Amongst the ongoing headlines of diminishing Free to Air numbers, rising Streaming services and the threat of Piracy, Australian Ninja Warrior has arrived like a knight in shining abs.
Launching to 1.68m in Overnight 5 city Metro numbers, and rising to 1.75m a week later, it has stunned the industry, proving that big, broad audiences are still possible in 2017. On pure optimism alone, its message is not just a win for Nine, but Seven and TEN too.
“Absolutely,” agrees Nine Programming Director Hamish Turner.
“In our wildest dreams we didn’t imagine 1.7m, plus 100,00 in catch-up and VPMs. It’s a mix of about 1.85m or so, which is extraordinary in this day and age.
“It’s great for Free to Air, great for Television to get those eyeballs back in volume.
“With fragmentation and people choosing to view via different methods, whether it be their device or traditional means…what we take out of this is that family viewing is still well and truly alive. If you put up the right stuff, they will come.”
“The family is gathering around the box …. is kind of the utopia for a Free to Air broadcaster.”
Nine strategically screened the series during school holidays and ran trailers in cinemas before kid’s movies. There were also moving billboards and social media campaigns, all of which has paid off.
“What we’ve seen anecdotally and through our social is the ability to appeal to children and multi-generations, as a shared experience,” Turner continues.
“Within the first episode of 1.68m, 350,000 of them were under the age of 17. So we’ve been told kids don’t watch Free to Air but they are still there.
“There’s a lot of co-viewing. The family is gathering around the box and enjoying it as a family, which is kind of the utopia for a Free to Air broadcaster.
“Even more pleasing than the 1.68m, is that they have come back consistently.”
Within his own family Turner is witness to the show’s visuals and characters resonating with kids.
“Even my 3 year old was setting up cushions on the floor to jump from one to the next. She was the Princess Ninja!” he laughs.
The show is also enjoying a dual split of about 50 / 50 male and female, a much higher proportion of a males than frequents other Reality shows.
Nine sealed the deal after network execs were invited onto the set of the French production, which was being constructed adjacent to MIPTV. Endemol Shine producers smartly took advantage of the set’s sheer size to impress Nine’s team.
“You couldn’t have had a better pitch meeting,” he recalls.
“We all put the hard hats on and stepped onto the construction, because they hadn’t started filming yet.
“We stood next to the paddle boards at the beginning (of the course) and breathed it all in, on the French Riviera.”
“There is a mix of ethnicity, sexuality –the whole gamut.”
Ninja Warrior also embraces diversity on screen with contestants of ethnic, sexual orientation and even disability backgrounds trying their luck on the course. Turner says cameras have not shied away from capturing their individuality.
“We always get labelled as mono-cultured in renovation but the unfortunate thing there is that’s the people who are coming to us. Food is a lot easier, as you will see in Family Food Fight.
“There were 250 Ninjas who ran the course so within that there is a mix of ethnicity, sexuality –the whole gamut.”
Completed runs that didn’t get maximum airtime are available on 9Now.
“Some people think we have missed a trick by only having 9 episodes”
The question now becomes: where to for 2017? While the show is yet to be formally renewed, there is speculation about whether the sugar-hit of 9 episodes will be extended in 2018.
“We are currently chatting to Endemol Shine about what a second season would look like,” Turner explains.
“But you want to do a full post-analysis to understand the audience feedback. Some people think we have missed a trick by only having 9 episodes, but you can’t win that, can you? If it’s longer people say we are over-egging it.
“Off the back of the numbers you’d have to mount a pretty strong argument that it will return, but I can’t see it blowing out to 20 or 30 episodes.
“Endemol Shine, (producers) Julie Ward and Pete Newman have to be commended on the show they’ve constructed and brought to the network.”
Australian Ninja Warrior continues at 7:30 tonight and concludes tomorrow on Nine.