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Game on for networks

The ratings battle is as intense as those played out on the cricket pitch or tennis court.

While the summer season may have largely been out of the official ratings period, the battle for network bragging rights has appeared even more intense than those witnessed on the cricket pitch and tennis courts.

With Network Ten's Twenty20 Big Bash League and the Ashes on Nine enjoying stellar figures, prompting the two networks' share prices to rally and favourable media headlines, Seven hit back when the Australian Open rolled into town.

In one stinging email after the women's final won by the popular Li Na, Seven said it had claimed 25.9 per cent network share of that night's ratings, ahead of the BBL's ''dismal'' 12.3 per cent. ''Seven's Australian Open women's final annihilates cricket,'' screamed one Seven press release. Ouch.

While the tennis was again an ace for Seven, there's no doubt that Ten's BBL won the gold in our own summer-ratings Olympics.

Ten's chief executive, Hamish McLennan, has called it the ''summer of cricket'' and has been proven correct in pursuing what he calls his ''event TV'' strategy.

Ten has paid almost $100 million, including contra, over five years for the popular tournament, after it ran on Foxtel for two years. Having averaged about 616,000 viewers, up from 154,000 when it was on Fox Sports, it could prove to be a steal, for the network set its advertising rates at the lower end this summer.


Its commentary with the likes of retired greats Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist was fresh, with the production cleverly tapping into the day's Ashes events with a cross to legendary Ian Botham.

Steve Allen, chief executive of independent media analyst Fusion Media, said the BBL had provided more than simply viewers for the third-ranked, free-to-air commercial network.

''It has been a pretty consistent performer at the top end of our audience estimation,'' he said.

''Ten has never had a launch platform for programming in summer. So it doesn't matter if it's 500,000, 700,000 or 900,000 viewers, it's nevertheless three hours of highly engaged play that has allowed Ten to promote its other shows.''

He said Ten had marketed the tournament well, highlighting the fast-paced cricket action, as well as the ''entertainment factor'', and ''the public has responded''.

Nine, meanwhile, was smart to have Englishmen David Lloyd and Michael Vaughan join its commentary, minimising the Aussie-centric coverage. Lloyd provided his humour amid a rugged tour for the tourists, while Vaughan's analysis was strong.

However, Richie Benaud, recovering from a pre-series car accident, was missed. It's unclear whether the doyen will be back next season as Nine continues to phase out its staples of yesteryear.

With the BBL flourishing and tennis hitting its peak weeks, it wasn't such a great time for soccer's A-League. Fox Sports, SBS and Football Federation Australia had to defend the competition's ratings. After a strong start to the season, they steadily dipped, although they were still up on last season. What this summer has proven is that soccer faces a major fight to secure a lucrative free-to-air deal.

Over at Seven, the tennis coverage was generally of an excellent standard, although there was some confusing commentary. As one reader pointed out, what was ''racquet intensity''?

The network did err in sticking with the super slow-motion replay early in the second set of the semi-final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, when Federer blew up over his rival's alleged delaying tactics. And, as for Sam Groth and the monotonous sponsored advertisements urging viewers to return his serve using their iPhone, hopefully he simply can be seen more on the court next year.

One Green Guide reader questioned Bruce McAvaney's knowledge of the ''nuances'' of tennis, but it's not necessarily his job to understand all the subtleties. After all, that is what the likes of Jim Courier, a whispering John Fitzgerald courtside and Lleyton Hewitt, who joined the commentary after his first-round exit, are paid to provide.

As Sports Watch has regularly mentioned, the value to networks of live sport continues to grow, and Seven appears willing to swallow anything within its sights. The latest feasting is golf's US Masters, with the network edging Ten for the rights to cover Adam Scott's bid to defend his title.

With this coverage continuing during breakfast and through the morning, Seven can expect excellent ratings, with the broadcast likely to be on one of its digital channels. Having lost the rights to the V8 Supercars to Ten and Foxtel, Seven has responded with a small but notable shot. With the summer ratings games just about over, attention now turns to the winter sports and the football marathon that awaits. Already, the jockeying in the commentary box is under way, with a rebooted Wayne Carey emerging as a coveted voice.