The Sunday Project appears to have already shed the extra viewers attracted by Lisa Wilkinson’s debut, casting doubt over Network Ten’s million-dollar gamble to poach the Today star.
Sunday night’s episode drew 227,000 viewers across the five major capital cities by 6.30pm, according to television news site TV Tonight.
This was well short of the 481,000 viewers by 6.30pm for Wilkinson’s debut appearance on January 28.
Sunday night’s numbers were much closer to the 2017 average for the show of around 310,000 viewers, before Wilkinson joined Ten.
While no one has confirmed Wilkinson’s pay cheque, several media outlets reported it as being about $2 million.
“The fact that [ratings are] settling down at a lower figure would be disappointing. But when they launched, all the competition wasn’t against them,” media analyst Steve Allen told The New Daily.
The Sunday Project was easily beaten by the 1.34 million people who tuned in on Sunday night to watch Channel Nine’s Married At First Sight.
The show’s ratings have bounced around during the weeks between its debut and the most recent episode, according to TV Tonight.
Mr Allen said the overall decline in viewers may be due to the “changing dynamics of the market” since The Sunday Project launched.
Married At First Sight “has really caught on and that, combined with the news telecasts, would unquestionably be starving them for audience”, he said.
The intrigue factor has worn off, and the show is no longer centred around Wilkinson, Mr Allen said.
“Now it’s not about Lisa Wilkinson. It’s about the format of the show and what they’re presenting.”
Mr Allen said Network Ten seems to be “doing its best” at picking lead stories of wide appeal and “without splashing money around”.
“They don’t always get that right.”
He said Network Ten is playing an incremental game of “putting programs in that make small gains in audience or hold similar audiences but are cheaper to make”.
Mumbrella news editor Paul Wallbank labelled Wilkinson’s arrival to The Sunday Project an “expensive exercise”.
“It’s really not giving them the return they were hoping for.”
The viewing figures present a “big question as to whether there’s really the demand for a show like that”, Mr Wallbank said.
“Sunday night doesn’t really seem to be the night that they’re watching TV or maybe they just prefer Married At First Sight or My Kitchen Rules.“
Despite sitting in a competitive time-slot, The Sunday Project has increased its audience by 28 per cent across the full hour and by 34 per cent in the second half hour, compared with 2017, a Network Ten spokesperson said.
“We are very pleased with the performance of The Sunday Project this year.”
They added: “Judging the performance of a television show on the basis of one night’s ratings is misleading.”