Channel Seven has returned to the top of the TV ratings in 2021, with 11 of the 20 most-watched programs of the year.
Broadcasting the AFL grand final and Tokyo Olympics was crucial to Seven’s success.
But in a continuation of a recent trend, news and reality TV shows played a major role, too.
Seven took back the crown from Nine with a 38.6 per cent share of the national audience compared to Nine’s 37.8 per cent.
Ten was well behind in last place with a share of 23.6 per cent.
Celebrating the channel’s 13th pole position in the past 15 years alone, Seven West Media CEO James Warburton said it was “great to be back” in the No.1 spot.
“I’m extremely proud of the team at Seven,” Mr Warburton said.
“We have momentum, confidence and the shows Australia wants to watch.”
As at Seven, the big crowd pullers at Nine were news and reality shows such as The Block, Married at First Sight and Lego Masters.
“Reality shows are still the sweet spot and are overwhelmingly the big audience pullers regardless of the network,” said media analyst Steve Allen of Pearman Media.
“Reality can be made very cheaply, while drama is more expensive and it’s high risk in terms of audiences.”
If a high-cost drama series fails then the TV stations stand to lose big time because they have already made a number of episodes.
But pulling a reality show can almost be a-week-to-week decision.
Channel Ten is a serial underperformer in the ratings stakes. So far this year, the one-off Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry was its only program in the top 20.
The controversial interview with the Sussexes came in at No.15, attracting 2.37 million viewers.
The top performer was Seven, with the AFL grand final delivering 4.1 million viewers.
As for the top-performing series, Nine claimed that title with Married at First Sight. The finale delivered 2.35 million viewers.
Seven also won in the growing broadcast video on demand (BVOD) segment of the market, with 45.5 per cent of the audience and 14.84 billion minutes screened.
BVOD refers to streaming platforms such as 7plus, 9Now and 10play.
Once a relatively insignificant segment, BVOD increased its revenues by 38.8 per cent in 2020.
PwC said it delivered $229 million in revenue.
The segment is believed to have a bright future, with Nine estimating its BVOD revenues will jump by 45 per cent for the half-year to June 2021.
The TV stations are trying to earn more profits out of that growing area and “in terms of cost per [viewer], BVOD is more expensive than standard free-to-air linear TV,” said Chris Walton, a director of ad placement group Nunn Media.
BVOD and secondary channels currently deliver about 15 per cent of television revenues, according to Standard Media Index.
Nine disputes rankings
Despite Seven’s overall performance, leadership in television ratings is actually disputed.
Nine, which also reported its viewership figures on Sunday, claims it is the leader and not Seven.
That’s because it claims its primary channel, the free-to-air outlet that carries the most popular programming, was the leader in all the key demographics that advertisers favour.
The demographics include viewer ages, viewing times and status in relation to buying groceries.
Those discussions go down rabbit holes that are aimed at presenting audience segments that advertisers will find most attractive to reach.
But Mr Allen did some calculations to provide clarity for The New Daily.
“We counted [the peak night-time slot of] 6pm to 10.30pm in the 16-to-54 age demographic,” Mr Allen said.
“The bottom line is Nine has won the year in that segment and Seven is second while getting closer.”
Mr Allen’s figures show that for the primary channels in that category, Nine won 39.5 per cent of the audience while Seven won 34.5 per cent.
Why it matters
Winning in that space is valuable for Nine because it can charge advertisers more for those audiences.
But overall, it’s still a volumes business and although “Channel Nine would dispute the metrics on which Seven lays claim to be No.1, Seven rightly focuses on total audiences,” Mr Walton said.
“If they’re getting more people then there’ll be more advertisers in more instances for whom the answer might be Seven.”
But Nine is not totally off the mark when they point out its stronger performance in its primary channel.
That’s because the primary free-to-air channels still deliver 80 to 85 per cent of revenues because they attract the big audiences and popular programs.