What to look for as the TV ratings battle enters the crucial final lap for the year

Tonight sees one of the final baton handovers of the 2021 ratings season. Seven and Nine are still both in the hunt, while Ten is about to roll the dice

Welcome to Unmade, written on a bright Sunday morning at beautiful Sisters Beach, Tasmania.

Happy National Chocolate Milkshake Day.

I’m glad to say that the Unmade community is still growing, even since yesterday’s note. We’re up to 1,081 now. If you want to help out a colleague who might like to be on the list, then feel free to forward this and encourage them to sign up. And by all means, make that an all-staffer while you’re at it… A shout out to the many media agency folk who have signed up in the last few days.

As of today, we have just 11 weeks of the official TV ratings year left to go.

The OzTam 40-week ratings year is a weird beast even in normal times. The first six weeks of the year did not count because of the summer break. So the battle only began on February 7. Then there was a fortnight’s break in April for the Easter holidays. And officially, hostilities will end for the year on November 27.

The reason that only the 40 non-holiday weeks count is historic. These were the ones that the media agencies based their upfront commitments to networks upon. The theory goes that ratings will be down in other weeks as viewers go on holiday or are out enjoying the sun.

These days the networks all argue that they now do battle for 52 weeks per year. Nonetheless, OzTam, owned by the TV networks, continues to publish an annual calendar for the official ratings year. After knocking off on November 28, hostilities do not officially resume until February 6 next year. That’s a ten week pause.

Even more randomness has been added to this year’s numbers by the addition of the postponed 2020 Olympics into the schedule., which gave Seven a turbo boost from July 23 to August 8.

And as an added complexity, from July we also saw the launch of VOZ, OzTam’s new measurement of viewing across all platforms, not just overnight but also after seven days.

(Incidentally, VOZ also collects the data for 28 days later too, but suddenly none of the networks seem to want to talk about those, and there’s barely a reference to it on the VOZ site either. I’ve been asking around, and nobody wants to say why. But they’ve also stopped arguing publicly about how to interpret the numbers, so I presume some heads have been banged together and they’ve agreed to unite around the seven day figures. But I digress.)

In a week’s time we’ll enter the final quarter. But this weekend marks a programming junction point, as several tentpoles reach their finales and networks launch their final big shows of the year.

It’s a lucrative moment for the Sunday newspapers.

In The Sunday Telegraph, Ten’s got a full page to promote tonight’s Survivor “grand finale” (come on George…), the launch of The Masked Singer on Monday and the first season of reality crafting show Making It.

Seven’s got a full page to promote The Voice, which also has its “grand final” tonight, along with the second season of SAS Australia tomorrow.

The sub editor in me wishes that having found some peace in how they will talk about their numbers, the networks could now agree whether it’s grand finale or grand final.

Nine, meanwhile, is continuing to roll with The Block for a while longer.

So how are we travelling to this point?

For the week just gone, Seven and Nine split most of the honours between them.

In the key advertising demographic of 25-54, Nine won Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Ten won Thursday, and Seven won Friday and Sunday, thanks to AFL finals. And in total people, Nine won three days and Seven four.

Seven’s decision to revive The Voice, which lived on Nine for the best part of a decade, has continued to pay off. It was the top entertainment show of the week with last Sunday’s episode delivering an overnight metro audience of 1.088m.

I wonder how it would have gone without the Olympics as a launch platform. Seven may have lost something like $50m on the Olympics, but at least it made the network a contender for winning the year.

Meanwhile, Nine’s home reno show The Block, has continued to recover after a slow start to the season. Its Sunday outing rated 1.037m in total people. And the Block was also the biggest show among 25-54s last week.

It means that Seven has not lost a week in total people since the Olympics. That’s eight weekly wins in a row. In the first half of the year, Nine won 11 weeks on the trot, so there’s still plenty to play for.

In 25-54, it’s starting to already look like Nine’s year. With Nine having won most weeks in that demo in the first half of the year, Seven started winning again once the Olympics kicked in. But last week, 25-54 swung back to Nine.

Despite skewing younger, Ten, meanwhile, is coming a distant third, even in 16-39. It hasn’t won a week in that demo since January. The claim of being the “undisputed” under 50s network remains… disputed.

The ratings I will be watching out for with most interest in the coming week will be for Ten’s Making It. Featuring hosts Harley Breen and Susie Youssef, the promos make the show look like a cross between Masterchef and The Renovators. One was a sensation for Ten, and the other a disaster.

Launching in a timeslot up against The Block on Nine and the third night of SAS Australia on Seven means little clear air for Making It. If the numbers are poor, I’m not sure Ten has the ability to move to a Plan B.

By this time next week, we’ll have a much better picture of how the final quarter will unfold.

Thanks for opening Unmade on a Sunday. I’m still experimenting with format and timing. I’d be interested to know whether you’d prefer future wrap-ups of the week’s ratings to arrive on a Monday, or whether you’d like me to hit send, as soon as it’s written on a Sunday. Drop me a line to letters@unmade.media or comment with this button.

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Enjoy what remains of the weekend.


Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade