Seven’s ratings revival: Angus Ross on Big Brother’s big difference

HoleyMoley: “This year is going to be closer than people think”

Seven was expecting the arrival of Big Brother would make a big difference, especially after the disappointing performance of My Kitchen Rules and then House Rules to start the year.

The product mix of what Big Brother delivered has combined well with Seven’s best other assets.

“We certainly had the bricks in the wall,” Seven’s director of network programming Angus Ross told Mediaweek. “We have the #1 news, #1 sport plus Sunrise and Home and Away doing well. We had spoken about the need to improve our 7.30pm tentpole performance.

Big Brother represents the first step to make Seven more outward focussed in terms of its commissions. And we are looking at established and proven formats for those tentpoles rather than creating our own IP. It can be a very difficult thing to achieve and quite a stressful process…I am now an 80-year-old in a 40-year-old body!”

Big Brother housemates

When Seven got it right regarding building a format, as it did with My Kitchen Rules, the results were impressive, but not everything struck gold.

Ross said Big Brother was the channel’s biggest new series launch in two years. “Within the space of a week it has changed our demographic profile completely. We are clean-sweeping everything – 25-54, 18-49 and 16-39. It has given us the best 16-39 result in 10 years.

“To put that in context it is a bigger show than I’m a Celebrity, Survivor, Amazing Race or The Bachelor. And it is beating The Voice too in some key demos.”

As well as the broadcast result, Ross noted it is the most talked about show on social and the biggest in the streaming space. “Each episode is adding in excess of 200,000 viewers to our 7plus service. We are looking at another record month for 7plus which has been leading the BVOD space for three months and I can’t see that leadership stopping anytime soon.

Ross said 7plus is attracting audience for broadcast hits (including dramas like 9-1-1 and The Good Doctor) and classic Australian drama. “When we have something like Big Brother arrive on the platform it becomes the icing on the cake for 7plus.”

Seven picked up the Big Brother franchise after Nine decided not to renew the option it had on the format. “Much kudos to the production team at Endemol Shine Australia – Mark and Carl Fennessy, Peter Newman and Amelia Fisk. They pitched us a version of the show for 2020 and they have delivered. None of us believed that the original Big Brother format could return. It had been cancelled twice in this marketplace. The reboot really had to work at attracting a new audience. It has evolved and has the storytelling techniques the marketplace now demands. They have delivered that in spades.”

After Big Brother screens across three nights, the shows asked to do the heavy lifting at present for Seven are three nights of live AFL, The Front Bar and America’s Got Talent.

For the football, Ross noted the improved numbers, and not just from the tradition southern AFL markets. Regarding America’s Got Talent, he said: “In the past America’s Got Talent had been with Foxtel. This is the first time it has been on FTA TV. With our deal to make Australia’s Got Talent, we have an option to look at the UK and US versions.”

When Big Brother wraps early next month it will hand over the slot to Farmer Wants a Wife. As to commissioning Endemol Shine to make more Big Brother for 2021, it’s on!

“If I was a betting man I’d put my house on it,” Ross laughed.

As to recommissions for MKR or House Rules, Seven’s programming chief replied: “The format change for MKR didn’t resonate as well as we’d hoped it would. MKR remains a power brand that has been the biggest show in this market for the last 10 years. It is not something we would dismiss, but we will look carefully as to when is the right time for the show to return.”

In defence of the MKR format, the show that screened this year was supposed to run at the end of 2019, with a regular version with new contestants to start 2020. “A confluence of events meant we couldn’t do that,” explained Ross.

If Seven manages to get away a reboot of Farmer Wants a Wife it will be known as the turnaround specialists. The show had nine seasons elsewhere before Seven picked it up. Ross: “If we get a reputation as turnaround specialists we’d happily take that title.

In former seasons, Farmer often ran just once a week. Seven will be running it several times each week. “It’s a proven format that worked in the past and we think it will engage audiences. [It is] perhaps better than some other formats we had where perhaps we pushed the boat out a little too far in the relationship space.”

Seven’s back half 2020

Ross: “We have had to do some juggling because of COVID-19 as have all the networks. We still have The All New Monty Guys and Gals, Farmer plus Plate of Origin and SAS Australia. We will now be shooting SAS Australia in the snowy mountains rather than New Zealand. The UK version, called Celebrity SAS, has just gone out and has been a major hit in that market. We think it could surprise a few people here – we have an absolutely killer cast. The best I’ve seen in a long time in terms of celebrity reality.”

The program is being made for Seven by Screentime and is scheduled to end Seven’s survey year in Q4.

Plate of Origin was impacted by COVID-19 in that there will only be 10 episodes. “We had to modify what we were doing in order to get something to air. We are quite happy with the way it has worked out.

While Seven has sorted out local production for Holey Moley, it means it won’t screen until early in 2021. “We are still deciding which state we will produce it in.” The show is being made for Seven by Eureka Productions. Building the sets is a big undertaking, with Ross confirming they are doing the complete 18 holes. “We think we will also attract other countries who want to come and use the sets we build in Australia.”

Seven’s ratings guide

“Being #1 is still important,” said Ross. “James Warburton has a very clear strategy of refocusing our performance on demographics. In the past we have won all people and won the demographics as well. We are improving our performance 25-54. If we are winning the week in that demo and a close second all people, I would take that. Ideally, I want to win both which is what we are doing at the moment.

This year is going to be closer than people think. We will be winning more weeks for a while yet. In the back half we will be extremely competitive.”

See also: Seven’s 2020 back on track with new SAS and Holey Moley plans. Andrew Backwell on how Seven will deliver programming in 2020

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