Lowest Ratings ever: What should Channel TEN do?

Here’s a series of points I wrote about TEN late last year and what they could do to claw back ratings but never ended up publishing anywhere. It is quite astounding that TEN’s ratings have continued to suffer in 2014 – even moreso than 2013.

 

TEN’s overall ratings in 2013 ended up being 4th – the first time in OzTam ratings history that a commercial network has fallen fourth in end of year overall ratings behind Seven, Nine and the ABC.

 

A combination of failed shows, poor management, last minute schedule changes and lack of direction for the network is to blame for the result, driving ratings down.

 

At TEN’s upfronts last year, a raft of new and returning shows were announced as the network put on a brave face trying to install some degree of confidence into advertisers and viewers alike that TEN would turn around their dire ratings situation in 2014, aiming specifically for the 25-54 year old demographic.

 

Traditionally, TEN were the youth network, aiming for the 16-39 year old demographic. Until 5 years ago, the network dominated in 16-39 year old viewers but now those viewers are no longer “turning on” TEN. The combination of the introduction of digital secondary channels, advancing internet technology and changing entertainment consumption habits of these viewers have kept them away from TEN.

 

Not to mention shows that simply do not resonate with viewers, slow delivery of some of their international shows, last minute schedule changes and cancellation of some of the brands that were big on TEN such as Big Brother and Australian Idol have all contributed to the down turn.

 

Just about everyone has an opinion of what TEN should do to turn it all around. Every story relating to the poor performance of TEN on various TV blogs result in numerous comments from readers.

 

I believe one solution for TEN might be to rebrand and relaunch with a change of logo, a change in the overall on-air appearance and a new programming strategy. In no particular order, here are a series of points and ideas that could help TEN come back in 2014.

 

1. New logo / new look. The way TEN appear on screen both the logo and on air promotions is dated. Pivotal to any major relaunch of a product, a new logo and new on-air appearance will disassociate TEN in 2014 from the troubles of its past 4 years. To some extent they have changed their on air appearance this year, but it is still the same old TEN.

 

2. Better promotion of shows. I’m not sure TEN know what they are doing at times when they advertise shows. Even some of TEN’s best and most watched shows can appear bland when seen as a promo both on the network itself and in other media. To put this into perspective, look at what Seven do. The way they promote shows on Seven make you feel like you want to watch the show being promoted. A classic example is I have recently been tempted to watch Home & Away based on the ads – even though I haven’t watched Home & Away since Dannii Minogue was in it back in the early 90’s and certainly don’t plan to!

 

Making you feel like you want to watch a show doesn’t mean overdoing it. Clichés like “special event”, “must see television”, “10 million  viewers in the US” and the like do absolutely nothing to help promote a show. Like a good product, a good show advertised well will soon become “must see television” for viewers without ever having to use the phrase (and no I don’t have a marketing degree!). As for the number of US viewers – does anyone care? Different country, different market, very different television viewing habits.

 

3. Fast delivery of international content. For years, it has been called fast tracking – the concept of airing a US (or even UK) show the same day as it does overseas or within days of its overseas broadcast. To me, there is no reason why international content should not be shown same day – in this age of social media and constant connectivity with the world, airing international content same day minimises viewers being “spoiled” by international media on what happened in their favourite shows as well as the temptation to obtain the show by “other means”. Australians are amongst the highest users in the world of shows obtained by “other means”. It also means fans can take part in international discussions with fans, sharing their experiences with viewers around the world.

 

4. Fast Tracking leads me to the next point – don’t show repeats when there are also new episodes airing. First part of this point – one of the arguments against fast tracking is US pre-emptions. Shows in the US often have weeks off where they don’t air sometimes on multiple occasions during a given season. When an Australian network is fast tracking same day, it means they too have to air something else instead. In my opinion, what they show instead show be along the lines of one off specials or a completely different show altogether – never a repeat of the same show. Classic examples of this are Modern Family and NCIS.

 

Next part of this point – is saturation of the schedule with repeats – TEN really need to stop airing repeats of the same shows all the time on the main channel. They serve only to dilute their respective brands and drive down ratings. Repeats of NCIS for example should only ever air on TEN outside of the show’s season – and then, not all the time – sometimes fans need to “miss” a show so as not to get sick of it. Many people simply don’t watch repeats at all. Seen it once, know what happens, no need to see again. Not to mention the fact that many end up confused as to when new episodes will air.

 

5. Stop combining new episodes and repeats into a single long episode – and while we are at it, stop the practise of showing two episodes – one new, on repeat – as a single entity on the EPG. TEN aren’t the only network that do this – Nine and Seven do it as well, and it can be extremely frustrating for the viewer – especially when the second half of the show – the repeat episode – interferes with being able to record other channels at the time (thank goodness most PVRs still have a manual record feature where you can set your own start and stop time for any channel).

 

6. BE HONEST with viewers. A point of difference for TEN moving forward could be to be honest about what is happening with shows. Too many times we see on not just TEN no indication of when a show is a repeat or not. Nine are notoriously bad at this where it becomes so confusing as to when the new episode of The Big Bang Theory is, repeats actually at times end up rating higher.

 

New episodes should be promoted as such, while repeats should be called something like “classic” episodes. If a show ever needs to move to a new timeslot, then tell us – and tell us why!

 

7. Maintain stable timeslots and a stable schedule. Perhaps the number one reason why free to air viewers overall, not just on TEN are generally decreasing is that schedules are now more than ever unstable. Show start times are anything but what they are originally advertised as and it just gets worse when there are reality shows in the schedule – regardless of channel, they all seem to push start times of shows that follow them back. An 8.30 show can quickly end up starting as late as 9.00. While most of us are used to the idea of late starting shows, the practise is now out of hand.

 

Away from TEN for a moment, anything that followed X Factor on Seven (and now in 2014 MKR on Seven and The Block on Nine) would have start times dependent on the time the reality show finished for the night. Some nights, even with an updated EPG, the show would still run late meaning subsequent shows no longer matched the EPG. The Blacklist on Seven started anything from 8.30 to as late as 9.30!

 

A stable schedule not only means a show should start at the same time every week it airs, but it should stay in the same timeslot for its duration, None of this “special time” when a show moves from 8.30 to 9.30 or back the other way – like what happened with Under The Dome this year.

 

8. No double episodes. It is common for many networks to air two new episodes in a row of a currently airing drama. Seven and Nine are the worst at doing this, TEN not so much these days. Quickest way to kill ratings and lose viewers is a double episode. Not only does the second episode drop some of the viewers of the first when showed live, but those who record to watch shows later can end up giving up as they end up with an overload of shows to watch. For most new dramas, one hour a week is enough – especially seeing there are so many options of what to watch on TV.

 

9. Fix 6.00 – 7.30pm. Much has been said about how these 90 minutes are what brings TEN down. Low ratings throughout the period supposedly transform into row ratings for the rest of the night. In 2014 TEN were to air a family entertainment show from 6.00-6.30 weeknights – most likely a game show. With Modern Family repeats airing in that timeslot, in would appear the concept has been abandoned.

 

The Project – originally known as the 7pm Project has had its share changes including three starting times, and a change from half an hour a night to one hour. The Project should remain at 6.30pm and be shortened to half an hour. The half hour format is more condensed and moves faster.

 

As for 7pm, TEN were once the pioneers of stripping their reality shows at 7pm. The first season of Masterchef and The Biggest Loser all once enjoyed success with 7pm starts. In 2013 Nine did exactly that – with one title TEN once owned. By starting at 7pm, they grab the audience earlier or at the same time as Seven and Nine. However, a 7pm start should not be coupled with an 8.30pm or later finish – keep them to half an hour or an hour at most.

 

10. TEN’s 5pm News. If it ain’t broken then don’t fix it. Many suggest TEN should move their evening news hour to either a 5.30pm or even 4.30pm start. As TEN most afternoons win the 5-6pm timeslot why would they? A 5.30pm start would be disasterous as people would either switch to Seven or Nine at 6pm or not tune in at all, waiting until 6pm. An earlier start would result in the same low ratings Seven and Nine get for their afternoon news bulletins. Definitely keep the 5pm news hour.

 

11. TEN’s late night news. This one is a problem. I love the idea of being able to see news at around 10.30pm at night, but the thing is, it never starts at 10.30pm. Many nights it will be 10.35 or so, but there are others – where it ends up starting after 10.50! It is difficult for the viewer to know when to regularly tune in, and its random start time never fits into other viewing anyway. A constant start time would help, and keep the bulletin to half an hour and more concise.

 

(Note this paragraph refers entirely to 2013 – I will admit to not have seen TEN’s late news at all since its return after the Sochi Winter Olympics). The content is also a problem – apart from the first few minutes, essentially the late news tries to be an evening version of an The Project or another entertainment show. Performances by bands have no place in late night news (but would in a late show – see a later point on that one). Having three TEN personalities sitting there talking about what they have found on the web – and then even displaying the wrong website – makes it feel like community TV. Make the evening news more professional and destination viewing for people looking for news late at night (and I think most of Australia would love to see Sandra Sully back there too).

 

12. Fix late night. Not just the news, but after 11pm. If the new was regularly starting at 10.30 each night, and ran for half an hour, then we have from 11pm to think of.

 

How about a late night talk show at 11pm? Even if it is not necessarily every weeknight (maybe Monday to Wednesday for example) I think there is scope of our own late night show. This would be the place to have bands perform – not the during the news! – and a destination for visiting local and international guests. Make it start at 11pm on the dot each night – so that would mean, if the news started at 10.35, it would have to be shorter than half an hour.

 

For a late night show to work, it would have to be entertaining, start at the same time every night it airs (like they do in the US) and have the right host and combination of guests. Preferably some new talent as well?

 

13. Which leads to the next point – too many of TEN’s personalities multi-task. While this may not be a bad thing for the networks’ bottom line, it is a problem for the viewer – seeing too much of the same personalities on too many shows. More different personalities over different shows will create bigger points of differences between shows and minimise fatigue over certain regular TEN personalities.

 

14. The alternative for 11pm after the news. If a late night talk show is not an option, then why not show something worth watching then? A drama that may not be well suited to earlier in the night, or one that usually would have aired on ONE or ELEVEN could work well late night. The TEN network have plenty of shows they air on ONE or ELEVEN that would fit right in here.

 

In fact, TEN used to air new dramas late night – but since ONE and ELEVEN came onto the scene, much of this content have moved to those digital channels.

 

(points from here on added 2014)

 

15. Morning TV. To be honest I am not sure why TEN persist in morning news shows as the ratings are absolutely dire. I can imagine with ratings lower than ABC Breakfast the network would not be making much money out of Wake Up. The argument is, however, these things take time to build up as is indeed the case with Sunrise and Today – thing is though, they’ve both been there for a long time and it is unlikely a new show on TEN will break these morning viewing habits.

 

I’m not sure what the solution is here but have often thought that short well-defined new bulletins coupled with entertainment might work – but separated into their own shows rather than being combined in the one like Today and Sunrise.

 

16. So You Think You Can Dance. It’s a mystery why TEN brought back a show they axed several years ago. An even bigger mystery why they’d pitch it against My Kitchen Rules and The Block! When So You Think You Can Dance was axed, ratings were falling to below 800,000. Now it manages just over 300,000 and during Sochi, more people were watching ONE then TEN when the show aired.

 

Why not put this on a Friday or Saturday night? These nights are devoid of content for the most part as it is. Dance would surely pick up more viewers – despite being a niche product – on these nights when options basically include football and repeat movies.

 

17. Which leads to the next point – in times of such low ratings – when Seven and Nine are dominating the weeknights, why not put more of TEN’s prime content on weekends? That could get more viewers back – at least on weekends – and quite possibly help TEN build up the rest of the week.

 

Imagine how Secrets and Lies might have premiered if aired on Saturday night? Before anyone says it, don’t give the argument that everyone goes out on Friday and Saturday nights. They don’t. Yes, many do, but not everyone. One of the reasons most of us don’t watch much TV on weekends is because there’s nothing to watch.

 

18. Put the digital channels to work. I think one of the most forgotten aspects of analogue being switched off is that the standard definition digital channels are now available to as many people as the main channels. In TEN’s case, everyone who can get TEN can get ELEVEN. As far as the HD channels go, there are still a minority who can’t get them but, in terms of ratings shares, you wouldn’t know that was the case – as the HD digital channels do just as well in shares as the others.

 

That said, whether a network wins a night or not is still taken as being the sum of their three digital channels. Content can be spread over three channels if they choose and then the overall ratings share of the network can land a win for the night. There is still the stigma of the main channel being the one with all the prime content and the digitals (well all channels are digital so lets just call them secondary channels) are treated to second rate content. This is practised by all three commercial networks – including TEN – to try and keep most viewers on the main channel.

 

Imagine if TEN also put prime content on ELEVEN and ONE? Content on three channels appealing to three different demographics? This would surely entice more viewers rather than endless repeats or movies.

 

In conclusion to this point, the stigma of “main channels” is such that a move to ELEVEN of an underperforming TEN show will still be seen as a demotion despite the fact the same number of people have access to ELEVEN as TEN. TEN even have the advantage here where, when flicking through digital channels, 11 is one up from 10, 9 one down, 7 down another – whereas for GO! and 7TWO they are distant in the arrangement of channels (and yes I realise some have tuners where they can re-arrange their channels – but the ones I have you can’t so – we always have TEN’s group of channel together (10,11,12 (ONE – on 1 or 12)) but that is not the case for Seven and Nine.

 

There is definitely merit in the idea of bringing the secondary channels out of their perception of being second rate and using them to generate more ratings for the overall network. But – that said – perhaps the biggest problem now is there are simply too many channels and not enough content to go round – especially for TEN who have about half the budget now of Nine and Seven.

 

19. HD. A burning point for so many is the fact that we don’t get to see the majority of our prime content in Australia in HD. Not even many major sporting events can we have broadcast in HD here. This is mostly the result of bad government legislation over the years which has seen Australia fall behind the many other countries in the world in delivery of HD content.

 

While there are still a few rules in place regarding the broadcast of premium sport, for the most part, now that analogue is gone, there is no reason why there cannot be prime content broadcast in HD.

 

For TEN, I don’t think they’d have much to lose by airing major international content in HD (and then repeating in SD at other times so those without HD tuners can see). Imagine NCIS, SVU or Under the Dome in HD?

 

20. Back to the secondary channels – the point about HD leads onto thinking about ONE – a channel to me with little identity, yet about the only one that promotes HD movies. Problem is, they don’t have a lot of movies to show. ONE seems to air a combination of movies, old shows, male skewing shows and so on.

 

With improving TEN, they would have to also improve ONE and while they are at it ELEVEN as well.

 

21. Informercials channels. Another legislative blunder is that the commercial networks can air two shopping channels under the guise of being “data casting” channels. Ideally the HD solution is to scrap one of these channels, make the main channel be in HD, and have the main channel also in SD with the other two secondary channels in SD as well. Problem solved for everyone then.

 

But – assuming that won’t happen anytime soon, as we already have two channels dedicated to home shopping, scrap late night home shopping on TEN and replay prime time content. As far as advertising revenue goes, why not make after midnight advertising available to smaller businesses or those who can normally not afford TV advertising?

 

Not everyone works 9-5. Not everyone watches TV in primetime. Those who don’t are severely limited to options. Surely a show on at 2am that is a replay of what was on at 8.30pm would do better than an infomercial and potentially be able to generate more revenue?

 

22. More alternative viewing times. An extension to this point – is look at how Foxtel manage having many channels. Many options to watch many shows. Problem with free to air is they simply don’t do this. Some shows are repeated, some are not. Generally speaking, they are that obsessed with the overnight ratings for a show that generally speaking you will not know when a repeat airs until after it has aired.

 

Looking at Foxtel, if you can’t watch a show at 8.30pm, then no problem, watch the repeat at 1am – or the next day – or on the weekend. With free to airs – TEN especially could take this idea on board. Foxtel do not care about the overnight ratings (which if you ever look at are very low compared to free to air) but the overall picture – the “reach” of a show. A show can do 100,000 say on its first night but have another 600,000 watch over different times. Ratings is money – regardless of when a show airs – I believe a lot of advertising is sold as dollars per 1,000 viewers these days. So surely this idea could work for TEN – get out of the overnight ratings rat race which Seven and Nine control just like Coles and Woolworths control the grocery market and be more innovative engrossing the multi-channel environment to its full potential.

 

23. Perhaps TEN are “too corporate”. There are two ways to handle having low ratings and therefore low revenue. One way is to go out and invest in more content that will bring the ratings back. The other is to accept the position and cut costs. The second is what appears to have happened at TEN. The network accepts low ratings in primetime now as they have cut costs to handle the lower revenue coming in. Not to mention the fact, that to an outsider, the network seems to have a dysfunctional board who’s interests seem to lie more deep somewhere in the corporate world and shareholders rather than providing a quality source of entertainment in the TEN Network.

 

If you look at Nine four-five years ago, they were struggling in ratings and endured many flops. The network turned it around by investing in content with the mission to take on Seven for number one place. They also made changes to management and their structure. Years later with hit shows like The Voice and The Block, their moves have paid off.

 

For TEN to come back into the race with Seven and Nine they need to invest in content and they need to sort out their internal management and decision making. Either that or a complete overhaul to a different model sort of like some of the ideas above where they no longer focus on overnight ratings but focus on overall ratings at all times over all channels like Foxtel do.

 

It could work, but I think it would be more beneficial to the Australian public for the network to come back into the game and fight Seven and Nine rather than not compete and accept low ratings combined with severe cost cutting in order to remain a profitable business.

 

24 I could go on… but won’t! A lot of points here and many more ideas but we’ll end it here. One thing is for sure is that TEN as a network need to act on their low ratings not just for the sake of their viewers but so the business can make money to plough back into producing and acquiring quality television.

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