Nine says it commissioned Married at First Sight specifically because it would be a “noisy” show at a time when free-to-air networks face increased competition from online and subscription-video-on-demand (SVOD) platforms for eyeballs.
The reality show, which is slated to appear on the network “soon”, has drawn widespread criticism for cheapening the sanctity of marriage, with a change.org petition reaching more than 16,000 signatures this morning.
“This television show is a disgrace,” the petition reads.
“It is morally unsound and should not be aired on Australian television. It is appalling that we live in [a] country that will not support marriage equality but will support a television show such as this!”
The originally Danish format sees six singles pair off and get "married" at the first time of meeting, although under Australian law they are actually unable to be married until 30 days has elapsed, meaning the ultimate decision on whether to sign the paperwork can only be made after the couples have spent 30 days together.
Advocates say the show cheapens the sanctity of marriage at a time when the gay marriage debate remains high on the agenda in Australia.
Far from being surprised by the backlash, Nine says it was expecting the show to make noise and commissioned it for that specific reason.
Nine's programming director, Andrew Backwell, told AdNews that Nine picked up the show because it would be “noisy”.
“I think it's one of the reasons we decided to pick it up. I think it's a noisy show,” Backwell said.
“I think it's really important to have these types of shows because there's so much choice around now, as there's been such fragmentation of viewing ... we've had all these streaming services which have popped up.
“There's so much choice now, that to have noise around the show is really important. I think it will get people to come and take a look, and if they like what they see they'll come back for the rest of the episodes.”
Commercial free-to-air network ratings are down roughly 6% year-on-year since the start of 2015, with observers noting the entry into the marketplace of SVOD players such as Stan, Netflix, and a re-formatted Presto.
TV is also facing competition from online players such as YouTube and Facebook for advertising dollars, with the latter pitching itself as a video platform.
According to the latest Nielsen top advertisers report, while TV remains a powerhouse in terms of overall spend, growth in the medium has slowed.
Citibank said in a report yesterday that it expects FTA will experience 0% growth (from +2%) during the medium term, and, significantly, that FTA audiences will decline by 2% year on year for the next three years.
Nine fears the show will be seen as 'trash TV', and has been hard at work to sell it as a reality documentary series.
“There's been no manipulation from producers,” Backwell said. “I think the expectation is that it would be trashy reality TV, but this is a documentary series which is 100% real. There's been no manipulation from production.”
Backwell also said he hoped the show would open a debate on the value of marriage in Australia, and rekindle a debate on gay marriage.
“My personal view is that it's [current marriage legislation] ridiculous legislation. Opening up the debate can only be a positive for the future,” Backwell said.
Nine has come under fire in recent times for allowing an ad attacking gay marriage as harmful to children to air, after initially banning it.
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