Ups and downs of the numbers game
The second series of British drama Downton Abbey continued to pull in impressive ratings for Channel Seven during its run earlier this year.
SO THAT'S it, then. At 2am on the first Sunday in December, another ratings year came to an end and 40 weeks' worth of relentless promos and press releases and PR spin finally produced a result.
Not for the first time, more than one network claimed victory, with Seven and Nine each announcing they had won where it matters in 2012. And, oddly enough, both were right.
Winners are grinners: The Voice topped the 2012 ratings.
In terms of total viewers - the all-people measure the mainstream media generally reports - Seven was the clear winner, finishing the year with an average 31 per cent share of the free-to-air audience across its three channels (or four if you count the shopping channels, but so far no one really does). That made it six straight wins for Seven, and put its all-people audience share at a record high.
But Nine had won the ''demos'' - the individual market segments, broken down by age and income, that are so crucial for selling advertising. And given that's the whole point of ratings in the first place, it might have justification in claiming a victory of its own.
In an ominous sign for Seven, Nine also closed the gap in terms of total viewers. Having emerged from near-financial ruin with a renewed swagger last month, Nine can perhaps take special pride this year in having lifted its share of the audience by 2.1 percentage points to finish in a strong second place. It may not be ''the One'', but for the first time in a very long time it can dare to dream that it one day might be again.
In fact, most of the networks were up - the ABC by 0.8 percentage points to a 17.2 per cent share, Seven up from 30.5 per cent to 31 per cent and SBS up a whisker, from 6.1 per cent to 6.2 per cent. But their gain was Ten's pain.
The extensive woes of the third commercial network have been well documented this year, but the numbers paint a truly stark picture.
In 2010, the network captured 22.6 per cent of the five-network free-to-air audience and began to imagine it might be in with a shot at ousting Nine from second spot - and from there, who knows? But in
The Block proved to be a big ratings winner for Channel Nine.
2012, it could manage just 17.6 per cent (following a softer drop in 2011 to a 21 per cent share).
Let's just pause and contemplate the scale of that for a second. Ten's five percentage-point drop in share means the network has shed 22 per cent of its audience in just two years - nearly one in four viewers. And that's across all three stations. The main channel share in 2012 was 13.2 per cent, down from 19.7 per cent in 2010. That's an even more staggering 33 per cent fall away (though, in fairness, all the primary channels have lost audience share to the multichannels - it's just that Ten has been the hardest hit).
That makes it difficult to assess the performance of its flagship program, MasterChef, in 2012.
Season four of this one-time ratings juggernaut was still the network's top-rating regular program of the year, pulling an average 1.227 million viewers a night across its 70 episodes to be the 18th most-watched regular show of the year. But it was a big drop from 2011, when it averaged 1.65 million a night.
The only other show on Ten to finish in the top 20 was Bikie Wars, which averaged 1.158 million viewers a night. It was one of a handful of Australian dramas in the top 20 in an encouraging sign for local talent.
The top drama was the high-end American soap Revenge, which averaged 1.758 million viewers an episode. It wasn't just a must-watch program, either - it was also one of an increasing number of must-record-to-watch-later programs. With an average 270,000 viewers catching it at some point in the seven days following broadcast, Revenge was the most-watched program of the year on time-shift.
Three other imported dramas made the top 20: Downton Abbey, which backed up its sterling debut season in 2011 with a very respectable 1.649 million viewers an episode for season two, and a pair of BBC shows on the ABC, New Tricks (1.241 million) and Call the Midwife (1.167 million).
Once again, Australians tuned in to locally made drama in big numbers. Packed to the Rafters was, yet again, the most successful Australian drama series of the year (1.552 million average), but House Husbands did surprisingly well, averaging 1.284 million a show for Nine. Winners & Losers and Underbelly also performed strongly.
The rise of time-shifted viewing is a trend that can't be ignored and that poses enormous challenges for the commercial TV networks (see accompanying story), but live-event programs continue to attract huge audiences, if only because no one wants to be left out of the conversation the next day.
So it is that the biggest show of the year was the winner-announced segment of The Voice, which was watched by 3.325 million viewers.
Two other events nudged past the 3 million mark - the AFL grand final presentations (3.22 million on Seven) and the winner-announced segment of The Block (3.063 million) on Nine.
The top 20 was dominated by The Voice, with episodes or segments of the singing contest occupying six places on the list.
There were only two dramas on a top-20 list dominated by reality series finales and live sporting events. The premiere of Revenge clocked in at 15th with 2.379 million viewers, while the two episodes of Howzat! made it to 16th (part one, 2.374 million) and 18th (part two, 2.344 million).
Little wonder we'll be seeing season two of Revenge on Seven next year and two Kerry Packer dramas - a Packer v Murdoch production on Nine and the second instalment of Paper Giants on the ABC.