AdNews analysis: The top 50 TV programs of 2016

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 29 November 2016
Seven's My Kitchen Rules has the most entries of any TV program in the Top 50.

Ever wondered why TV networks invest a lot of money into producing reality TV and live sport? One look at this rating year's list of Australia's 50 most watched programs provides answers.

The top 50 shows drew a combined TV audience of 116 million viewers with an average of 2.32 million viewers. The lowest rating entry was the ABC's Doc Martin with an audience of 1.65 million – illustrating the sheer power of free-to-air television to consistently attract larger live audiences than any other form of media.

Heading this year's list is Seven's AFL grand final presentation show, with 4.11 million Australian viewers, and the grand final itself, which had an average audience of 4.04 million. This is followed by State of Origin I (3.95 million), the NRL grand final (3.79 million) and State of Origin II (3.60 million) and State of Origin III (3.11 million).

In fact, big ticket sporting events are still the hottest properties on television. Nine and Seven, the two networks that show the most popular codes (AFL, NRL and international cricket), deliver large and consistent ratings on the back of their coverage. 

Just under a third (30%) of the programs in the top 50 were sport, but these events pulled in 37% of the combined audience share.

"AFL has gone particularly well, we've had record ratings in the finals series and the Friday night games have been powering along. There's been a real lift in interest in the AFL and that's helped our entire schedule," Seven West Media chief revenue officer Burnette tells AdNews.

Aussies love reality TV

Love them or loathe them, the fact is a lot Australians really love reality television with this genre contributing 50% of the top 50 shows. The most popular type of reality, as any foodie would attest, are cooking shows led by Seven's juggernaut My Kitchen Rules.

MKR has seven entries in the top 50, the most of any program, and its winner announced episode ranked ninth ranked with an Australian audience of 2.94 million viewers.

Ten's rival MasterChef had three entries led by its winner announced program at 14th and with an audience of 2.61 million.

Although cooking dominates, the highest-rating reality show of the year was the Nine's The Block - winner announced. A touch over 3 million people tuned in to watch Queensland couple Will Bethune and Karlie Cicero pocket $815,000 after their ground floor apartment sold for $2.6 million. This made it the second largest non-sport program in eighth position.

Drama doldrums

Seven's biopic Molly took out the prize for the highest rating non-sports show of the year. The first part of the series pulled in an audience of 3.1 million and was ranked seventh. Each episode of three-part series made the top 50 list, ahead of Seven's Wanted with two episodes and Downton Abbey, the only foreign show to feature on the list.

The lack of Aussie dramas reflects two stark realities for TV networks – that they are very costly to produce compared to reality TV and they often struggle to pull in huge ratings. This means dramas deliver lower returns on investment than other programs and are riskier to produce.

"It's definitely tougher to get a drama off the ground," Burnette tells AdNews. "Seven is the home of Australian drama (it has all entrants) and we've had great success and we'll continue to be that next year. It's hard to compete with the multi-million dollar global productions, but well made, high quality local productions have a big place going forward.

"But you also need to identify what success looks like for dramas. It's an overnight figure, a seven-day figure, a regional figure and catch up. Because they're not considered a live product, dramas need to have a life beyond one night on television and that's the future – how is it consumed over a period of time or binged, not single overnight figure propositions." 

Burnette says that while there is an appetite for SVOD players like Netflix and international content, the future of Australian TV networks is ensuring their schedules are local and live, including a healthy mix of reality TV and sport. 

This year's top 50 list (see below) clearly illustrates this point. Seven and Nine, which contribute the lion's share of Australia's most-watched programs, and Ten have invested heavily on local shows in their 2017 slates, promising even bigger tent pole shows and a more competitive ratings year than ever before.

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