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Nine net tops Oz season

SYDNEY — As Australia’s 1997 ratings season ended, Kerry Packer’s Nine Network emerged victorious with an increase of .7% to 32.6%, ahead of Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network, which without the Olympian draw card it had last year, dipped .9% to 29.5%.

During the 40-week ratings season, Nine won every week in the core markets of Sydney and Melbourne, while CanWest-backed Network Ten remained a distant third with a static national share of 20.7%. Coin-challenged pubcaster ABC-TV rose .1% to 14.3%, while multicultural and multilingual pubcaster SBS-TV was static at 2.8%.

Although veteran programmer Ross Plapp was tapped 20 months ago to boost Ten’s then-sagging ratings, he only managed to stem the fall at considerable expense with tepidly received dramas like Southern Star’s “Big Sky” and Beyond’s “Medivac.” Last month, he and a string of senior execs departed the web.

Other problems loom for Ten. It lost its Fox product to Seven a few years ago and Universal quit Ten in favor of Seven in 1999, leaving it with only one major studio, Columbia TriStar, and Worldvision.

More bad news for Ten is the fact that during the year Nine (which has had an older skew to its demographics) finally made serious inroads into Ten’s traditional youth market with new shows such as “Friends” and “Suddenly Susan,” which came in as second and fifth most popular regular programs of the year, respectively.

Ten failed to make an appearance in the national top 10 charts for most popular regular programs, specials, movies or sport. Even niche service SBS made the grade with the Nov. 29 World Cup Soccer qualifying match, scoring an audience of 1.4 million, the weblet’s most-watched program during its 17 years on air.

Seven claimed the most popular regular program of the year with Southern Star’s rural cop actioner “Blue Heelers,” while the reruns of Brit comedy series “Mr. Bean” on Seven was the year’s third most popular program, followed by Nine’s “ER” in fourth.

Nine and Seven aired all the top 10 movies of the year, led by “Forrest Gump” (Nine), “True Lies” (Seven), “Muriel’s Wedding” (Nine) and “Speed” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (both on Seven).

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