In recent weeks, newspaper sites and blogs have been peppered with news about TEN’s failure to attract high number of viewers for their much-promoted drawcards: Everybody Dance Now, I Will Survive, and Don’t Tell the Bride. Everybody Dance Now, a promising new dance contest, hosted by Sarah Murdoch, Kelly Rowlands and Jason Derulo, was taken off air after a disastrous first week – even after it was rejigged to a snappier format. Looking at the viewer numbers for the launch on Tuesday night, it seems that I Will Survive may also suffer the same fate. Pitted against rejuvenated The X-Factor and Big Brother, I Will Survive could only attract 505,000 capital city viewers.
I Will Survive was touted as something fresh and different: twelve men traveling through the Outback, fighting for a chance to perform in a Broadway musical. In an environment that is already saturated with similar forms of contests and reality TV, on face value, this program has found its neat little corner.
However, as with advertising – sometimes it’s not how creative it is, it’s where you place it that matters. Although I Will Survive has been heavily promoted, it is essentially a new program – an unknown brand. When it is put into battle against two well-known and established brands: The X-Factor and Big Brother, it has a massive challenge on its hands. The X-Factor comfortably won the night with 1,526,000 viewers, with a further 1,017,000 viewers snatched away by Big Brother.
TEN also made a similar move of pitching a new program against an established brand when launching Everybody Dance Now, by scheduling the new program against the London Olympics on August 12. Arguably, the network wanted to take advantage of those who might have had enough of sports. The program only managed to attract 598,000 viewers – with the Olympics coverage drawing 1.45 million of viewers. There are comments that the format also contributed to its demise – that factor aside, it was mighty ambitious to pitch a small unknown brand against a behemoth.
However, a similar strategy was also adopted by Nine when they launched The Voice. An unknown program against established series such as Masterchef and Australia’s Got Talent.
There are some possible reasons that helped The Voice to achieve its success – Nine Network promoted the show aggressively, ensuring that the promo reached all of Nine’s viewers and even hammered them with heavy ad frequency as well. When The Voice was ultimately put on air, it was scheduled against Australia’s Got Talent, an existing program using the same format as previous years, and Masterchef – another program that might have reached its saturation. In this instance, the curiosity built by the program promos helped The Voice to comfortably beat its competitors. When viewers answered the call to watch it, they were also presented with likable celebrities with the novel swiveling chairs’ judging method. The brand promise was thankfully fulfilled.
Nine also adopted the same tactic before launching the rehashed Big Brother – promoting the program on almost a constant rotation in every ad break during the Olympics. Unfortunately, Seven had also taken a similar approach by promoting The X-Factor heavily. Learning their lesson from the bruised and battered Australia’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars, Seven took no chance by refreshing the program format and ensuring that it is sufficiently promoted.
For TEN, it is a case of pitting new, unknown brands against well-promoted established brands. TEN reportedly wanted to have the same sneaky tactic that Nine did by stealing the crown from Australia’s Got Talent for The Voice. Unfortunately, although TEN also actively promoted the programs beforehand, with smaller overall audience figures compared to its two bigger competitors, the reach figures for these promotions were consequentially smaller.
In the fragmented television audience environment, where the audience is presented with multiple options, networks find it hard to attract high numbers of viewers. Networks are putting a fence around their viewers to ensure that they continue to stick with the program during primetime. This is also one potential reason The X-Factor screens on three nights a week and Big Brother is screened six nights a week on Channel Nine.
So things will be a little bit challenging for TEN – within the realm of marketing science, a new brand faces a law known as Double Jeopardy – large brands will have more buyers, who buy them more often. This also applies to television viewing; more people tune in to large networks or programs and watch them more often. In TEN’s case, the commercial network is the smallest compared the two other competitors. This is also compounded when it introduces new programs in the market. Consumers tend to be habitual; they tend to stick with brands or programs that they already know. When they give a new brand a go, it needs to give the consumers a reason why they should continue to buy or view it again in the future, before the consumers revert to the brand or program that they know already.
It is becoming really difficult for new programs to find their feet in this competitive environment. In May this year, The New York Times cited a 2009 finding by a TV website (The Futon Critic) that counted the number of series in the US that had started on the broadcast networks in the previous 10 years. It found that seven out of ten series were cancelled or ended within one season, and a further 11 percent finished within two seasons.
Seven and Nine have started to adapt to the new competitive environment – with the recent departure of TEN’s programming chief, David Mott – his successor will need to work harder to find the weak spot to defeat the two nimbler Goliaths.