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Ten in ratings race with MasterChef as Voice falls silent

THE VOICE triumphant. Australia's Got Talent mortally wounded. MasterChef enters the fray. When he wrote ''cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war'' Shakespeare might have been writing about the television ratings battle.

As long time rivals, Nine and Seven emerge bloodied from the toughest four weeks of ratings in memory, the former recharged, the latter regrouping, the commercial sector's third player, Ten, is poised to enter the fray.

MasterChef, the darling of the quality reality TV cognoscenti before the launch of The Voice, makes a strategic return tomorrow night. The timing is everything - the ratings-steamroller The Voice has vacated the timeslot.

Ten will be cautiously confident, and in a rare reversal of logic - delay is traditionally death in commercial television - waited until the worst of the post-Easter fight between Nine and Seven had subsided, which may play in Ten's favour.

Ten will then put MasterChef into the 7pm weeknight slot, a risky move because it pits the show against The Block on Nine, which is a solid ratings performer. On that front, at least, Ten has no choice. The network carelessly surrendered ownership of the 7pm slot for its reality shows several years ago and reclaiming it is an important part of its strategy.

Significantly for Ten, the fourth outing of MasterChef will return to the ''tone'' of the original, to address criticism the show had sacrificed its gentility for large-scale stunts.


It will also play to the popularity of ''feelgood'' reality TV, exemplified by the titanic ratings success of The Voice.

For commercial television, The Voice is nothing short of a game-changer.

Coupled with the Olympics, it is bringing real recovery within the realm of possibility for Nine, saddled with $2.7 billion of debt and a clock ticking towards a February deadline when that debt falls due.

But Seven will regroup and return fire soon. And while a serious impact from Ten may be some way off, an aggressive third player could make the battleground on which Nine and Seven are fighting a little less steady.

On a single-channel basis, Seven is still the number one network. It controls 24.2 per cent of the free-to air television audience. Nine has clawed its way back to a 20.5 per cent share. It has the Olympics and Big Brother, but against two aggressive competitors it faces a tough fight to reclaim supremacy.

For Ten, the gamble is more significant. Its main channel controls only 13.8 per cent of the free-to-air audience, and the ABC - with 12.3 per cent - is nipping at its heels.

Coming third behind Nine and Seven is tough. Coming fourth behind the ABC would be a devastating loss of face.