Are Australian TV viewers becoming unwitting victims of a ‘‘roadblocking’’ war?
Last night, the Nine network simulcast The Block Glasshouse launch on all three of its channels: Nine, Gem and Go. It’s a strategy known as ‘‘roadblocking’’, in which a TV broadcaster screens the same thing – right down to the advertisements – across every station to bump up its audience.
But this was a last-minute switch. Those who consulted printed TV guides expected to find British comedy Absolutely Fabulous on Gem and the 2011 movie Arthur on Go.
Not surprisingly, angry viewers took to social media to vent their frustration.
Why is The Block on 9,Gem & Go?? #overkill What's the point of having other stations if you're just gonna show the same thing at same time?— Lee (@LeeLee_Oz) July 27, 2014
what's the point of having the same program on all your stations? It's not THAT big of a deal. #Theblock— Mel (@Mel_J_84) July 27, 2014
At face value, the strategy appears to have worked for Nine, helping The Block Glasshouse claim the No. 1 position with an audience of 1.37 million in the five major capital cities.
Indeed, Nine’s decision appears to have been prompted by Ten’s successful launch of Family Feud earlier this month, which it ‘‘roadblocked’’ across its three channels Ten, One and Eleven. Many viewers were also caught off guard by Ten’s program switcheroo, with most printed guides stating that One would screen Cops and Eleven would show Beverly Hills 90210.
Media analyst Steve Allen, managing director of Fusion Strategy, says we're more likely to see "roadblocking" when a commercial network launches a major series.
‘‘But it’s a risky strategy,’’ Allen said. ‘‘You don’t want it to get used and abused. They’re going to have to be quite selective about how they use it.
‘‘If you have a bunch of reasonably loyal viewers on the digital multi-channels and you keep jerking them around, you’ll definitely get some hostility.’’
Nine claims to have been the first to use this technique when it simulcast the launch of The Apprentice on Nine and Go in 2009, drawing a disappointing combined audience 719,000.
Ten’s successful Family Feud roadblock, however, prompted its rivals to take a second look at the strategy.
But just how valuable is roadblocking?
Because Nine and Ten opted to commission only a single, combined ratings figure for their Block and Family Feud simulcasts, there is no way to tell how many people watched each individual channel. As absurd as it sounds, even the networks themselves have no idea.
Clearly, the hope is that viewers of channels such as Gem and One – who were tuning in for Absolutely Fabulous or Cops – will shrug their shoulders and stick with the simulcast of The Block of Family Feud.
No doubt some did. But how many changed channels or switched off in irritation? There’s no way to measure this.
What’s more, the networks risk cannibalising their overall audience share – the combined figure for their main channels and digital multi-channels – by driving away viewers who otherwise would watch the alternative programs on the multi-channel. Yes, simulcasting The Block and Family Feud might help these specific programs, but at what cost to the network overall? Again, there’s no way to tell.
As Allen points out, a station can only roadblock a show for so long before disgruntled viewers switch to rival multi-channels in search of an alternative. And if the networks deploy roadblocking too often, they’ll all lose. (Much like how one person stands up at a concert to get a better view, prompting everyone else to stand up, leaving no one better off.)
‘‘When the networks have got key [shows] they’re banking on, they’ll use this technique,’’ Allen says. ‘‘It certainly ensures you maximise the audience but I wouldn’t think Nine would continue simulcasting [The Block Glasshouse in the long-term.]’’
Nine has confirmed to Fairfax Media that The Block Glasshouse has ceased its roadblock and normal programming will resume tonight on Go and Gem. Ten is continuing to simulcast Family Feud on Eleven but has replaced it with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games on One.
Last night, the penultimate episode of MasterChef (1.26 million) gave Ten’s main channel its biggest prime time audience in two years. With Ten’s digital channel One showing Formula One (561,000) and the Commonwealth Games (557,000), the network won the night with an impressive 29.8 per cent share of the audience, well ahead of Seven’s 25.8 per cent slice and Nine’s 24.3 per cent.
Indeed, Ten had had close to twice the audience share of the ABC network (15.1 per cent), which it had taken fourth place to many nights earlier this year. The SBS channels had 5.1 per cent.
Tonight’s MasterChef grand finale – in which Brent and Laura will battle it out to become ‘‘Australia’s master chef’’ – is expected to perform strongly but will face stiff competition from The Block Glasshouse, which was the highest-rating Block launch in more than two years.
The X Factor (1.11 million) is still a strong performer for Seven but is not drawing the huge numbers it once did.
Nine’s The Voice Kids dipped under 1 million with 933,000 viewers, while Nine’s 6pm news (1.29 million) beat Seven’s news (1.16 million).
In the battle of the flagship current affairs programs, an unusually late-airing episode of Nine’s 60 Minutes at 9.10pm (985,000) took the crown, while Seven’s Sunday Night at 8pm drew 885,000 viewers.
Ten’s American science fiction series Extant had its lowest audience yet of 507,000 in the five biggest capitals, with Seven’s World’s Most Extreme Roads drawing 48,000 more viewers in the same slot.
Seven’s Weekend Sunrise (327,000) beat Nine’s Weekend Today (261,000).
Political show Insiders had a combined metropolitan audience of 320,000 across its morning and evening broadcasts on ABC and ABC News24, while Ten’s The Bolt Report drew a combined audience of 289,000 across its two screenings.