Oz execs blame Sunday slump on DVD popularity

Aussie webs moving away from films

SYDNEY The Sunday night movie, a fixture on Australian television since the early years of the tube, is disappearing.

The Ten and Seven webs increasingly are dumping films from the 8:30 p.m. Sunday slot in favor of event programming, Aussie telepics and miniseries. And Nine, the ratings leader, is looking at similar options.

“The Sunday movie isn’t dead — any obituary would be premature — but it’s safe to say we’ve started to think about a situation where it’s awfully sick,” says Tim Worner, Seven’s director of programming and production.

Webheads blame the rocketing popularity of DVDs for the waning appeal of televised theatricals. It’s not just the fact that DVD sales are booming; research shows people are watching DVDs on Sunday nights in preference to what’s on TV.

Sunday night viewing of free-to-air webs has fallen by 12.5% this year, according to Doug Peiffer, Ten’s general manager of network research. He attributes that directly to the jump in DVD penetration to 51%, up from 2002’s 25%.

“There’s very little value in movies on Sunday nights,” says David Mott, Ten’s general manager of network programming. Starting next month, Mott will schedule local and imported event programming on Sundays, alternating with features.

Ten didn’t renew its output arrangement with Sony late last year chiefly because the web balked at paying high license fees for the studios’ pics. Nine subsequently signed a pact with Sony and sold on some of the movies to Ten for much lower fees.

At the Mip market in Cannes, Ten renewed its long-term deals with Paramount and Universal.

Mott hints he’s paying less for those majors’ films, noting, “The studios realize the free-to-air value of movies is diminishing, while they’re getting a tremendous upside from DVDs.”

Nine network director of programming Michael Healy says his web is well-served with firstrun features from its regular suppliers including Warner Bros. But, he acknowledges, “We will look at alternative options, including event-type programming.”

Worner notes Seven had success on Sunday evenings last year by skedding events such as pop singer John Farnham’s “The Last Time” concert; “The Race Against Thorpe,” in which amateur swimmers competed with Olympic champion Ian Thorpe; and newsmaking docus.

“In coming weeks you will again see this strategy on Seven,” Worner said. “We’ve invested in our own telemovies and I think we will see more miniseries than in recent years.”

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