Grant Denyer out-rated his former arch-rival Eddie McGuire on Tuesday night to again win the battle of the game shows - prompting one media analyst to describe Denyer’s revived Family Feud as "the best thing Channel Ten has done in three years".
The program - which was simulcast on channels Ten, One and Eleven at 6pm - drew a combined 719,000 viewers in the five major capitals, up on Monday’s debut of 689,000. It even topped Seven's news in Sydney by almost 20,000 viewers. But McGuire narrowed the gap, with his Hot Seat program attracting 712,000 viewers.
Denyer and McGuire were direct rivals last year when Denyer hosted Seven’s Million Dollar Minute. That show, now hosted by Simon Reeve, had an audience of 647,000 on Tuesday night.
McGuire, however, has already survived a Denyer-led coup. Last September the first two episodes of Denyer’s Million Dollar Minute thumped Hot Seat into second place. On the third night, McGuire reclaimed his ratings crown.
To maximise Family Feud’s launch audience, Ten decided at the last minute to simulcast the show on its digital channels, One and Eleven. Viewers tuning in for their regular dose of Cops and Beverly Hills 90210, therefore, found Family Feud instead. (These channels will revert to normal programming next week.)
"It's enforced sampling," says media analyst Steve Allen, managing director of Fusion Strategy. "But it can be dangerous. Will it leave One and Eleven denuded? Have they converted their own viewers to Family Feud when what they really wanted to do was convert [rival networks'] viewers?"
Because Ten has commissioned only a combined audience figure from the ratings provider, there is no way to measure how many Family Feud viewers watched each of the three individual channels.
"You have to congratulate them for their chutzpah," Allen says. "There are people inside other television networks right now going, 'We should think about doing this ourselves,' I can guarantee you."
But with Denyer having more than doubled Ten's 6pm audience compared to last week, Allen says the show has exceeded expectations.
"It's the best thing Channel Ten has done in three years. They've taken an old franchise - that didn't have a future, that had the wrong demographics [older viewers] - and they've reinvented it.
"You can say that Nine did that with Big Brother, and that's kind of true. They tried to do that with Australia's Got Talent - no, fail, gone.
"The caveat for Family Feud is that it's very early days. There's probably a lot of sampling going on among viewers, so if they hold on to 70 per cent of this audience they'll be doing a fabulous job.
"But if you look at the minute-by-minute ratings for day one, there was no drop-off. People are tuning in and what they're saying is, 'I like what I'm seeing. I don't find Grant Denyer to be a problem. I don't find the format a problem. I find this entertaining'."
The win is a victory partly for Ten’s news and current affairs chief Peter Meakin, who previously worked at Seven and Nine. Meakin – who is believed to be taking an interest in programs outside his division – is the one who convinced Denyer to join the struggling network. (Reviving the show on Ten was the idea of programming chief Beverley McGarvey.)
Fairfax Media understands that Meakin also secured Sunday’s world exclusive Ian Thorpe interview for Ten, which delivered strong ratings and valuable publicity. Sources at the network say that since he was forced to cut 150 staff from his Eyewitness News team, he’s been offering his expertise to other areas.
Now, all eyes are on Family Feud. For every network, a strong early-evening game show is invaluable in helping deliver sizeable lead-in audiences to the following programs. For Ten, it plays an even bigger role. With many of its once-popular programs shedding viewers, it has become stuck in a vicious cycle and with fewer people to promote its new programs to, even its good shows struggle.
On Monday and Tuesday, Family Feud was Ten’s third highest-rating program. In an instant, the network has found a new, mass audience. When regional ratings are added, its ratings hit almost 1 million. This could be a golden opportunity to leverage its way into a more competitive position.
Allen also praised Ten for bringing MasterChef back to its roots, which he says has boosted ratings.
"The problem was that MasterChef was dancing at shadows and trying to mimic My Kitchen Rules. MKR is a drama that happens to be around cooking. MasterChef is a cooking show. It's gone back to cooking - there hasn't been one skerrick of the engineered personality clashes from previous years - and they're to be congratulated for it."
With Ten’s flagship drama Offspring still facing an uncertain future, Allen urged the network to retain it. But he criticised the series for what he sees as clumsy attempts to repeat the ratings and social media burst that followed the death of character Patrick.
"Episode one this year was a disaster; 55 minutes of angst and looking back at a dead person they'd already written out of the show. We understand they have research showing [Patrick's death] was a key feature but they need to move on. Everybody's ready for them to move on but they're still having flashbacks and it's showing in the ratings.
"I think they got swept up in the social media phenomenon last year and they're trying to repeat that. They don't understand that instant commentary is instant commentary. It doesn't predict what we want tomorrow."
But he says the strength of the cast and the show's popularity with younger viewers make it a valuable asset. "This show 100 per cent has a future and Ten would be loopy to pass on it," he says. "I'd say to any network, 'If Ten passes on it, buy it.'
"It's actually not all angst for Ten at the moment. To a large extent, Ten has more interesting things about it than the other networks and that's great for them."
The Ten network has been contacted for comment.
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