The ratings spin: what they didn’t tell you

2013-12-02_2232Every year the big three commercial networks put their spin on their annual ratings results, and ever year there’s a bit of an art to it.

Official press releases always manage to find things to boast about. Most of it is true, if sometimes selective. Some of it is creative exaggeration. And then there’s the stuff they’ve left out.

You also have to read the fine print at the very bottom of these.

I always look for a level playing field that sticks to the industry standard: Total People / 6pm – midnight / Weeks 7-48 Consolidated excluding Easter. As of December 3 we still don’t have the full Consolidated numbers for last week, but in truth it won’t change the shares.

But the above is not the only standard.

In recent years Demos have also emerged as a standard, although it’s of more interest to advertisers than it is to public and media. Primetime 6-10:30 has also long been used by TEN as a standard zone.

However this year has seen some new shifting of goalposts, in an endeavour to put results into the best possible light.

TEN trumpeted Offspring, Wonderland “a hit with TEN’s target market of people 25 to 54,” MasterChef Australia, The Biggest Loser, Under The Dome, Elementary and TEN Eyewitness News. The Bachelor Australia was “a television and online sensation,” generating more than 8.3 million video views tenplay. No clarity whether every segment & pre-roll ad is counted as 1 play.

TEN also described Modern Family, NCIS: Los Angeles, Law & Order: SVU and The Good Wife as producing “solid results.” I really like The Good Wife but I wouldn’t call its performance this year solid.

But I do question TEN’s claims of growth in 25-54s. Looking at TEN’s own standard of 6-10:30 for commercial networks only, this has dropped from 27.7% in 2012 to 25.1% in 2013.

If we broaden it to the industry standard of 6pm-midnight across 5 networks it was 22.9% to 20.4%.

TEN’s note about growing in the demo breaks down as 2% growth in 25-54s in from late July after it reset its target demo, between 6-10:30pm.

But TEN is not alone in moving goalposts.

Seven’s CEO Tim Worner said “This time of the year we always hear how this network is leading in that and this other network is leading in this. No asterisks on our performance.”

So it’s a little unfortunate that Seven’s own release has an asterisk that indicates its Year on Year share comparisons are drawn from the formula “Wk 7-48*(Sun-Thu) 2013 v 2012.”

Firstly it includes Easter non-ratings, which is not industry standard. Secondly, there are two other days of the week that have not been factored in. Seven did not clarify why it has used this methodology given neither it, nor anybody else, has ever done so in the past. It’s won the year in Total People so it’s disappointing it has resorted to this.

Seven also claimed record shares in Demos, but it has dropped by 0.1% in 16-39 based on 6-midnight, 7 days, Weeks 7-48 excluding Easter.

This year Seven also had to drop its annual line about winning News and Current Affairs, a claim Nine gladly added to its press release.

Overall, Nine’s release was closest to the money, in my view.

Although as well as giving national data, Nine added in East Coast wins: “….the Nine Network will wrap up the year as the most watched network with Total People along the combined East Coast capitals of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” and “Today ends 2013 as the most watched breakfast program along the East Coast of Australia.” Now that it owns Adelaide and Perth stations, hopefully that’s the last we hear of that.

But at least Nine did stick to the industry standard for its national data.

ABC’s official release ignored the OzTAM survey weeks and reported on Weeks 1-46. Of course ABC isn’t ratings driven so it can ignore them as it pleases. ABC also noted it came second in Perth, ahead of Nine in Total People.

SBS are yet to supply any ratings release.


  1. Last year Channel TEN has been beaten by ABC many times. But this year, ABC has beaten TEN. I am pretty sure that Channel TEN has had low ratings in many shows.

  2. Ten dumped S5 of The Good Wife before it even aired so that you wouldn’t see its ratings drop to below 300k!

    The official figures are just the way that the Networks have agreed Oztam will publish the data (and will go after anyone publishing different figures).

    Networks and media buyers get the raw data and carve it up in lots of different ways. Prime advertising rates are Sun to Thurs, so it makes sense in that context.

    They can do whatever they want. But why would you uncritically look at any press release. The information is being released in a way that makes them look good.

  3. jezza the first original one

    Who are ch10 trying to spin to? I mean most advertisers with a functioning brain cell will know they are doing badly and will only risk a limited amount of their budget on ch10. Viewers are disillusioned and do not watch as much and folk on here know they are in a bad place. So who are they trying to kid? Themselves?

    Come out of denial ch10, then, and only then, you may fix the problem

  4. They all seem to rat on about how good they did but reading the whole release from TEN was laughable. At least Nine and Seven gave us decent amount of information. Ten skimmed over a lot of facts and lying about growth. That can’t be acceptable imo when year to year they are down across the board. Overall it was a great year for Seven, Nine and the ABC but a horrible year for TEN.

  5. What stupid spin from TEN, viewers are not idiots, first step is to be honest with your audience and gain their trust. Although I am a regular Seven viewer, they have become really arrogant. The fact is they now only win because of viewers over 65 years old, Nine has won all viewers under 65 years old. Next year will be very interesting.

  6. cynical old codger

    Forget all these B….S interpretations, the only revealing thing with the releasing of such statistics with so much spin embedded, proves to me that these networks do indeed employ some very expert statistical and articulate people.
    Isn’t it a shame these same networks do not utilise these skilled people to improve the viewing pleasure of viewers by statistically organising their EPG’s, on screen promo’s and sticking with pre-promoted scheduling by running entire series as such, and especially having the decency to include in their EPG’s if a programme is a ‘Repeat’ and from what ‘Series’ (hint hint Ten).

    How ironic is that it seems sometimes the networks use these experts skills for the exact opposite purposes that frustrates viewers, and even as further irony they have to then use these experts to fluff ratings figures, perhaps ‘ EPG/Consistency Spin’ should become a…

  7. Would Network TEN’s viewer please note a change of venue for the annual Christmas party – it will now be held in the third public phone booth from the left at Central Station instead of the second.

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