Date: August 13 2012
THE London Olympics might have finished this morning but the dash by the TV networks towards the ratings finish line and domination of Australia's $3 billion free-to-air commercial TV ad market begins in earnest tonight.
Nine has used the Games fortnight to heavily promote the next instalment of the Underbelly franchise and its biggest gamble of the year - the return of Big Brother - both of which begin tonight.
As the deadline looms for Nine's private equity owners to repay $2.8 billion in debt, Nine is banking on Big Brother to generate the momentum needed to convince advertisers to stick with the channel.
Nine has invested $20 million in the production and marketing of Big Brother and needs it to rate well to recoup its costs and satisfy its owners, CVC Asia Pacific, that it has a future in its hands or someone else's. Nine would not comment on costs.
The top-rating network, Seven, is banking on the third season of its talent show The X Factor, which makes its debut next week, while Ten, which lags the others in ratings and revenue, desperately needs a hit in its new dance show format, Everybody Dance Now, which began last night.
The other two big program launches this week are Ten's Puberty Blues, a series based on the Australian novel, which begins on Wednesday, and Nine's cricket miniseries Howzat! Kerry Packer's War, which airs on Sunday. Talks that determine where up to 70 per cent of the ad dollars will fall - known in the industry as the ''up fronts'' - begin in late October or early November.
Peter Horgan, the chief executive of the agency OMD, said the next three months would give Seven a chance to re-establish its ''ascendancy'' in the absence of Nine's two big blockbusters this year, The Voice and The Block.
He acknowledged that for Nine, which he said had lived on its ''wits'', Big Brother was the ''great unknown''.
''There is a lot of [advertising] minutage and it will be tough for anyone that is up against them. If it works it has huge potential.''
Before the Games, Nine had overtaken Seven in the 16-39, 18-49 and 25-54 age groups. The last of those, 25-54, is where the bulk of the commercial advertising dollars live.
Nine's Olympic coverage would have built on those margins, though as a rule of thumb Olympic ratings ''weeks'' are generally excluded from ratings year analyses because of the excessive spikes.
In Seven's favour is a stronger-than-expected fightback against Nine. During the Olympic fortnight it posted better audience shares than Nine or Ten did during the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
A number of shows on Seven and Ten, notably Seven's Home and Away and Ten's MasterChef: All Stars , held onto big chunks of the TV audience against Olympic coverage.
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