Led by the underdog glory of the AFL’s Western Bulldogs, sporting, cooking and renovating contests dominated free-to-air television viewing in regional Victoria in 2016.
And despite the costly and confusing mid-year swap of network allegiances by its commercial rivals, Prime7 was the year’s clear No. 1 over the 40-week TV ratings season, which finished at the weekend.
The full-year audience data for regional Victoria shows the Network Seven content carried by Prime7 and its 7Two and 7mate channels won the ratings by a country mile with an average network share of 37.9 per cent between 6pm and midnight – a much bigger winning margin than it had in the southern NSW market.
Across regional Victoria, Nine’s content averaged a 22.5 per cent network share, the ABC had a 17.6 per cent share, Ten’s content had 15.7 per cent and SBS 6.3.
THE BIG SWITCH
Since July 1, when Southern Cross Austereo switched over to Nine's programs and branding and WIN began showing Ten’s shows, Prime7 has remained unchallenged (with 37.7 per cent of the nightly audience).
Over the second half of the year, while WIN’s overall ratings have fallen with the loss of Nine’s programming, the Wollongong-based network has grown the audience for Ten content (16.0 per cent audience share).
At the same time Nine’s shows haven’t done as well on Southern Cross (22.1) as they did on WIN.
Six of Victoria’s 10 most-watched shows this year were sports telecasts, led by the AFL grand final (the match itself averaged 354,943 viewers) and including the Melbourne Cup and the Bathurst 1000.
The reality TV contests House Rules, The Block and My Kitchen Rules rounded out the 2016 top 10.
Prime7 screened 16 of the 20 most-watched programs, with the ABC’s top-ranked show, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, coming in at No. 36. SBS didn’t have a show among the top 100.
The most-watched news program was the Seven News bulletin on Sunday nights, which ranked 26th with an average audience of 122,153.
Victoria’s favourite miniseries was the Molly Meldrum saga Molly on Prime7, followed by Ten’s Peter Brock biography on WIN. The most popular drama series were all on Prime7: Jessica Mauboy’s The Secret Daughter, Rebecca Gibney’s Wanted and Erik Thomson’s 800 Words.
Prime7 was quick to claim overall victory, putting out a media release even before the official ratings period finished at midnight on Saturday.
Describing itself as “the most watched television network across NSW (including the ACT and Gold Coast) and Victoria for the fourth year in a row”, Prime7 said its lead over its commercial rivals in those markets had never been bigger.
Prime7 claimed wins in 38 of 40 survey weeks in those markets, and said The Chase was the year’s most-watched game show, Sunrise was the top breakfast program, Sunday Night was the most-watched public affairs program and the final season of Downton Abbey was the top international series.
After another year of frustration as his industry’s pleas for the scrapping of media ownership rules that prevent mergers between regional and metropolitan TV networks went unheeded, Prime Media Group chief executive Ian Audsley welcomed the ratings results.
“In a year which saw a once-in-a-generation change where our competitors switched affiliation agreements, it’s great to see that our consistent brand and programming continues to resonate strongly with viewers,” Mr Audsley said.
THE Bathurst 1000 was the top-rating Ten show for WIN in each of the Albury, Ballarat and Bendigo viewing areas.
And while WIN’s overall share of nightly viewers in Victoria may now rank behind the ABC’s, Bruce Gordon’s broadcaster is doing better as Ten’s affiliate than Southern Cross Austereo did.
And WIN News in the 6pm timeslot – in place of Family Feud – appears to be a key factor.
In its media releases, WIN noted that it had significantly grown the Ten audience year-on-year between 6pm and 7.30pm in the Bendigo and Ballarat markets since the change in network affiliations.
WIN said its network commercial share of total people watching in the crucial first 90 minutes of prime-time Monday to Friday was up by 35.5 per cent in the Bendigo viewing area on the equivalent period in 2015. Ballarat viewers aged 16-39 in the same time period were up 36.1 per cent. The top programs overall among those younger viewers included The Bachelor and Offspring.
WIN CEO Andrew Lancaster said Ten, in which Mr Gordon is the largest shareholder, had always been known for having a strong hold on the 16-39 demographic.
“Our end of year results have shown significant growth for Ten programming when you compare the 2016 results on WIN to the 2015 performance,” Mr Lancaster said. “Growth is important especially as consumers access a more fragmented media landscape. We couldn’t be happier. Our commitment to growing the audience for Ten product … across regional Australia will continue in 2017.”
Local news bulletins did not rate a mention among the 100 top-rating shows in Victoria this year.
But plans by Southern Cross Austereo and Nine to launch 15 weeknight regional editions of Nine News in early 2017 will intensify direct competition for local news viewers.
The squeeze on audiences may be felt most at WIN, as it counts the overall revenue impact of Ten’s lower-rating programs.
The roll-out of Nine’s hour-long bulletins begins in February in Canberra and Wollongong, with other markets to follow. The Victorian programs will be anchored from Nine’s Melbourne studios by Jo Hall.