Yet advertisers ignore older audiences to their detriment. “Forty years ago, someone in their 60s might have spent less money than someone in their 30s,” Warner says. “Now, there’s more money in that 55-plus group than ever before.”
Naturally, all networks arrange the goalposts to suit themselves. Nine is sticking with the industry’s traditional standard: 6pm to midnight in the five biggest cities across the 40-week ratings season. Extend those parameters from 6am to midnight and Seven regains its lead, while 10 prefers the 6pm to 10.30pm window across 52 weeks. (Though the ratings season ended on Saturday, programs recorded and watched within the next 28 days may have a small effect on the final tally.)
Live sport finals – AFL on Seven, Rugby League on Nine and the Melbourne Cup on 10 – delivered each commercial network its highest ratings of the year. But their 7.30pm reality shows, which air up to four nights a week, had the greatest impact on their fortunes.
Nine’s controversial Married at First Sight averaged 1.95 million viewers, including regional audiences, followed by Lego Masters (1.89 million), Ninja Warrior (1.44 million), The Voice (1.42 million) and The Block (1.41 million). Seven’s top reality series was The All New Monty (1.40 million) and My Kitchen Rules (1.35 million), just ahead of 10’s The Masked Singer (1.34 million).
“A big problem for networks is that teens have gone off television,” says Marc C-Scott, a screen and media lecturer at Victoria University. “In 2011, teens were watching 53 hours of live broadcasting [every three months] but by 2011, that was down to 18 hours.”
Since 2015, Seven has launched 26 new reality formats – including Dance Boss, Back With the Ex and The Super Switch – but most have underperformed. Yet the network triumphed in other timeslots, with Sunrise (275,000 city viewers) well in front of Nine’s struggling Today (197,000), and Seven’s 6pm news hour (939,000) ahead of Nine’s (843,000).
In previous years, 10 limped across the finish line with cheap international filler but the network ends 2019 on a high, growing its audience share by 0.5 per cent between August and November. Its key reality franchises (The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Survivor, The Masked Singer and The Amazing Race) all punched above their weight among younger viewers.
“Putting unique content on their catch-up services could be one way for networks [to compete with streaming services] such as Netflix,” C-Scott says. “The most important thing to remember is that story is king, regardless of which platform it’s on.”
TOP 20 PROGRAMS OF 2019
1. State of Origin Rugby League: Qld v NSW 1st Match, Nine, 3.23 million
2. AFL Grand Final: Richmond v GWS, Seven, 2.96 million
3. State of Origin Rugby League: NSW v Qld 3rd Match, Nine, 2.91 million
4. State Of Origin Rugby League NSW v Qld 2nd match, Nine, 2.84 million
5. NRL Grand Final Day Match, Nine, 2.66 million
6. 2019 Australian Open Men’s Final, Nine, 2.11 million
7. Married At First Sight, Nine, 1.95 million
8. 2019 Melbourne Cup Carnival Race, 10, 1.92 million
9. Lego Masters, Nine, 1.89 million
10. 2019 Australian Open Women’s Final, Nine, 1.60 million
11. Seven News, 1.50 million
12. Seven News Sunday, 1.50 million
13. Ninja Warrior, Nine, 1.44 million
14. Seven News/Today Tonight, 1.44 million
15. The Voice, Nine, 1.42 million
16. The Block, Nine, 1.41 million
17. The All New Monty, Seven, 1.40 million
18. My Kitchen Rules, Seven, 1.35 million
19. The Masked Singer, 10, 1.34 million
20. Nine News Sunday, 1.29 million
Source: OzTam and RegionalTam
SHARE OF TV ADVERTISING REVENUE
1. Nine Network: 40.4 per cent (+2.3 per cent)
2. Seven Network: 38.5 per cent (-0.2 per cent)
3. 10 Network: 21.1 per cent (-2.1 per cent)
Source: Standard Media Index, Jan-Sep 2019 v Jan-Sep 2018
Michael Lallo is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.