How to ruin a good thing

How to ruin a good thing

Posted February 22nd, 2012 by debritz

Television viewers are creatures of habit. Occasionally television networks are able to break entrenched habits, but mostly they cannot. For example, viewers seem to like their shows to run for 30 minutes from 6pm to 7.30pm, and recent attempts to glue them to one program starting at 7pm on a weeknight and stretching to 8pm or beyond haven't fared well.

One sure way to harm a program, perhaps terminally, is to change its timeslot. Few shows can survive that -- although it seems a substantial number of people will watch Big Bang Theory no matter what time, or which station, it is on.

Channel Ten has provided a textbook example of how to ruin a popular show by not just changing its timeslot -- twice -- but by stretching its resources to breaking point, by doubling its length and adding an extra program on Sunday.

I am writing, of course, about The Project, which is now screening for an hour Monday to Friday, and 30 minutes on Sunday, at 6pm. It started life at 7pm, before moving to 6.30pm to replace the axed 6.30pm with George Negus (originally 6pm with George Negus).

On Sundays, The Project rates in the 300,000s -- the kind of figures that get expensive locally produced primetime shows axed very quickly under normal circumstances -- and on weeknights it generally attracts national viewing figures in the 400,000s. (The latest figure I have at the time of writing is 462,00 for Monday night.)

Let's rewind to this week last year, when The 7pm Project, as it then was, scored 536,000 viewers on its worst night and 720,000 on its best. Over five days, it averaged 660,000. That's not a huge figure for a night-time show, but it's half as well again as it's doing now.

That same week, Negus was scoring in the high 300,000s and the soon-to-be-axed and subsequently-much-derided Ben Elton Live from Planet Earth scored 491,000 on another network in a later timeslot.

Now, maybe viewers have tired of The Project, but my best guess is that they are sick of it being punted around the schedule, not fussed on getting an hour of it, and prefer their "straight" news from Seven and Nine at 6pm and their "current affairs" from Today Tonight or A Current Affair at 6.30pm.

That seems obvious to me, but then I'm not a highly paid television programmer.

PS Ashton Kutcher fans might want to note that a new Two and a Half Men episode rated 706,000 last night. This time last year, the Charlie Sheen version had 1,057,000 viewers. Who's winning?

Update In announcing half-year results that include a 12pc revenue fall for its television business, Ten CEO Jame Warburton said: "... our performance in the 5pm to 8pm timeslot, including The Project, this year has been pleasing."

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