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Channel Nine Cricket down the Slide

November 11, 2016

Chris Barrett, in  Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2016, where the title runs Cricket’s television ratings plunge as Australia struggle against South Africa”

The Australian team is underperforming and fans are switching off at an alarming level, with the prime-time television audience for the first Test against South Africa evaporating by one-quarter from the corresponding clash in Perth last year against New Zealand. In a concerning development for Cricket Australia as it prepares to begin formal negotiations with networks over the rights to broadcast cricket from 2018 to 2023, OzTAM ratings show viewer numbers have dropped off a cliff since last summer.According to the figures, Channel Nine’s five-city metro audience fell an average of 23 per cent in the third session of the first Test across the five days in Perth – which is played in all-important prime time on the east coast – from 975,000 in the corresponding Test at the WACA Ground last year to 749,000.

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In the second session the decline – from an average of 785,000 to 556,000 – was 29 per cent down on the Australia-New Zealand match. And in the first session the audience over the course of the first Test was an average of 32 per cent lower than in 2015, dropping from 611,000 to 417,000. Australia’s match in Perth last year was the second of the Test series against New Zealand, played between November 13 and 17. And while the ratings from this summer’s first Test, won by 177 runs by South Africa, are not what CA or Nine would have hoped for, the outlook for the second match of the series in Hobart is no better, for different reasons.

Rain is forecast for the first two days of the Test on Saturday and Sunday.

The poor performance of the Australian team and the timing of the first Test – beginning in Melbourne Cup week and in television’s official ratings season – is being blamed for the startling plunge in year-on-year viewer numbers, although the match did still rate No.1 every night. The prime-time figures in particular are a blow for Nine, but there are potential consequences for CA, with fewer eyes on television screens standing to reduce the governing body’s bargaining power as it seeks to ramp up the price of broadcast rights in upcoming negotiations.  

The last round of domestic rights, including international cricket and the Big Bash League, were sold for a total of $590 million over five years, and it has been speculated that, boosted by the appeal of day-night Tests, CA could seek as much as $200m a year, which would clinch its first billion-dollar domestic cricket deal.

However, while the BBL is tipped to be hotly contested and worth up to three times the $20 million per year Network Ten paid for it in 2013, Nine’s chief executive Hugh Marks has ruled out an increase in spending on rights to Tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals.

Nine’s investment in cricket rose sharply from $45 million annually under the previous rights deal to nearly $100 million a year in the present contract, and Marks has already said it would be “uneconomical” for the network to pay any more next time around.

One possibility is that Fox Sports, which is keen for more summer content, could simulcast international matches with Nine.

The WACA Ground Test was also the first outing for the revamped Nine commentary team, with the network’s director of sport Tom Malone at the helm. Nine is understood to have conducted focus groups earlier this year about its coverage, and in Perth it introduced a new look that features fewer commentators, with only two callers rather than three at the microphone at one time. Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen have been added as commentators, and Brett Lee and Mike Hussey dropped. 

CA and Nine both declined to comment.

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