Entertainment

Did early start to Ian Thorpe interview cost Channel 10?

Network Ten’s decision to screen its Ian Thorpe interview earlier than planned appears to have cut into its ratings. 

Leaked ... Media had already reported that Ian Thorpe came out on the Michael Parkinson interview.
Leaked ... Media had already reported that Ian Thorpe came out on the Michael Parkinson interview. 

Ten advertised the world exclusive chat with the former Olympian – in which he confirmed to interviewer Michael Parkinson that he has come out as gay – as starting at 6.30pm. 

But on Tuesday of last week, the network moved it to 6pm. A network spokesman refused to explain why – and declined to say if Ten leaked Thorpe’s coming out prior to the broadcast to boost its numbers. 

Peak form ... 1.28 million Australians tuned in to hear the former swimmer admit he was gay.
Peak form ... 1.28 million Australians tuned in to hear the former swimmer admit he was gay.  Photo: Channel Ten

Overall, the 90-minute interview had an average audience of 985,000 in the five major capital cities, putting it in eighth place for the evening. 

When the program started at 6pm, it had about 600,000 viewers. By 6.30pm – when many thought it was meant to begin – it had soared to 1.02 million in the metropolitan regions, remaining above 1 million when measured in blocks of 15-minute averages. Had Ten stuck with its original time slot, its overall average audience may well have cracked the 1 million mark. 

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Ten said the program had a combined average of 1.29 million in the metropolitan and regional areas, with a combined peak audience of 1.89 million, though full regional ratings have not been made available yet.

A minute-by-minute breakdown of the metropolitan ratings shows 1.28 million people tuned in at 6.41pm to watch Thorpe reveal the pain of living in the closet - the second-highest peak of the interview. (The highest audience peak being 1.31 million at 7.31pm, when the program ran straight into MasterChef.)

Thorpe’s struggles with his sexuality dominated the discussion between 6.30pm and 7pm, with average ratings peaking at 1.16 million between 6.30pm and 6.45pm. 

But the next-highest 15-minute peak, of 1.1 million, occurred at the very end of the show, as he recalled his greatest sporting achievements.

Indeed, there was minimal fluctuation between 6.30pm and 7.30pm – regardless of whether Thorpe discussed his sexuality, support of indigenous rights or his gold medal victories.

The only substantial variation was the rapid growth in viewers at 6.30pm, with many on social media expressing surprise that the program started earlier than they expected. During this first half-hour, the swimming champion focused on his experience with depression. 

Some printed TV guides listed the program as starting at 6.30pm, others had the corrected version of 6pm. But a Ten spokesman denied its ratings were dragged down by the time change.

"We’re entirely happy with the ratings between 6pm and 6.30pm and to suggest otherwise is misleading and mischievous," he said. 

When asked if Ten revealed Thorpe’s coming out before the broadcast, the spokesman said: "The question is irrelevant. We knew it would be a compelling, engaging and important interview. That is why we bought it."

But Ten sources said the move to 6pm was not a reaction to details of the interview being revealed before its broadcast. 

The interview helped give Ten its biggest audience in the 6pm to 7.30pm slot since August 2011. The hashtag #ianthorpe trended at No.1 on Twitter last night. 

It is unclear if Thorpe himself, his management, or someone involved in the interview leaked the details. 

While the Seven and Nine networks are rumoured to have been interested in the interview, Ten may have sealed the deal by also signing Thorpe as a Commonwealth Games commentator. But some sources have disputed this, saying Ten locked in the interview before it signed Thorpe to its Games team. 

Thorpe’s manager James Erskine – who also represents Parkinson – is in Italy and is not available for comment. 

mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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