“It would decimate us”: How Nine supersized MAFS to take on MKR and won

Every year MKR would crush the competition, but the answer for Nine was laying right under their noses.

If Television is cyclical then the sweet smell of success which has been so long in Nine’s favour with Married at First Sight, is likely to become vulnerable at some point.

It will take something shiny and new to capture the imagination of a fatigued audience.

It was 2016 when Nine decided it had enough of Seven’s My Kitchen Rules smashing it in the ratings every year.

It was time to take on a ratings king -but with what, Nine executives pondered?

MKR would decimate us at the beginning of the year. We tried a few things and they didn’t work,” Nine programmng director Hamish Turner tells TV Tonight.

Back then MAFS was a moderately successful 8 part Australian adaptation of a Danish observational series, screening in an 8:30 timeslot.

“We were looking at all the categories that may work in this space, and we landed on the romance / reality because it had a very clear demographic proposition. It could tackle the younger end of MKR audiences and start chipping away. So the answer was under our noses in that we already had a show and why not supersize it?”

MAFS was originally produced as a 6 part in-house series by Nine, but the network knew they would need to outsource the show if it was to be beefed up to 30 episodes with new story beats such as the ‘Dinner Parties’ and ‘Commitment Ceremonies’.

“We went to a few different parties to look at the show and what they could do with it. We landed with Endemol Shine Australia who brought the most to the table in terms of where they thought that show should be taken.”

When Season 4 debuted in 2017, the numbers lifted, but initially not enough to overtake MKR.

Seven’s Head of Scheduling Brook Hall recalls, “The first year it did not knock it off. But it got some legs and was competitive, and took it down in the demos. It showed that something could compete with the big beast.”

Nine’s mix of romance and soapie storylines played massively into the press, while controversial MKR judge Pete Evans was alaso attracting negative headlines.

Eventually MAFS snatched the crown and has since given Seven the kind of headaches Nine was used to experiencing every February. The shoe was on the other programming foot.

This year Seven has turned to sentimental singing favourite Australian Idol, after previous attempts with Holey Moley, SAS Australia and Dancing with the Stars.

“Last year if I’m being honest, we did look at defensive options,” Hall reveals.

“We went alternate to MAFS. We thought, ‘Are we ready to take that show on?’ and we probably sat down and went, ‘Let’s go SAS during the week, it’s a very different audience.’ Dancing with the Stars on Sundays was going alternative. We weren’t sure we had the weapon to take it on.

“And we were surprised 10 whirled Australian Survivor again, so that kind of negated a bit of the SAS counter-programming. Dancing did a job, but MAFS still dominated Q1.”

A first week of 2023 numbers shows Seven and 10 still have their work cut out to dent Nine’s juggernaut.

If it’s disheartening seeing punishing numbers every morning, the success of MAFS toppling My Kitchen Rules is reason for encouragement.

14 Responses

  1. MAFS turned into a hit because it was a fresh idea on our screens, as MKR was when it was on the throne, and Masterchef before it. But like all those shows, it too will eventually meet its demise – but not for a while, because in the age of TikTok, it’s right on the spot with the zeitgeist.

    There’s only one way to topple MAFS and that’s by taking a risk on a fresh idea, testing the waters, and then letting it build an audience. Not like shoving putt-putt golf down viewers throats for two hours multiple nights a week, and certainly not with a tired 20 years old format, no matter how much spakfilla you slap on it. No one is talking about an amazing singer from Alice Springs in the lunchroom anymore, because they have endless, endless videos of that content literally in their pockets nowadays, that they flick away without a moments hesitation or thought.

    The tribe hasn’t spoken, they’re too busy on their phones.

    Fresh. New. Risks

    1. Exactly right. All the whingers who slam reality should look at ratings tomorrow. See how non-reality like Dog House and Code whatever rate against MAFS.

  2. So over the lot, reality fatigued. Just hoping the powers that be will one day get the message. Just waiting for a knock off of Lovestruck High to rope younger viewers in too. If you don’t subscribe to streaming or pay you don’t have a lot of choice in those time slots with MAFS, Idol, and Survivor going head to head unless you watch ABC or SBS or their multi channel which are mostly repeats. FTA TV isn’t rare but at times it’s not done well either.

  3. Since MKR debuted in 20`10, this show was a big success in the ratings. In the early 2010s, MKR was a ratings powerhouse back then. But in 2017, 9 decided to air MAFS against MKR. MAFS began to challenge against MKR in the ratings. After 7 lost the tennis rights to 9, MKR continued its decline, losing most nights to MAFS. Last year, the Winter Olympics went against MAFS. Winter Games started off well, beating MAFS, but lost its ratings to its rival. And as of today, MAFS is still dominant in the ratings.

  4. We know what MAFS secret weapon was, holding fake marriages with incompatible couples and then dinner parties where they could talk about their sex lives, commit fake adultery, bicker and bully each other. The Real World was 1992, which based on a 1973 PBS observation documentary series. So produces have tried everything they can think of for 30 years. MAFS won, but now more people stream it than watch it, so it’s value as a lead in is diminishing. Channel 9 dropped evening entertainment once MAFS took off. Most of what they show is news (major events but mostly crime, petrol and housing prices), talk, true crime and sport. TV revenue is declining and TV is starting to look like Radio, after TV took over movies, drama, comedy and variety. Streaming now rules movies and drama. Sport is still being fought over, the major sports need audiences in the millions, but streaming means people can watch a game whenever they want.

    1. That’s if you believe ratings. Ratings are actually a tiny sample of data extrapolated upon to the benefit of the owner of that data. Nine want us (and their advertisers) to think this show is popular. Doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

      1. I think the ratings methodology has been proven independently quite a few times to be sound providing accurate results. The OZTam system uses a proportionally large and diverse sample size, refreshes the sampled people regularly and, perhaps more importantly, none of the networks challenge the figures, meaning they agree with the survey methodology even if the numbers are not skewing in their favour.

        For those who have studied statistics the sampling rules they adopt seem quite justifiable and I think we can be certain of accuracy. So Married at First Sight is popular in terms of number of people who watch it. The actual quality of the program is very much a point of debate however (I lean personally in the direction of ‘poor’.)

  5. These things are often about timing as much as anything else. By the time MAFS appeared stripped the ‘My Bitchin’ Rules’ name had well and truly settled in for MKR and as you said – Pete Evans was going off the rails and viewers were looking to be tempted by something else. Had MAFS debuted against it a couple of years earlier, it may not have taken. Whatever the secret sauce to this stuff, someone would be very rich if they could work out what it is an bottle it.

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