When a franchise fails

Seven, Nine & TEN have all had big failures. TV Tonight hears from those who have have lived through TV flops.

Right now The Biggest Loser: Transformed is under pressure, and more specifically Network TEN, after 2 weeks of dire numbers.

Everyday someone else has a better programming solution to TEN’s woes. Everyday media headlines are targetting the show’s performance and everyday the ratings and company share is at risk of heading south, not north.

But for every Biggest Loser there is another Reno Rumble, Restaurant Revolution, Excess Baggage, The Renovators, Celebrity Splash or even Yasmin’s Getting Married.

Seven, Nine and TEN have all had their inglorious moments. A stripped Reality show is an all-or-nothing bet, consuming massive real estate in the schedule that can’t be addressed with a quick fix.

TV Tonight spoke to two industry sources, on strict anonymity, to gain an insight into what it’s like inside the bunker when a franchise fails.

“A programmer’s life is a rollercoaster”

“The impact it has on your schedule is huge,” said one source.

“A programmer’s life is a rollercoaster. You get good ratings one day and you’re celebrating, next day it’s failing. But when a stripped Reality fails there is so much pain because everything around you starts collapsing.

“It’s very hard in the 7:30 slot because you just get no flow into your other shows and everything around it fails.

I’m A Celebrity did a good job in a very hard environment. But all that good work is gone in terms of annual share, because the share (Biggest Loser is doing) now cancels what they’ve done with their first show.”

Another source agreed: “These are big rolls of the dice and without doubt when successful it provides you terrific momentum and a platform to build further shows off the back of them.

“Nine have done well with Married At First Sight as a strip and this should give them the necessary momentum to launch their second quarter schedule with The Voice and Ninja Warrior.

“With Biggest Loser significantly underperforming for TEN after a successful season of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here the risk is how will Masterchef perform? Arguably it will need to do some heavy lifting off a very low lead in with Loser.”

So is the answer to replace the show quickly or hold your nerve and hope it builds? Sometimes there are surprising positives and sometimes the tide can turn.

“The first season of House Rules didn’t do well for the first few episodes, but Seven to their credit stuck with it and by the end it was doing really good numbers,” said one source.

“Nine has a huge hit with Married at First Sight now, and that was something that happened because of Reno Rumble not performing. So sometimes you are pushed into making a decision that works out quite well.

“What are you going to put into the slot and will it do any better?”

“When you are Nine and Seven you have a little bit on the shelf that you can put in there. But when you are TEN and you don’t have the budget for it you are stuck. You can’t just move it to a multichannel because what are you going to put into the slot and will it do any better? Then if you use something else it creates a hole somewhere else in your schedule. It’s a very hard thing to deal with.”

“It depends on the network’s nerve as to whether to hold firm in the hope a show will build,” said another. “You will generally know after the first two weeks. Each network has different budgets and at times there are no options if it doesn’t resonate with an audience and you just need to see it out if replacement options are limited and even then there are no guarantees you will do any better.”

But there are other considerations to deal with too.

“With Reality shows there is product integration, from sponsors who have put money into the show. When you take them out or move them to late night you have all these client issues you have to deal with. Then you have “make goods” with the sales team because the product isn’t being exposed to the audience it was promised. Suddenly you are eating your own inventory to make up the shortfall.”

“If you just get hammered by your CEO you lose confidence”

Spare a thought for those at the centre of the storm, charged with being creative with limited production budgets, and copping advice from everyone around them.

“Everyone is always an expert programmer when things don’t go well,” one source revealed. “The test of a CEO and the board is how to manage the situation when things don’t go to plan. It’s easy to lay blame but it’s these times support is required if they back their programmer.”

Another agreed when things go wrong is when a CEO needs to show support.

“If you just get hammered by your CEO you lose confidence, you become conservative, you don’t take any risks,” they said.

“It doesn’t achieve anything for the CEO to be freaking out in that situation. It’s not going to lift the ratings nor help your revenue.

“When you had a disaster you couldn’t find anyone more supportive (than our CEO). When he pushed you more is when you were doing well.”

Breaking from the pack by not running a stripped show is also a big risk. Nine launched its 2016 year with a varied diet of Australia’s Got Talent, The Farmer Wants a Wife and Here Come the Habibs but struggled against My Kitchen Rules and I’m A Celebrity.

“Australian audiences are still wanting their daily diet of Reality TV… something very rare in other markets particularly in early evening primetime,” one source noted.

“Nine tried to counter the strip sensibility last year with various nights of different programming and it failed.

“There is no sure bet in this business and that drive to work each morning in readiness for the 8:58am overnight ratings can at times feel like the longest stretch of road ever!”

25 Responses

  1. Calling the 2016 season of The Biggest Loser rigged would be keeping it polite.

    I like many viewers who felt “cheated” by the lack of intervention by the producers in allowing families to collude. Therefore, I like many refused to switch on for the 2017 season.

    So goodbye to The Biggest Loser perhaps you will understand the importance of fairness and showing respect to viewing public.

  2. Dang. I was hoping our culture is finally rejecting weight-shaming and bullying as the reason for TBL’s failure.

    I really appreciate your access and insights and reporting David. Thanks.

  3. I was one of the few who enjoyed Restaurant Revolution, The Renovators, and The Resort (which failed to get a mention in the story but is notable for being axed half way into its 13 week run). Restaurant Revolution might have done better if they had returned to the original version (My Restaurant Rules) – but IIRC the winners of both seasons of that show lost out with lease issue on their respective properties which is presumably why they changed the format to pop-up container restaurants.

  4. Most of the titles on the list were first seasons that have some kind of excuse as to why it didn’t go according to plan. TBL is different, a huge sense of Deja Vu. The sharks have been swirling around the biggest loser for the past 6 seasons and articles like this are written every time. TBL slipped into the 200ks for the first time years ago, but the finale gets a modest boost and that is enough for ten to justify another season. Ten really only have themselves to blame for giving it so many chances.

  5. There is sentiment and then there are ratings. TV Tonight has repeatedly reported the success and failure of reality tv shows. ATM MAFS is a success although didn’t start too crash hot they have toned up the “drama” so that’s what the ratings show that people want MKR has been on that train for a while same with House Rules. Biggest Loser was the same in its earlier years. Manufactured drama with clever editing and sound really works just look at the ratings. On balance yes tv is in trouble the ratings on average are going down. TEN will be the first to fail/fall unless a foreign buyer can be found to buy 51 percent of TEN similar to what CanWest Global did but chances of that are very slim especially with SVOD routing the potential audiences of FTA audience, then there’s Foxtel. Not pretty indeed.

  6. I always thought that Reality TV was designed principally for commercial benefit and to suit a common denominator namely the early evening audiences. Reality TV has the advantage of being produced in house with full control of the creative content, assuming no copyright license deal was involved, and the commercial revenue including product placement advertising provides for much value adding. It is a win,win in theory for making significant revenue but it does have it’s draw back such as a significant promotional advertising budget to get a show known. With audiences looking elsewhere for their drama shows the future would appear to be more of ‘Reality’ in the future if FTA is to survive.

  7. The thing that came to mind is that reality shows have been on decline since 2013. With TV networks announcing new reality shows e.g. Aussie BBQ Heroes, The Briefcase, Kiss Bang Love, I Will Survive, the ratings were dire and weren’t renewed for another season.
    Returning shows like 7 Year switch as well as The Block, House Rules, Masterchef, The Voice, will see audience numbers fall significantly.

  8. I didn’t mind some of the failures excess baggage the hot house the renovators and i am enjoying the biggest loser transformed maybe ten should have been very bold and put this season on during the Christmas new year non ratings period when there is hardly anything worth watching

  9. Yes…thanks DK ..excellent article…Sadly, ratings show the masses do want reality…even if others of us …do not care for it….it is, what it is….
    And I don’t believe in network loyalty…I think people watch what they want…I personally do not watch or discard a program, because of the lead in..and I will watch watch Masterchef…the ads have certainly tweaked my interest…and all that has nothing to do, what so ever, with the success of the failure of another program…eg. Biggest Loser…which I do not and never have cared for.

  10. And of course lead-ins mean nothing to the growing number of us that record everything and watch nothing live.

    I have never believed in lead-ins but you do see effects in ratings – for example – since Biggest Loser has aired on Ten, This Is Us is down massively. Although it picks up alot in timeshift. The fact that shows after nightly realities all start at stupid times doesn’t help either. There are still people who watch live TV.

  11. An interesting story! I disagree with the comment though that Australian audiences want a daily dose of reality TV. It frustrates me that it is the same shows on pretty much every night. I would love to see more variety in the types of shows in the TV schedules and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  12. Maybe people just don’t want another reality tv show. To me, 7:00 to 8:30 is a no go zone on Ch 7, 9 and 10. I know people love these shows and that’s fine, but I feel we have reached saturation point.

  13. I keep saying – TV is dead it just doesn’t know it yet.

    Young people don’t watch TV the way that TV companies expect and that just leaves older demographics that advertisers don’t want. Something got to give and I don’t see a return to 1950 TV watching behaviour.

    The article was interesting for its insights, but I would question this assumption about the importance of lead in shows. Where’re had remotes for some time and it doesn’t take much to change channels. So what makes them think we are somehow magically stuck watching the following show? It may work for some, but I think its overall impact is quiet small.

    1. The silly thing is the decline was predicted 20 years ago, it was evident in overseas numbers over 15 years ago, and it was there in local numbers ~15 years ago. Any exec worth their salt shouldn’t find any of this surprising – yet the network public faces continue to act like it is.

      They also continue to act like viewer loyalty to “your” network is a thing, & reinforcing the importance of “lead-in” is part of that. It no doubt is among some – you’ve only got to read comments here to see how minor points are sliced to prove that “their” 7 or 9 is really ahead despite the numbers, or diss 10 if they dare stick their head above ~15% – but I agree with you: most people don’t have network loyalty, haven’t for years, and the idea of “stickyness” and “lead-in shows” owes more to conventional wisdom passed down over the ages than it does to actual viewer behavior…

    2. While lead ins mean nothing to me as I record everything so I watch what I want when I want, I would think nowadays with shows all starting at odd times lead ins are everything for people watching live. You can’t watch something on one channel from 7.30 to 8.52 without missing the start of the programme on another channel that began at 8.37, so then I would assume people would just stick to the original channel even if there was something they would have preferred on another.

      I don’t know how many people watch live, or if this is the case for those that do, but it’s the only scenario that I can think of that means lead ins matter.

    3. Neil and Tex – This may sound weird at first, however … if lead-ins meant something then the networks wouldn’t extend the show so as you miss the start of another networks show. If lead-ins meant something then it would be 7:30pm – 8:30pm (or whatever times) across the channels on the dot without fail. Instead we get shows finishing at times like 8:38pm, 8:52pm and etc., because the networks know that is the best way to get people to stay and not flick over.

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