Stateside fare brings audiences to network

SYDNEY — Piggybacking local product on strong Yank fare, Seven Network is poised to steal the ratings crown for the first time in two decades.

The buoyant Seven has won the first 10 consecutive weeks in the Oz survey period following up on last year’s close finish, when it as just 0.1% behind Nine Network.

So far this year, Seven has collected 29.5% of the primetime audience, with Nine second at 27.3%. Younger skewed Ten Network is in third place, with 21.7%. Pubcasters the ABC and SBS trail, with 15.6% and 5.9%, respectively.

Seven has won 43 of the 70 nights in the survey year; Nine has won 26 nights and Ten has won 1.

In 2006, it was a tortoise-and-hare race, with Seven gaining the upper hand early while Nine kept rolling out its sked and held on to its long-held position as “Still the One.” This year, the roles are reversed.

“You need to bear in mind that we’re not through half of the current U.S. series on air,” Seven’s Simon Francis told Variety. “And, you also need to bear in mind that Seven is the only network this year to have a crop of new hits, ‘Australia’s Got Talent,’ ‘The Rich List,’ ‘Heroes,’ ‘Ugly Betty,’ ‘Brothers & Sisters.’ “

Seven owes much of its strong position to its output deals with U.S. studios, which have delivered some of the above hits as well as enduring ratings winners “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” But Seven has also had a strategy of backing up its Stateside fodder with a raft of new Aussie product, often attaching them to the sked to take advantage of the strong demand for U.S. dramas.

Seven has also started launching its shows ahead of the official ratings period, a strategy copied this year by Nine and Ten, but Francis says they have not peaked too soon.

“One could reasonably suspect that our competitors have used a lot of their major programming in the first half in an attempt to counter us,” he says. “We’ll undoubtedly see what everyone has in their programming cupboards in the coming months.”

For Seven, that cupboard has a couple of tasty morsels. The web recently wooed laffer “Kath and Kim” away from its home at pubcaster the ABC. The skein, about a mother and daughter in the fictional suburb of Fountain Lakes, attracted boffo auds of more than 2 million on the ABC, and is due for rollout in second half 2007. Seven also has the return of its local factual hits “Border Security” and “The Force,” and it has the rights to AFL soccer with Network Ten.

Nine still has strong support in the older demographic with shows such as “What’s Good for You” and “20 to 1.” But beating the hare in 2007 is looking much less likely.

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