched a six-month season out over eight months, having a new episode, followed by a couple of weeks of repeats, then another couple of new episodes, then repeats, then an unadvertised new episode etc. etc., so that audiences never knew when a new episode was going to be show. Ratings suffered as a result. Still, it always rated well. I miss “Friends”!!!

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