Published for 51 years, TV Week is an absolute survivor in both the television and magazine industry. And like all survivors it has had to embrace change in order to remain the market leader. While other TV mags have fallen by the wayside, TV Week under the Australian Consolidated Press empire, is still a force to be reckoned with.
In Australian television stars had always known they’d made it when they landed their first TV Week cover. It’s the Rolling Stone of Aussie telly. But what does it take to get a cover these days? A fan following? A good publicist? There are a few more other checkboxes to tick too.
If current covers are anything to go by, very possibly it helps if you’re a character in a soap. Preferably a ‘stripped’ soap. And preferably an established soap.
Between May and November 2008, Home and Away has dominated the covers of TV Week. It ticks all the boxes of what sells at the checkout: youth, known faces, emotionally-driven storylines, no chance of being axed after going to print. In the past 30 editions the Seven soap has won 17 dedicated covers with its Summer Bay cast. Neighbours has 4, with one joint ‘pre-Logies‘ cover.
Rounding out the tally were 3 All Saints covers, plus one each for City Homicide, Packed to the Rafters, Farmer Wants a Wife and Grey’s Anatomy (the sole international title). There was also one Logies cover special.
In terms of network representation that accounts to 23 covers for Seven, 4 for TEN (1 shared) and 1 for Nine. It was 0 for public broadcasters or subscription TV.
Aside from the Logie special, Farmer Wants a Wife was the only ‘non-drama’ title.
Meanwhile, new dramas like Rush or The Strip are yet to win a dedicated cover. While programmes including Top Gear Australia, Bogan Pride, The Bill, Blue Water High and Satisfaction receive feature stories within the mag, they don’t appear to be cover-worthy.
TV Tonight spoke to a number of industry sources about the prestige of landing a TV Week cover, along with what it takes to achieve one. All were agreed that its cover is still a prized target. There was also consensus that, despite its preferences for soap covers, editorial content within the magazine still gave good coverage of networks and genres.
Opinions agreed that its covers are skewed towards storylines. Who’s marrying, dating, dying, or leaving a soap? Some lamented that they didn’t have enough ‘strip soaps’ with a high familiarity factor. New dramas were seen to be less likely to win a cover until they had rated and won audience approval, despite the fact they may launch with recognised actors. It was agreed that while historically the magazine had celebrated network personalities on its covers, these days the focus is upon character rather than actor.
Cover headlines tease with lines like ‘Carmella’s Sad Final Moments’, ‘Jack’s Heartache’, ‘Martha Leaves the Bay’, ‘Will Melissa Survive?’ ‘Declan Cheats on Pregnant Bridget.’ They lean universally towards character and storylines over actors. Even a teaser for ‘Free Geoff & Nicole poster’ doesn’t mention actors Lincoln Lewis or Tessa James. Similarly, character headlines accompany stories throughout the mag.
To its credit, TV Week could never be accused of favouritism. As an ACP magazine, it falls under PBL Media, which owns Channel Nine. Yet Nine had just one dedicated cover in the last thirty issues. Seven’s big local drama slate fits perfectly with the magazine. It has four profile, performing dramas that meet ‘cover criteria’for its target audience, said to be young female readers and grocery-buyers.
No doubt Nine will be hoping the return of McLeod’s Daughters will win it more summer covers, particularly as Home & Away ends on air today. The 2009 return of Sea Patrol and Underbelly will also become a ‘win / win’ -both have enjoyed previous covers.
TV Week’s September circulation was around 235,000, down some 5% on 247,000 for the same quarter in 2007. But in December it will see a renewed push from TV Hits magazine, part of the Pacific Magazine brand, which is affiliated with the Seven Network. As a twice-monthly magazine, TV Hits has been publishing for 20 years and is about to give its Jan / Feb edition a major design revamp.
No doubt it too will be hoping to match the longevity of its major rival.
Cue the soapy headline “TV mags. It’s war!”
Comment was sought by TV Week for this story.