The art of programming war

2013-05-11_0140The war on programming has been at a premium lately with viewers baffled by shows listed in the EPG and print guides that just never appear.

Nine Director of Programming Andrew Backwell has revealed the network is using every strategy in the book to ensure it gets the best return for its shows.

He told the Courier Mail multi-channels and an increasingly competitive market mean networks have to do all they can to get audience share.

“We are running a business, trying to get the biggest share of advertising revenue and we are all fighting to get the right return,” he said.

“Everyone is trying to strategically look for an advantage to get as many people to watch your channel.”

Backwell said he understood the audience frustration and the network did its best to inform viewers if shows would run late, but he said the delays made commercial sense.

“We invest a lot of money in these shows so we have to put them in the slot that will get the best return.”

Seven is quoted in less detail, saying, “We have got better with our communication and advising viewers of changed times. With live and event television, it often runs over the allocated time.”

The article follows an opinion piece in The Age this week from Paul Kalina:

It’s not just a matter of false advertising, of promising consumers something it won’t deliver, which is an annoyance viewers in TV-land have come to expect, though a punishable offence in other realms of business.

It’s yet another sign, along with inaccurate start and finish times, of the indifference with which networks treat viewers as they shift their focus from building the loyalty and trust of viewers to one-upping each other in an ultimately self-defeating game of brinkmanship. Most perplexing this time, though, is that Nine seem to have forgotten that The Big Bang Theory is indeed one of its strongest drawcards. So why not simply promote that line-up? Surely that’s what running a network is all about?

Next week Nine has three episodes of The Voice and a new Big Bang Theory scheduled. Success.


  1. This is one of the many reasons viewers are deserting FTA in droves. Remember five years ago when several shows each week would rate well over 2m? Now there’s lucky to be one show per week that gets that.
    Top Gear is a classic example of why screwing around with a show will damage it. 9 kept changing and changing and disrespecting their viewers and people quickly gave up.
    Like others here, I hardly watch any ‘live’ FTA. I simply cannot keep up with scheduling changed and once I miss and episode or 2, I don’t both PTR-ing the rest of the series – I just download it.

    Australian TV stations have been treating their viewers with contempt for years and this has caused and steady decline in viewers across all networks.

  2. I voted with my remote control many years ago and now less than 1% of my regular TV viewing in any given week is anything on FTA. It’s pure insanity they think they know what they are doing. They can spin their programming “strategies” all they want, but I simply gave up trying to follow or figure out when the shows I want to watch were going to be on. I don’t watch any of their endless onslaught of big rating marquee “reality” shows so they clearly have no interest in my viewing habits. Seems plenty of people are still keen to keep playing along with their games, good luck to them!

  3. @Ronnie
    TV viewing has increased over the last couple of years because people have been going out and spending less as saving has gone from -5% to +10% of household income.

    TV has fragmented due to technology but big TV events like MKR and The Voice are getting larger audiences.

    A recent AMCA report found that 72% of people prefer to watch TV live than record it. For TV events people want to stay current and part of what is going on. Ad breaks provide opportunities to talk and play with phones and tablets.

    That is the market TV networks are are trying to lock in.

    I am with you though. I prefer to sit down and immerse myself in a good episode of TV for 43 minutes with no interruptions or distractions. But I am of no value to advertisers so the networks aren’t interested in me.

  4. One of these so called “clever” moves wins the ratings battle every night but they are all losing the war to build brand integrity and loyalty. The audiences are fragmenting and diminishing – so there’s no real growth, just this ridiculous bloodsport over the percentage share of the declining number of viewers. I am in my forties and I do not watch advertising on TV. Ever. End of. Do not understand why anyone does.

  5. Such a short sighted approach. They need to build loyalty with their audience, not drive them away in tit for tat battles with the other networks.

  6. People are saying that the programmers must be dumb, stupid and idiotic to be continuing these alienating practices. I think that they do know how audiences are reacting, and that they are doing these practices in spite of what the audience thinks, not because they want to, but in the cut throat world of TV ratings, they have to. Why are so much columns devoted to who wins the ratings each night? Why is it so important whether it’s Seven or Nine who wins a particular night? Advertising money, that’s why. Advertising money trumps audience comfort. And given that this ad money is the life blood of the TV networks, and there’s so little to go around, programmers are fighting tooth and nail to win those dollars. And if it means using these measures, then they will use them. And these measures must work- if it didn’t the programmers wouldn’t use them. I don’t think they’re stupid.

  7. Secret Squirrel

    @Stan – that’s a disingenuous comment and I think you know it. You’re quoting numbers now and proclaiming that things won’t change in the future. You’re dismissing any effect that may be already occurring. I’m sure that you’re smart enough to know that there are many reasons why a lot more people watch 7 or 9, and hardly anybody watches 44.

    Recent ratings for programs on 7 and 9 might well have been higher if they’d treated people with a little respect. Live sport, and local competition shows still pull big numbers but audiences for overseas dramas are down and it’s not because they’re all crap.

    Make no mistake, people’s viewing habits are changing. It’s simply a matter of how quickly it will happen rather than if.

  8. The networks play these games only because they work. They generate more ad views and thus money. They will continue to do so until viewers stop watching.

    People complain about the programming of TBBT yet the new episode on Wednesday rated 1.288m and was the second most watched programme of the night.

    Ten has adopted a strategy of starting their programmes on time, a couple of minutes after the half hour, for the last couple of months and their EPG is accurate to the minute. The only sign of an upswing is that NCIS has regained viewers in the last fortnight possibly because live viewers are watching NCIS when they are tired of waiting around for PTTR to start.

  9. Secret Squirrel and David Knox, just wanted to let you know that I have caught up up to watching DOOL on Utube until 19th April 2012 thanks to your information.
    But this morning when I tried, a message came up saying “Terminated because we received multiple third party claims of copyright infringement regarding material the user posted”
    Would this be Sony who removed it? I knew it was too good to be true. Can I try anywhere else? It seems all of 2012 is unavailable which is a shame.

  10. I don’t know what is worse the fact that they do this or the fact that they are stupid enough to openly come out and admit it???

    Wake up, if you keep playing silly buggers, then how do you expect the viewers to find your programmes?????

  11. To everyone saying this scheduling madness will backfire: the most reliable networks are SBS, TEN & ABC which are the bottom three. Way at the top are Seven & Nine… Your numbers are speaking louder than your words.

  12. Really annoyed at the timeslot changes of the voice due to the block. It has really buggered up my viewing especially Tuesday with the 8pm start. Also I recorded last Tuesday nights results episode and even recorded 15 minutes after its scheduled finished and still missed the ending. Not good enough. I’m still waiting for drop dead diva season 4 to be scheduled somewhere as well. This is why my viewing of channel nine is getting less and less.

  13. I agree with everyone that has stated reliable, sensible and truthful start times are key to keeping viewer trust. Also preferably a reliable day too. Until recently I never deeply thought about the future of television. But if you can’t trust the television channels then they invite people to start recording them or choosing other options. Short term unreliability might be successful.

    But I really worry when the Pre-Baby Boomers, Baby Boomers and to some extent Generation X die. Because what you have left is Generation Y and one or more later generation(s). They will be digital natives. And all their lives they will have been taught possibly that you can’t trust television.

    Plus subconsciously they’ve been taught television doesn’t trust them. Represented by the watermark and other electronic tricks including pop-ups. As electronic marking represents distrust with some other channels during News, Sport and Current Affairs due to certain Channels unable to attribute footage.

    The watermark seems to either represent stupidity. In that the Channels or Networks think the viewers constantly need to know what Channel they are on. Or constant distrust (like they direct at the other Channels but directed at viewers instead).

  14. Secret Squirrel

    This – “…they shift their focus from building the loyalty and trust of viewers to one-upping each other in an ultimately self-defeating game of brinkmanship.”

    It’s a myopic strategy that gives a short-term gain but long-term pain. The commercial networks are pushing people more and more towards alternative ways of obtaining their content, overseas drama in particular. This is why we are seeing more Aus dramality competition shows such as The Voice, MKR, etc.

    I trust the ABC and SBS and feel some loyalty toward them for being shown a little respect with their programming consistency.

    I trust Ten a little bit with regard to program start times but they lost my loyalty during the disaster of 2012 and haven’t done enough to regain it. Solid programming and consistent, accurately advertised start times may eventually regain it.

    Seven and Nine are pretty much dead to me. The only thing I trust about them is that they will have advertise a program as starting at one time, have a different start time in on-line guides, and a third in the broadcast EPG, and *none* of them will be when the program actually starts. I currently watch about two shows a week with each and one of those was Person of Interest.

    The optic fibre for the NBN was laid in our street a couple of weeks back so we should hopefully be connected before the federal election. I already consume a decent percentage of my “TV” on-line on my crappy 4Mbps line (in 720 half-HD). Once I can stream in full HD and completely change my habits, I won’t be coming back.

  15. It kinda seems as they viewers are getting in the crossfire while Australian networks are “using every strategy in the book.” At least the US networks appear to treat their viewers with respect. Its simple. worry about whats best for the customer. If you’re too busy thinking about about what your opposition is or isn’t doing you lose focus on the most important people. Your customers!

    As someone that works evenings, there are times when I need to rely on an updated EPG so can record a show and watch it when I get home. watching catch up tv is an option if you have a reasonable download allowance from your ISP, but its not the same watching a show on a laptop or pc.

    I love TBBT, but I long ago gave up trying to watch it on 9/GO!. Instead I just buy the dvd when it comes up, and watch the episodes in the correct order without interspersed repeats, and in my own time.

  16. There is one episode of Person Of Interest left in this series. Surely Nine could reward their viewers and show it at 9ishpm instead of holding it for months. It is just going to make people move to other sources for this show, and not bother with any other new Nine shows, because who would trust them?

  17. @ David Knox

    Sorry David but whilst I do agree that network 10 is possibly the best of a bad bunch, but as I also commented previously, unless all networks change their disrespectful attitude towards us their viewers, because if only one network does the right thing, they will simply become a reliable channel to record, and ask how long would that(reliabilty) last if they ever become competitive again rating and advertising revenue wise?

    But unfortunately I think I can only see things getting much worse after the 15-9-2013, where favours to the networks will probably be expected and returned in full, combined with a possible massive funding reductions for our ABC, and very possibly ACMA as well.

  18. Paul Kalina makes a valid point about eroding viewer loyalty and networks endlessly trying to one-up each other (where there are no winners and certainly not the viewers). I just can’t be bothered with the constant show over-running and confusing schedules, I’ll watch something else. Trying to keep track of the location of the new episode of Big Bang Theory on FTA is almost a part time job. It’s easier to buy the DVD set for $20.

    For the main part I’ve abandoned much of the commercial FTA stations in preference for the generally more-reliable pay TV stations and DVDs.

  19. One promotional activity that could raise TEN in the ratings race would be to guarantee start times, programming honesty and dedication to their shows.
    This would set them apart from the others and if successful, might just start a domino effect.

    Now all they need is some decent shows.

    • I’ve said a number of times, the first network that makes a pact with the audience to start on time will see an instant upswing. That said, Late List results have shown TEN is the better of the big three.

  20. So, basically, lying to & deliberately misleading viewers is fine as long as it manipulates the numbers for audience share?

    Great. That means the very numbers networks are chasing are meaningless. On top of that it does nothing but annoy viewers. And the networks wonder why alternative viewing options are taking off?

  21. @nik c
    The next round of The Voice will have longer episodes which means higher ratings and more ad views.

    So the Mentalist would have be pushed till much later and many of its regular viewers wouldn”t watch it live. POI would be very late and it has already lost over half its regular viewers. So they put on an old movie and hope to get better ratings from late night viewers. Then show The Mentalist and POI at a later date when their fans will be able to watch them.

    The downside is that you risk the viewers getting out of the habit of watching your shows or go elsewhere.

    Programming decisions are rational, they don’t always work. And I alway thought that Sociopaths were supposed to be smart enough to realise that you don’t boast about being a Sociopath.

  22. If the Nine team spent as much time and energy on commissioning a range of shows people actually wanted to watch they might get the audience they are chasing. Sadly we all see how thin the offering is and we’re sick of 3 TBBT is a row instead of a new Australian drama, comedy, panel or chat show. It’s really not that hard. Seven are introducing HbbTV while these neanderthals haven’t figured out how to light a fire. Nine need some fresh people – these names have been around forever – and by talking to themselves all day long they don’t challenge their own monoculture. It’s bizarre they go on the record like this – such is the bubble in which they operate.

  23. If the TV networks want maximum return for a TV show, stop rescheduling and show something at a time you specify. Take Arrow for example. Since November last year it was advertised then taken off the advertised again then taken off. People got so sick of it so they found they can get all 20 episodes before the first one is put to air.

  24. Tricks may work in the short term, but it’s certainly not a way to build confidence in a brand for your viewers. Such tactics are tacky and childish and will only disenfranchise viewers far more. You’d never see these antics in the US. A program is scheduled weeks in advance, sometimes months. People know when something is going to air and the networks stick to their guns.
    I think the real question such comments as these raises is why should anyone watch Australian network television? That’s not a joke, it’s a serious question. Why should viewers be subjected to secret programming changes, late start times and shows being pulled at any moment. Shows are easily, and legally, downloadable from numerous sources, likewise there’s the advantage of binge watching a DVD season. Watching a show ad-free in your own time is what people are getting used to.
    As it stands, the networks are lame ducks, they just don’t realise it and it’ll be too late when they do.

  25. I think the networks need stronger policing. No longer can they be self regulating.
    The on/ off of the Voice would annoy me if I watched it!
    I don’t get the programming idea of yanking the last two episodes of a series e.g The Mentalist. I also know that Person of Interest has been poorly treated.
    Explain how this maximizes eyeballs when repeats of the Mentalist have littered your schedule. Similarly TBBT, all CSI shows, Top Gear have all been damaged by repeats and frequent timeslots.
    House husbands is 9’s most successful Aussie drama in years. Congrats on the Logie, however you are damaging this show by taking it off air for a week and then moving it from Mondays back to Sundays (where it was last season). Viewers form habits and with other sources of entertainment TV is becoming too hard!
    Be consistent, stop changing your schedule and viewers will reward you!!!

  26. In an industry that sells viewers eyeballs staring at screens to advertisers how the hell does preventing the viewers, via the increasingly insane flexo-vanish scheduling, from seeing the programming they are interested in possibly result in maximised profits?

    Your viewers are leaving. Ever wondered why? Wake up.

  27. The biggest problem with a programing war like this is viewers just don’t know when there program is on if the printed guides and even EPG are not up to date. If they are not watching the network regulary and miss the promos then they miss the program.

    TBBT is a classic example where Nine has been changing the new ep time slot and filling the schedule with so many re-runs half the time viewers miss out on new eps because they just didn’t know it was on. This then leads to viewers going else where or just losing interest in the show knowing they can catch it later in a re-run or just buy the DVD in a few months.

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