Does Free to Air TV love movies all over again?

Crocodile Dundee, Titanic, Pretty Woman ...just another word for schedule filler?


Back in 2004 Network TEN took a bold move in dumping the traditional Sunday Night Movie.

It was the first to proudly break away from years of scheduling movie favourites, which it did with NCIS (yes, back then it was a Sunday night show) and Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The move paid off and Seven and Nine later followed suit. CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, City Homicide, Underbelly, Terra Nova… just some of the titles that would eventually dot the schedules.

In recent years movies have been low priorities in primetime schedules with viewers turning to DVDs and Pay TV premieres. Many have been relegated to Friday and Saturday nights.

Last year an abundance of films hit our screens through streaming services, Netflix, Stan and Presto. But they are also making a comeback on Free to Air if not necessarily as premium offerings. Whereas once they were were blockbuster drawcards, now it has to be asked…. are they being used as schedule fillers?

As TV is fragmenting, networks are focussing their dollar spend on 6 – 9:30pm. Nine and TEN, in particular, are seemingly commissioning very little for a post 9pm watershed. Seven still has a reasonable amount of new titles, especially given MKR isn’t wrapping until 9pm anyway. While TEN still has US titles from its output deals, Nine has screened docos (tackling sugar, diets, the KKK and teen prisons) and movies.

A movie can get you late night share if it works. Last week Nine drew some 500,000 for a 9:30 screening of The Castle (1997) – a very good result on its comedy Tuesday. That was not repeated with Crocodile Dundee this week (1986) on 345,000. It had planned Crocodile Dundee II next Tuesday but that’s already been pulled in favour of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). Last night it screened Titanic (1997)  from 8:30 …it gets more contemporary with Gravity next Wednesday night in ‘non-NRL’ states.

Nine isn’t alone in retro movies on weeknights. Tonight Seven is screening 1990’s Pretty Woman at 8:30pm in the same week as launching a movie favourites channel 7flix. Isn’t it on the wrong channel?

It’s rather surprising that in only the fourth week of the ratings year networks are programming 20 and 30 year old movies as primetime offerings when we have Streaming and Catch-Up services. SBS On Demand has 600 movies on offer for free, save for the occasional ad.

Where did the “golden age of drama” go? Where did the push for local content go? Yes Seven has invested in Wanted and Nine is to be congratulated for a bold bet in Here Come the Habibs (TEN will have no new scripted titles until Offspring returns mid year) -but may just take a programming move as bold as dumping the Sunday Night Movie if we’re to avoid seeing them all over again mid-week.

28 Responses

  1. I would love to see David Stratton return to hosting a weekly screening of his favourite films similar to what he did at SBS when it began. The ABC should offer him the role after he completes the three part series he is currently working on, a history of Australian cinema.

  2. Some great point here but I think the networks could really make the most of movies in the current climate if they’re bold enough to reduce commercial breaks to keep a movie audience. Whilst illegal downloads are commonplace, I have many friends and family who don’t know how to or are too scared to try (Disclaimer : not endorsing it, here!). But with video stores all but totally gone, the opportunity to watch a movie is currently at an all time low. So here’s an idea, FTA networks : Smartly choose movies semi-recent movies that people would love to watch and maximise your advertising dollars with minimal commercial break interruptions. I recently chanced upon SBS showing the Director’s Cut of 54 (a movie I love but haven’t seen it in years) so settled in and loved it. I would have appreciated fewer breaks, though.

    1. I think the SBS movies on Saturday night are the best of the movies all week. I think they are referred to as cult movies. Surely that is what everyone wants to watch these days, not dated movie like The Castle and Crockodile Dundee.

  3. Movies used to rate highly. These days a block buster makes most of is money at the Cinema in a short run (one weekend for many movies) then are released on DVD, Cable and SVOD. People who want to see them have seen them before they get to TV.

    Networks are buying the rights to movies that are favorites which people will watch over and over again for a 2 hours plus block. This is because people aren’t watching 24 ep seasons of US dramas.

    They are replacing US shows not local ones. Local content is mandated by a quota system, but as viewers pick and choose which ones to watch, the budgets and quality will decline.

  4. what I don’t get is that 7 and 9 now have multichannels they can play movies on every night, and they do (7flix & Go) but why must they air movies on the main channels during the week?! I get they want ratings but surely TV shows would do better. if they do rate better how about they advertise the hell out of movies from say 7flix on the main channel? that way they can have both, people who prefer to watch TV shows can and the same with people and movies. Seven could be airing new shows like Goldbergs on Thursdays but they prefer to air movies then it seems. sure Titanic has been played many times but it’s on Nine this time, for the first time so I’d let that pass.. but they could have aired it on a Saturday night.

  5. To me the biggest problem is the networks only programming for 6-9.30 – not just on the main channels, but mutlis as well. On so many nights, there is an abundance of shows to chose from worth watching at 7.30pm on many channels – more than the number of channels I can record at once. Yet those shows are in most cases not repeated any other time so they simply just get let go.

    Now with so many multi channels, it is time FTA starts thinking more like Foxtel and consider maximising the potential reach of shows over times that are not just early primetime. There are shows I’d like to watch but don’t bother because they don’t fit in to be recorded. With Foxtel, if a show doesn’t fit in, you simply look for the next available repeat and record it then.

  6. I like that Ch7 has started Flix but if it’s just rehashing old faves, it’s missing the mark. I know it all depends on access ti titles but mini festivals like Steve Martin or Jack Nicholson films. Themes like 80s comedy or 90s blockbusters. While watching last year winners presenting Oscars on Monday I realised how many of their films I haven’t seen. Not everyone downloads films or subscribes to the various libraries.

  7. This rubbish programming just proves to me the thin content all owners have for 1st run TV shows. Re-runs of movies shown on their multi-channel and their constant encore screenings of prime shows make for yawn TV. If you look at each and every one 7, 9 and 10 multi channels not one has a theme to it it sticks to. You often see shows like Operation Repo switching from Mate to One or Pirates of the Caribbean on 7 then a week later on Mate. I mean seriously, get real. Now its movies…….

  8. It’s not so much their “love” for movies but what frustrates me is the incredibly narrow list of titles that are on such high rotation. Crocodile Dundee I’m sure was on only a few weeks ago as well. Of course it’s not going to get good numbers, we’d seen it a million times already. It wasn’t that long ago that Seven had “Grease” on at 8.30 on a Sunday night. It might have been out of ratings but that is a premium timeslot and it’s being reduced to 40-year old movies.

    And with My Big Fat Greek Wedding getting another run, it won’t be long before Monster In Law makes another screening. And we must be due for another season of Harry Potter re-runs.

    And now 7flix looks like it’s going to be speeding up the high rotation of Seven’s film titles. ‘2012’ was on maybe 2 weeks ago and it’s already getting a re-run on 7flix. It’s all very well to have extra channels but as…

  9. I think that 9’s movie offerings are a response to 7flix. It wouldn’t take much to beat 7flix’s 75yr old stuff (The Saint).
    Melbourne viewers get the movie Gravity whilst Sydney gets the banality of The Footy Show. The movie is not on “catch-up”, presumably, because 9 doesn’t have the “on demand” streaming rights.
    An interesting situation! To watch the movie online, I just have to trick the 9Now website into thinking that I’m in Victoria. Hmmm, a free VPN?

  10. Even if the film is shown in HD, it is still full of ads and the network watermark, as well as those annoying promo popups(which occured during nine’s screening of Titanic last night).A 2hr film becomes a 2hr and 35+ min film(35 mins of ads). I would prefer to watch the film on bluray,on one of the foxtel film channels or streaming(all without ads/watermarks and annoying popups!)

    1. When Seven showed Frozen I was so disgusted with the ads, the pop-ups (for the now forgotten BBQ show) and the 3 minute commercial over the closing credits I went out and bought the DVD.

  11. I think the kid movies do ok on the weekend, I know of some families that still use that option as they don’t have Netflix etc.

    But for me, I can’t be bothered to sit through such a long movie with all the ads. I sometimes record them if its a movie I haven’t seen in ages. Or want to “keep” one on my PVR, which I notice I had a tendency to do, but never end up watching!

    1. Betamax was released mid-1975 (a superior system to VHS), so we actually had about 29 years of home VCRs before 2004, and yes, Sunday night would be a “watch one, record another” ritual.

  12. Some very valid points David and I agree. I personally can’t watch a two hour movie midweek (especially if I saw it 20+ years ago the first time). I am seeking dramas in my viewing and thank goodness for Netflix that’s all I can say.

    SBS has got it right, a few weeks ago American Beauty was on one Saturday night (best night to watch a movie in my opinion). I hadn’t seen it since I saw it at the movies so it was great to watch again. I watched What’s Eatng Gilbert Grape on DVD last week – that’s never on 7, 9 or 10. The problem I am finding is the commercial networks repeat the same movies. For example Never Been Kissed is a 10 favourite, like Love Actually is a favourite on 7 (I think). Why can’t they play movies we haven’t seen for years on our screens? The Goonies for one and I’d love to see The Man with Two Brains and Mannequin all from the eighties…haven’t seen them…

  13. I think with so many channels there is more choice, but most doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t recall the last time I watched or recorded a movie off of TV, it could be 5 or 10 years?!

    1. Foxtel and on demand services have probably taken a lot of movies away from free to air. Plus there is movie downloading. Maybe it is just not worth it for free to air to buy movies anymore.

  14. They are completely out of content and with shows constantly running over time they have now taught viewers to switch off at 9.30pm

    US titles don’t rate. Many US titles are now considered B and C titles as they have been shafted the multichannels. And with constant overuns – and a reliance on striped reality – the networks have taught us to switch off the TV at 930 – or better yet – switch on Foxtel, DVR, catchup and streaming.

    Now, 20 year old movies is all they have left.

    I tell ya – 9.30pm is ripe for a local news service.


    1. Seriously we don’t need more news. It is on must channels from 6-9am, then early news, then midday news, then afternoon news, first at 5, then an hour from 6:00pm then there ha Kate news and news updates. I am sure this all qualifies as local content and I can only cope with about 15 mins morning and night!

Leave a Reply