Coverage of the Jessica Watson Homecoming was “owned” by Channel Nine, according to its News boss, even at the expense of the rights-holder TEN / ONE.
All three commercial networks were covering the event, but only TEN / ONE had blanket exclusivity access on Watson, whose journey it had sponsored from the beginning.
That got TEN / ONE scoop pictures and interviews, which were rebroadcast by other networks, complete with the ONE branding across the screens. In the old days, such tolerance of a rival network would arguably never have been allowed.
A buoyant Mark Calvert, Nine’s Director of News and Current Affairs told staff on Sunday that they had delivered, in an internal memo leaked to TV Tonight.
“Well done on a superb performance on the homecoming of Jessica Watson,” he wrote.
“The output right across Saturday was by far the best of any of the networks. We saw that – and the viewers agreed.
“In the final quarter-hour of the live homecoming show, our audience averaged around 750,000 – a massive switch-on for a Saturday afternoon – and way ahead of anything Seven or Ten could manage.
“The live coverage, EP’d by Rob Hurst, led on-air by Karl and Lisa, and with support from across News, Today Show and ACA, was a master-class in how to run a TV marathon. The team sustained interest, humour and energy across four and a half huge hours.
“The dedication and ingenuity of everybody who worked behind the scenes, on location, on land, on water and in the air – and the warmth and sheer stamina of our hosts and reporters – made the late-scrambling Seven look average. Rights-holders Ten/OneHD didn’t know what to do with what they had. (Rob did!) And our so-called ‘national broadcaster’ wasn’t even in the game, the ABC choosing instead to show a repeat of Australian Story – while Nine was bringing the ultimate Australian story to the nation, live, as it happened.
“All in all, we absolutely owned a massive news event we didn’t, officially, own!”
Ratings numbers were all over the shop after Watson’s arrival was delayed and TEN and Seven switched to digital channels.
According to OzTAM in Overnight figures Seven pulled 452,000 for its news special, Nine pulled 429,000 and TEN had 229,000. It had a further 144,000 on ONE’s extended broadcast. But results for children’s TV shows which didn’t air were actually part of the Watson broadcast.
Nine claims that from 11-3:30pm the numbers were as follows:
Of course, it isn’t a fair breakdown given TEN switched to AFL at 2:08pm and Seven to V8 Supercars at 2:30pm with Watson coverage continuing on digital channels, while Nine did stay the course. In any case the combined TEN / ONE total is 510,000, undermining Nine’s own claims.
One source suggested to TV Tonight that Watson had even been asked to “kill time” off the NSW coast in order for her arrival to dovetail into the 2pm AFL match.
60 Minutes had also stitched up a second Watson interview as part of its first deal with Charles Woolley prior to her departure.