Cloud Nine: Net closes Aussie TV season No. 1

But Seven a close 2nd in tight race

SYDNEY -- Nine Network won the most closely contested Australian TV ratings race in twenty years as the season came to a close, grabbing a 29.2% total viewer share versus rival Seven Network's 27.8% share, according to figures released Sunday by ratings provider OzTAM.

Seven failed to edge out Nine despite gaining the biggest audience share -- 0.7 points -- of any of the networks during the year. Nine's audience remained stagnant year-to-year. Network Ten finished the year with a 22.2% share and won in its preferred 16?39 and 18?49 demographics, while national broadcaster the ABC scored a 15.3% share and multicultural broadcaster SBS took 5.4%.

The top-rated program for the year was Nine's broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, which played to 3.56 million viewers. Network Ten's coverage of the Australian Football League Grand Final was the No. 2-rated event with 3.15 million viewers.

The Seven Network's production of BBC format "Dancing With the Stars," which averaged 2.18 million viewers a week, was the top-rated regular program for the year, followed by Seven's home-grown factual hit "Border Security," which averaged 2.12 million viewers a week.

"Desperate Housewives" retained its position as Australian television's top-rated import with an average of 1.671 million viewers, edging out "House" (1.654 million), "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (1.647 million) and "Grey's Anatomy" (1.621 million) as Australia's favorite overseas series.

Nine Network CEO Eddie McGuire said the result was pleasing.

"There is no denying the competitive market and throughout the year we have maintained our No. 1 position. Nine has again shown it is the network that viewers trust and turn to for what matters to them most," McGuire said.

Seven Network director of programming and production, Tim Worner however said Seven has "terrific momentum heading into 2007."

"This year was all about building our audience gains of the past 18 months and taking Seven to a higher level. We're strong and competitive and we have great programs for the year. ... We are the one Australian watch for news, public affairs, breakfast television and the highest-rated Australian and International programs in primetime," Worner said.

Industry body Free TV Australia reported that overall TV viewing increased by 0.7% during 2006.

Free TV chairman and Seven Network CEO David Leckie said that "even with all the new media competing for consumers time, Free TV has again proved its few detractors wrong with overall viewing up this year."