Changes in viewing patterns, sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic plus Network 10’s decision to cease presenting the news from Adelaide, appear to be the key factors behind the narrowing gap between Seven and its nearest rival Nine.
Both 6pm news services increased their audiences last year – but Nine’s average improvement was more than three times greater than Seven’s.
Seven news has won the yearly ratings every year from 2001, when OzTam ratings began, and was easily the winner overall in 2020.
However, Nine regularly wins the weekend news ratings, is edging Seven in the 6.30 to 7pm slot so far this year, and, last week, Nine came close to its first weekly win in the 6-630 timeslot since 2008.
Only 714 viewers separated Seven from Nine in the key slot last week.
Overall last year, the average gap between the networks for the 6pm bulletin was 39,000 – down from 46,000 in 2019 – but the differential closed markedly late in the year.
In late November, with Nine’s The Block attracting good ratings, the network recorded its largest weekly audience since 2012, with the gap between Nine and Seven the smallest since 2008.
Then in early December, Nine recorded its first weeknight victory over Seven at 6pm since New Year’s Day last year. Giving context to Nine’s struggle, the previous time it had beaten Seven at 6pm on a weeknight was 2016.
Nine’s positive numbers continued in January, but Seven believes the 6-7pm ratings aren’t particularly relevant.
Seven’s news hour was reduced to 45 minutes over summer to accommodate a 6.45pm start for BBL cricket matches – a tournament which hasn’t been a ratings success for the network. Seven is also counting on the return this week of long-standing and respected newsreader Jane Doyle to push the figures back to relative normality.
Last night, however, without cricket and with Doyle at the helm of Seven’s bulletin, Nine recorded another weeknight victory – claiming the 6pm slot with 100,000 viewers compared to Seven’s 91,000. Nine also shaded Seven at 6.30 by a narrower margin – 92,000 to 91,000.
Seven news director Chris Salter remains confident that the network can maintain its ratings dominance but acknowledges the gap closed last year. He blames a contentious Nine promotions campaign last year that resulted in lawyers’ letters flying.
On average last year, Seven increased its nightly viewership by 3000. However, Nine experienced an increase of about 10,000, with the gap between the two – which at times has been a yawning chasm – closing markedly in the last few months of 2020.
The comes after a year of significant changes at Seven. Last year was the first in more than two decades that the Seven bulletin wasn’t followed by current affairs show Today Tonight which, like the news before it, dominated the ratings. The pandemic year resulted in more news viewers overall, so it’s unclear whether the Today Tonight axing has had any impact.
Seven cost-cutting last year led to the loss of significant newsroom talent, including weekend newsreader and veteran reporter Jess Adamson.
More significantly, Seven also temporarily shifted the presentation of its 4pm bulletin to Melbourne, due to the financial hit of COVID-19.
While that bulletin is back being presented entirely from Adelaide, after a stint being run out of Melbourne in the middle of last year, the issue is the cause of bad blood between the networks.
Adelaide news viewing habits were also shaken up by Network Ten’s decision to axe its locally-presented bulletin in Adelaide last September. The news is now being presented out of Melbourne, resulting in a huge loss of viewers for the 5pm bulletin.
While Ten generally attracted the fewest viewers of all the Adelaide bulletins, at least some of its regular viewers appear to have moved to Nine, which has invested in its local newsroom over many years despite little ratings return.
Nine used the Ten move – and Seven’s earlier temporary relocation of its 4pm bulletin – to push its local credentials.
It produced a promo, below, which ran even after Seven reinstated its local 4pm service, leading to legal threats from Seven to Nine.
It appears Seven’s fears were accurate, with Adelaide viewers responding to the “local” pitch.
Nine News Adelaide news director Jeremy Pudney points out that the shift in viewers began in a pandemic year, when local news was highly valued.
“We feel privileged that at a time when the latest, local news and information matters most to South Australians, they are increasingly turning to Nine News,” he said.
“Our team’s focus has always been – and remains – delivering the people of Adelaide reliable, local news services nightly at 6pm and weeknights at 5pm.
“I think South Australians have also seen that Nine is committed to locally presented Adelaide bulletins while both Seven and Ten made the decision to shift bulletins to Melbourne during 2020.”
Seven’s Chris Salter said Seven’s local credentials were impeccable – and pointed out that the news services remains a clear number one, despite a shift in habits prompted by a “rather deceptive” Nine campaign.
“Seven news now has Adelaide’s only local 4pm bulletin and is followed by the most-watched news hour at 6pm,” he said.
“It’s not news on loop – it’s local content produced by Adelaide’s most experienced and trusted news team.
“Ten’s departure from SA appears to have shifted some viewing habits, helped by a rather deceptive Nine promo campaign.
“We’ve never had more Adelaide content being produced, as always, from Adelaide. We did for a short period move the 4pm news out, but it has been back now for four months and is the only 4pm News service in Adelaide. It has given us the opportunity to be absolutely first with the news at 4pm.
“The flagship 6pm news has been cemented here forever.”
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