When this week’s season finale of Seven’s renovation reality series House Rules rated over 1.8 million it was nothing short of a triumph for the network.
One and half months prior, in mid May, the series had debuted to an audience of 803,000 across the five capital cities. Nine’s The Block had over 500,000 more viewers on that night and most believed that Seven was facing a rare programming misfire with the format.
Generally a poor launch is an ominous sign, a clear indication of a lack of consumer interest in a format and indicative of future troubles. The majority of TV shows lose audience as the series goes on, rarely do they gain viewers. Just a few weeks earlier Seven had Celebrity Splash launch to an audience of over 1.3 million, before it slipped dramatically.
Rather than resign themselves to a rare programming misfire, Seven went to work on heavily marketing the show, its characters and its storyline. A week later they had added 100,000 viewers. The following week another 50,000 had tuned in. The week after another 100,000. The following another 150,000. By mid June, only one month after its launch, the format was seeing more than 1.2 million people tune in across the five major markets – a 50 per cent increase. What’s more, it was neck and neck with Channel Nine’s The Block, which has been a foundation of Nine’s recent success and widely considered to be one of the strongest reality formats in the country.
Such a result would be well received by the show's marquee sponsors – Samsung, Masters and Nissan – as well as the network, who have renewed House Rules for a second series which they are currently casting for.
It demonstrated clearly one of Seven’s strongest strategic weapons when it comes to winning the ratings battle – the power and effectiveness of their marketing and promotions department. In an era where audience attention is more fragmented than ever, Seven has the knack of being able to create 'talkability' around its marquee programming. With House Rules the marketing team also managed to convince an audience not sold by the program’s initial launch campaign to tune in and trial the show.
This is where Seven is unmatched in the media game – they are not merely satisfied with awareness of their programming, they are focused purely on creating desire and therefore action. Sure, most people are generally aware of what programs are on TV, but awareness is useless without creating a desire to watch. House Rules' initial campaign, promoted heavily on high rating Seven programming such as Today Tonight, Sunday Night, My Restaurant Rules and the 6pm news bulletin, created high base awareness, however the initial ratings performance demonstrated this didn’t transfer to viewing. A rapid change of tact not only convinced people to tune in, Seven managed to create storylines and interest in characters that made House Rules something that was discussed heavily across social media and in offices around the country.
The upside for the network is significant. For one, Seven produces and owns the format; secondly, the nature of the program and its focus on renovation and home ownership is commercially a rich area with numerous advertiser angles, from hardware to home development, finance, insurance and appliances. Season two will be highly coveted by advertisers looking to jump on board the success of the format, although it would be likely the launch partners would seek to remain aligned with the show.
What Seven did with House Rules demonstrates that for a network to succeed often it’s not about changing the programming, it’s about changing the way that programming is promoted. House Rules is an example of a network believing in and embracing its own product – the power of advertising and its ability to influence behaviour. Just like Seven has with the majority of its key launches over the past decade. In this area, the network is years ahead of its competitors and it’s no coincidence that it continues to be the dominant ratings performer.