Will tennis stump Ten's rating rise?

Ten's Big Bash cricket league has proved a ratings success, but the Australian Open could see viewer numbers take a hit. A further challenge for Ten is to turn the recent momentum into sustained performance over the longer term.

The third instalment of the domestic Big Bash cricket league is giving Ten plenty to smile about so far in 2014.

Ratings have beaten all forecasts – and Ten’s free-to-air TV share has not slipped below 16.9 per cent since the BBL premiered on 20 December last year. In fact, between 20 December 2013 and 11 January 2014, Ten has had 12 days where its free-to-air share has eclipsed 20 per cent.

This is impressive considering that for the same period in the previous year, Ten’s free-to-air share was sitting around 15-16 per cent, meaning Big Bash and its ratings success is giving Ten a 20-30 per cent bump in viewership compared to last year.

Graph for Will tennis stump Ten's rating rise?

What would be most exciting for Ten is the consistency of the Big Bash format when it comes to ratings. The league has generated consistent metro viewing numbers between 600,000 and 800,000 since its premiere, only dipping under 600,000 once for the New Year’s Eve match. On January 10, the network achieved a metro viewer figure of 871,000 for the Sydney v Perth match. It backed this up the next day, with 781,000 tuning in to the Melbourne v Brisbane match.

From today, the BBL success story faces its first real challenge – the might of the Australian Open Tennis.

Many will remember that Ten wanted the rights to the Australian Open earlier in 2013. They expressed this want and there was talk that the network was willing to offer up big money to take the rights from Seven. In an odd move, Tennis Australia awarded the broadcast rights to incumbent Seven without any sort of tender/bidding process.

Ten wanted the tennis not just for the ratings it can provide over the two-week tournament period, but more important to the network was the ability to use it as a marketing platform to showcase the network’s programming for the year ahead. Seven has used the Open with incredible effectiveness over the past decade to ensure the network starts the ratings year off with a bang and delivers big viewer numbers for its key programming across February and March.

In 2013, the Australian Open’s first night session generated a metro viewing audience of around 1.2 million. However, during the first week night viewer numbers fluctuated between 723,000 and 1.4 million – ratings were highly dependent on the matches scheduled. BBL has scheduled 10 games for the same period that the Australian Open will be played.

It is likely that the tennis will have some impact on the BBL’s ratings, but it will most likely be marginal. Sure, the tennis is a strong performer, but there are a lot of viewers who will be looking for an alternative. The smash and bash of BBL will be a solid alternative for many viewers.

Another challenge – and a much more important one – is turning the momentum of the BBL ratings into sustained ratings performance across February and March. Like the tennis for Seven, BBL for Ten is as much about the marketing platform it provides as it is about the ratings the matches generate. Ten will be hoping that BBL can provide valuable exposure to programs such as The Biggest Loser, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the return of So You Think You Can Dance, Puberty Blues, its weeknight current affairs show, The Project, and early morning hope, Wake Up. Ten’s challenge in years past has been generating large scale audiences for programming premieres, meaning many programs would rate poorly on their first airing and then struggle to find an audience for the remainder of their run.

Graph for Will tennis stump Ten's rating rise?

It appears that the market believes Ten can succeed in this area. Shares in Ten have risen 23 per cent since January 1, providing chief executive Hamish McLennan his most significant investor confidence win since he took the helm in early 2013. While investors did not seem convinced of the merit of the BBL when Ten signed the rights in June 2013 – the share price in the two weeks after the announcement hovered around 26-27 cents – the gains over the past three weeks demonstrate the market is seeing signs from Ten it likes.

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