Seven looks to strengthen 2009 lead

Pay TV sector claims it's gaining ground on free-to-air

SYDNEY -- Australia’s market-leading Seven Network will unleash a raft of new local factual programs in the coming weeks in order to capitalize on its strong lead in the 2009 TV ratings year.

According to official ratings figures released Monday, Seven is winning in the year to date for all age groups, with a 28.4% prime time share, up slightly on last year, to Nine’s 27%, and Ten’s 23% shares. The ABC is averaging a share of 16.5% in the year to date and SBS is at 5.4%.

Big improvements from Network Ten in the last ten weeks, thanks to “Masterchef Australia” and “Talkin Bout Your Generation,” has seen it take the lead in the 18 – 49 demographic, as well as maintaining its 16 – 39 lead.

Despite a strong start to the year with its record-breaking drama series: "Underbelly 2," which averaged over 2 million viewers per week, the Nine Network is the only commercial network to have lost audience, dropping 5.3% of its total audience share. However it said its bright spot is growth in the 25 – 54 demographic, while CEO David Gygnell maintained that the network is “delivering for our advertisers in the key revenue-generating demographics and those aims remain our sharp focus.

Seven’s head of programming Tim Worner said the number one network’s aim for the second half of the year is “to continue our steady growth. We’re bringing in one fresh Australian show after another in the next few weeks … at a time when the audience has shown they love Australian programs."

Those new shows include local version of “Beauty and The Geek,” “Worlds Strictest Parents,” and “TV Burp” as well as new US drama “Flash Forward.”

Ten chief programming officer David Mott meanwhile said the ratings show Ten is clearly “the network of choice for viewers under 55."

“We are number one in 18 – 49, 16 – 39 and daytime and we continue to gain ground in 25 – 54 and total viewers."

Ten will launch new shows in the second half including “Glee,” “Celebrity Masterchef” and local comedy panel show, “The 7pm Project,” which Mott said “has all the hallmarks of a game changer for Ten."

But while the free to air networks crow about their audiences, the pay TV sector is claiming a bigger win. Its own analysis of the ratings figures shows that audiences are continuing to drift towards pay TV and away from free to air.

According to pay TV ad sales group Multichannel Network, pay TV audiences grew in total 4.1%, while free to air viewing has fallen 1.5% in the first half of 2009.

Said CEO Anthony Fitzgerald, " the subscription television industry remains a true blue sky area."
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