Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mars Attacks - Thursday 5 February 2009

If there is one trend emerging from this week it is the slow disintegration of channel Nine. Back in the 1990s the once market leader had the strongest early evening lineup (Nine News and A Current Affair used to dominate the 6 o’clock hour) and the strongest late night (awash with young male skewing fare like the Star Trek skeins, Walker Texas Ranger and Renegade), this early and late night superiority meant that whatever Seven threw at them in prime time didn’t matter - they would still prevail in the 6pm – 12pm ratings battle.

So much of Nine’s strength at the edges has been diminished by costs cuts and poor programming decisions, their news lead in is pitiful and their news service is on the skids, their post 10.30 programming is no better, now confined to doco series better suited to cable and haphazard scheduling, Nightline is gone – a victim of cost cutting and erratic scheduling.

Contrast this to Seven. Since the start of this decade Seven have focussed on using their 10.30 timeslot to bring younger skewing shows to the fore – making late night television also appointment television, their early evenings are now a dominant force, bolstered by Deal or no Deal – a game show whose appeal escapes me but the numbers speak for themselves. Home & Away – their 7pm skein – continually reinvents itself year after year, picking up new viewers almost as fast as it loses old ones.

Over on Ten they are a mixed bag – their early evening schedule is targeted to young people (much like seven’s late night) in order to avoid direct competition with the news, but moves Ten has made in the past two decades have affected both Seven and Nine for better and worse.

Ten moving their news from 6 to 5pm was an immediate benefit to 9 and 10, giving Nine a dominating control over the slot and Ten breathing space to transform their news brand, at the same time their 10.30 news bulletin established a new paradigm as a late night news war erupted in the mid 90s – with Ten the only network able to guarantee a consistent starting time they saw off their competitors, first Seven, who turned to underrated series at 10.30pm (undercutting Nine’s 11pm series start time), Eventually Nine succumbed as well, first shunting Nightline to later (at 11.30 or even Midnight) and eventually axing it altogether – weakening their news brand.

Ten’s moves at 7pm have also been the catalyst for problems at Nine – the old setup in the 90s used to be Soap on Seven, Game Show on Nine and Sitcom Reruns on Ten – as a consequence Ten would rarely win – their innovative move in 2001 with nightly reality series Big Brother threw the game wide open – taking viewers from both their rivals and forcing Nine into Sitcoms at 7, now this year Nine will try a stripped reality show at 7pm, something which I never could’ve seen them doing in years!

This week it is Nine’s lack of early evening strength which seems to be hurting them the most in the ratings – for the fourth night in a row they came third behind Seven and Ten, their only successes last night were Celebrity Singing Bee, a limited run placeholder for aging travelogue Getaway and Adult Only 20 to 01, which many commentators view as a desperate attempt to lure an audience. Their scheduling of Kitchen Nightmares was a disaster – you can officially put anything with Gordon Ramsay in a file market ‘Late Night and Cable ONLY’ don’t expect it to remain there next week.

Seven on the other hand did well, even if it’s prime time shows tanked – they still could have won the night on the basis of their early evening and late night (a resurgent Scrubs) alone. Lucky for them their primetime also performed with Ghost Whisperer winning in total people and Grey’s Anatomy winning in 18-49s.

Ten also had a good night – it Biggest Loser ratings were up on Wednesday’s numbers and will probably fluctuate given the night, Bondi Vet however had a poor start posting an underwhelming total. Nothing Ten sticks in this post-loser slot seems to work all that well, factual series are not a natural fit for Ten, somehow they’ve gotten away with Bondi Rescue – but a show about a vet? Last year Seven screened no less that 3 factual shows devoted to Animals, they have that market cornered – I’ll be interested to see whether this experiment rises or falls in the coming weeks.

On the other hand – Law & Order SVU and Life on Mars performed excellently taking the shine off Seven’s night and adding some colour to a line up usually controlled by Wolf Films. Expect Life on Mars to rise next week when its main competition is the Lifetime reject series Private Practice.

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