Channel stuffing: How Ten got it so wrong on ratings

We’ve all heard that Ten’s show ratings are bad, but according to these graphs that’s an understatement.

It’s been over five years since Masterchef first debuted on Network Ten. Back then, the company was quite upbeat about its future, riding rating records set by the first season of the then humble cooking show.

Now, five years and five increasingly tear-drenched seasons of Masterchef later, some in media circles are wondering whether Ten even has a future.

In its half year results yesterday, the network posted a $7.9 million loss. This is an improvement from the $243 million loss it posted in its previous half-year results, but don’t let the figures fool you. This result isn’t a staggering recovery. Last year's loss was attributable to a one-off television licence write-off.

Things still look pretty bleak for Ten. It’s not until you actually take a look at the company’s ratings that you realise how dire the situation really is.  

OzTam ratings figures from the last 12 months show that its efforts to improve its ratings have been in vain. Now, even our public broadcaster, the budget-constrained ABC, has more of an audience than the commercial network during peak TV viewing times.

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Ten had a strategy to improve its ratings coming into 2014. The network bought the rights to the Winter Olympics and the Cricket Big Bash League in the hopes of leveraging the viewership into the rest of its line-up for the year.

Ten did generate some bumper summer ratings with these events, but the network’s cross-promotion strategy failed to produce any meaningful results.

In a conference call during the network’s results, CEO Hamish McLennan said that “general entertainment programming” had “underperformed badly”, but as these graphs show, even that frank assessment might be an understatement. They show each show's rating on the night they debuted, which -- aside from a finale -- is usually seen as the night that a TV show will pull its highest ratings.

So You Think You Can Dance?

Secrets and Lies

Puberty Blues

It’s difficult to diagnose what exactly is wrong with Network Ten. Some point to the network’s show scheduling, and Ten’s attempt to take Seven and Nine’s top programs head-on rather than schedule shows during its rivals lulls. There are also claims that the network’s brand -- which is still associated with web savvy younger audiences -- may be beyond redemption.

All this being said, Ten has done one thing right: it’s ahead of its rivals with new TV technologies. It hasn’t translated into ratings, but over the past year Ten, in partnership with social TV firm Zeebox, has been dabbling in new types of TV shows that engage their audience both on their devices and on their main screen.  

In this sense, there is still some potential left in Ten. But the numbers don’t lie. Unless Ten sees some sort of ratings success soon, the chances of any sort of turnaround will be slim.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the wrong rating figures for the premieres of So You Think You Can Dance, Secrets and Lies and Puberty Blues. At the request of Network Ten, the graphs have been update to reflect each shows’ true ratings.

However, aside from the Sochi Olympics aired on the same night as the premiere on So You Think You Can Dance, the ranking in terms of how Ten’s premiere shows performed in comparison to other network’s top shows remains the same in both set of graphs. 

Got a question? Ask the reporter @HarrisonPolites on Twitter or leave a comment below.

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