How do networks measure the success of a TV show?

Networks don't only look to a ratings performance when it comes to evaluating a season and whether to renew.


When it comes to evaluating the success of a season, and whether to renew for more, what criteria do our television networks look to?

It’s a question TV Tonight recently posed to network execs.

Brook Hall, Seven Head of Scheduling:

“It’s viewers. You want as many of you as possible, with context, because of course, a five hour broadcast or something that airs in the day, like sport, your audience is within context, (versus) something airing at 7:00 at night. But you want the biggest audience possible across the country on broadcast and digital. That’s it.

“You will never see me put a release out saying, ‘It was huge socially.’ If that’s the headline, that means the audience was not the headline, which means it wasn’t a good audience.

“Number one is the audience you have”

“Everything requires context, so I’m not trying to say awards or critical acclaim are not important. But number one is the audience you have.

“If you’re the biggest, total audience, you’re going to be nearly the biggest in all those things. People can say, they’re the youngest network but if you’re the biggest overall, you’re usually near all the biggest, in all measures.”

Hamish Turner, Nine Director of Programming and 9Now:

“I think we’ve all been around long enough to know when a show is a good show. Primarily, something that can entertain, something that can excite, something that can move you emotionally. But also something that you haven’t seen before. It could be an old format that iterates itself well, but something that continues to evolve and bring something different to the table. But ultimately, we have to be driven by the audience because they’re the ones that we’re primarily making the show for. So our primary measurement is through a ratings box, but also through the extension to digital.

“It’s a multifaceted element. Numbers absolutely have to be that measurement from a commercial perspective. But overarching, there is also what we think and feel about the show and ultimately, how the audience reacts.

“Also, it has to come down to the cost of the show”

“I think also, it has to come down to the cost of the show. We are a commercial business so if you have two shows where one costs a lot more than the other, that has to come in as a factor.”

Dan Monaghan Paramount SVP Content & Programming:

“Of course we look at overnight ratings, everyone does, but our content is served across multiple platforms, so we have to engage with the bigger picture these days. A seven day number with live stream + BVOD is absolutely important, but so is the reach number which is why VOZ is so vital. The reach number is how many people are choosing to engage with the show during any one episode, and our challenge as broadcasters is to get each of those individuals to watch as much of each episode as possible. And with an additional window on SVOD with Paramount+, we now get another set of audience figures, namely people who are prepared to wait a bit longer and pay us so they don’t have to watch it with ads.

“10’s audience is a lean-in audience”

“It’s also widely known that 10’s audience is a lean-in audience; being that our shows on the whole aren’t passive. They’re some of the most talked about on television with some of the noisiest fans, so we certainly consider the conversation, the coverage, the social media.”

Chris Oliver-Taylor, ABC Chief Content Officer:

“We have a very clear remit. Our dramas and most of our comedies are very expensive, take years to make, and need to be the pinnacle of Australian drama. We expect those shows to do two things: one be strong linear plays because they are playing into our audience that loves ABC drama. And secondly, to continually help us drive our audience to iview. We know that Scripted does a lot of the heavy lifting in any network. So we expect those shows to deliver a big national audience.

“We’re looking also at impact”

“We don’t, so much, have a strong view on demos. We’re looking at a national audience and trying to get our content to as many people as we can. That’s very different though, to a show like War on Waste or Maggie Beer’s Big Mission, where we’re looking also at impact

“We don’t want to make things that no one’s watching, of course, but we also need to understand why we’re doing it. … hopefully, maybe a government changes policy or maybe there’s more investment made from government or private sector, into that environment.

“I’m not expecting The Art Of to be delivering a million audience in any way. But I am expecting that show to be able to give access to all Australians to art that maybe they just can’t get access to, because they live in regional Australia or they don’t understand a particular part of the art. We can bring them into these conversations and make things accessible.”

Natalie Edgar, Channel Manager SBS:

“I think critical acclaim is really important. We obviously have a feedback line and often we’ll get audience members calling in and writing in. The programming team take that feedback really seriously and take it on board. We really try and listen to what our audience is telling us about, particularly about our commissioned programmes. But ratings are our currency, right? It underpins pretty much everything that we do. So we need to be really cognisant of what those numbers tell us.

“Our contribution to society is also a really important factor”

“But I also think being a public broadcaster, we’re also here to tell really unique Australian stories and shine light in places that others don’t. SBS has a very special purpose in the Australian media landscape. While ratings are really important I also think our contribution to society is also a really important factor in how we look at the success of a commission.

“When we win awards, I think that that’s really a nice indication of whether or not that piece of content has cut through.”

4 Responses

  1. One factor would be overseas sales. Even if the show or program might not be overly successful in Australia, it may be very popular overseas and can be sold, which would justify commissioning a program that isn’t consistent with good ratings in Australia. It can still go in any timeslot. It’d still be good for business.

    1. Oversea sales will be a small factor. Ownership is mostly by production companies and they will distribute overseas through a distributor who will take a cut. The producers may discount episodes to Networks to keep the show on air if oversea sales are make it profitable. Note this didn’t save Neigbours from it’s 2nd cancellation. ABC commissions political shows, shows that try to fill demographic holes and stuff that gains media attention. SBS does try to be multicultural and appeal to critics. But for 7,9,10 it’s just about what loses the least money while keeping them on air. If Nine is so keen on stuff that hasn’t been see before why is the schedule 5pm quiz, 6pm News & CA, MAFS and them wall to wall True Crime for the rest of the week. And an Australia Cop drama that been sitting the vaults for a year?

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