New ground rules as digital takes hold

Free to Air networks are still coming to terms with changes in the 2010 television year: timeshifting data, multichannels, diminishing audiences and disruption from the Olympics.

Amid concerns that their primary channels are being cannibalised by digital channels, some networks and media buyers are delaying judgment until after Easter.

But the signs indicate that total viewer numbers are down and one look at ratings averages is a swift reminder that we all face new yardsticks.

The chief strategy officer with Mediacom, Mat Baxter, has told the Sydney Morning Herald, “You can look at the hero assets of those networks and draw some conclusions … that the jewel in everybody’s crown is no longer as shiny.

”The question is will the sparkle reappear in the [viewing of multichannels] to the degree that is necessary for them to protect their total audience and therefore their revenues. I would say probably not but … I am more than happy to modify my view as more data comes through.”

James Warburton from Seven Media Group acknowledged ”an element of cannibalisation within our core station” but said total audience across his two channels was up.

The variables on why numbers are down are also impacted by Daylight Saving which ends on April 4th, a week before Ratings resume after the Easter break.

Only a few months ago some execs were floating the idea of raising their advertising fees to reflect the extra eyeballs unveiled by timeshifting data. Now they want industry to hold off judgement.

Meanwhile the other hand is taking some of that $250m license rebate.



  1. I agree with you pietro, the reason numbers are down is because television is filled with crap these days, on any given night we are bombarded with all these reality shows and no really good shows are ever made. When the networks start being innovative and start making some good shows for a change that’s when the numbers will go up.

  2. Robert Williams

    Don’t forget stations keep shifting their program line-up at a moments notice. How is the audience expected to keep up. EPG’s, newspapers, online web sites can’t even keep up, how are we.
    Then there is the issue of shows running late.
    Good example was V in Sydney last Sunday. 60 minutes went for 70 minutes and then V started well past it’s published start time. I believe the original argument why shows started latter than schedule was to keep viewers tied to the channel and not drift off- but these days everyone is doing it and no-one gains any benefits, it just shows that TV executives do what they want without thinking what imnpact it will have on the viewers.

  3. IMO FTA for the most part is better than it’s ever been with more channels and choice but they still haven’t learned with 7 & 9 removing shows at the last minute on their 2nd channels, this is why people have turned to the Internet, legal or otherwise.

    Also with DVR’s and the like people now more so can watch what they want when they want, so shows might have the same number of viewers but they may not get to their programs until days or weeks later. Also some are deliberately waiting knowing there is a good chance they can catch it later on PayTV or DVD.

    The networks have started to adapt with online services but until they are widely accessible they are only going to play a bit part in peoples viewing habits.

  4. What Tim and Russel say is correct.

    To elaborate on Russell’s point, the commercial networks should really be embracing the multi-channelling, as it’s akin to taking all your eggs out of the one basket. If one channel fails now, it doesn’t mean the network automatically follows it down, not entirely anyway.

    To add to Tim’s last point, it’s not just the maturing of internet TV, though that’s certainly going to be a big blow, it’s also the many alternate forms of entertainment becoming more readily available. I’ve lost count of how many friends have broken their TV viewing habits, they now get their evening entertainment from Youtube, video blogs, online performances of any kind, or chat rooms (webcam chatting is the new black) and user forums. It’s much like newspapers, I haven’t read one of those in years, the information is more accurate, more detailed, more readily available and arrives faster from a variety of internet sources.

  5. Of course the new digital networks are stealing eyeballs from the legacy networks. It can’t be denied. When new networks are launched (ABC2, ABC3, Go!, 7TWO and SBSTWO) viewers don’t watch more TV but different TV. At any given time there are now 11 viewing options instead of 5. So yes, the audiences for the legacy networks are going to shrink, and continue doing so.

    While this might be scary in the short term, in the long term I believe it well help Seven, Nine and Ten. Having two or three successful and profitable networks is better than one. Especially if each network targets a certain demo and is successful in that demo. Yes, the overheads of running two networks is more expensive, but the extra advertising revenue in time can outweigh that negative.

    It’s not only the new digital networks. Also consider another new network: The DVR. At any given time 30% of Australian homes now have a stack of their fave shows in their DVR to watch. So Top Gear’s competition is not only My Kitchen Rules and Bondi Rescue, but also last night’s Desperate Housewives, GNW and Sunday’s Underbelly. Not to mention countless others.

    Add to that the 100+ cable channels now avail. Online viewing catchups suck as ABC’s iview, Foxtel Download, 7Plus and Also the iTunes store. People are watching TV more than ever – they are just watching it differently.

    Are the networks really shocked at this?

    The new digital networks can’t solely be blamed for the drop in viewers – there are many many considerations.

  6. Total viewers are probably down because
    a) Ratings system is flawed
    b) People are sick of being treated with contempt by the networks (shows being edited for content usually to fit more ads in)
    c) The coming of age of internet based TV watching.

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