The revamped Today show has reaped instant rewards for Nine, with Karl Stefanovic’s first weekday hit out since his return to breakfast TV delivering a promising result.
But there are external factors influencing ratings, including bushfire interest and Karl’s novelty value.
Stefanovic and the new team – Allison Langdon, Tracy Vo and Alex Cullen – debuted two days early on January 4 for special Weekend Today bushfire editions. But their real baptism by fire was on January 6 when Today faced off with Samantha Armytage and David Koch on Seven’s Sunrise.
The first weekday episode with the fresh faces and its Lazarus anchor drew an average of 225,000 city metro viewers on Monday.
Still, Sunrise clearly took the honours, with 293,000 viewers for the same period. 186,000 viewers tuned into the ABC’s News Breakfast, anchored by Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland.
With regional viewers added in, Sunrise pulled an audience of 485,000 and Today 335,000.
The results for Nine were a 15 per cent improvement from January 14 2019, when the network debuted its last new Today team of Deb Knight, Georgie Gardner, Tom Steinfort and Brooke Boney.
That first show pulled an audience of 196,000.
The promising kickoff for the Stefanovic-led Today included it winning in Melbourne between 7am and 7.30, in Sydney between 7.30 and 8.30, and in Brisbane between 7.15 and 7.45.
“It’s really important we just come together at this time, capture the emotions, let it out, let it be raw… I’ve cried a couple of times just in private this week. Get it out and then let’s get on with it and rebuild.” #9Today pic.twitter.com/CB0jEQ0M6J
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) January 5, 2020
It’s “very early days” but the 2020 increase on Stefanovic and Langdon’s watch is “still a decent bump,” a Nine source told The New Daily.
“We’re all pleased with how the show is looking. Good chemistry between the cast.
“It will be a long slog to make up the deficit. If we can claw back 10 per cent or so this year, it will be a good result.”
That projected improved goal was also put forward by Nine’s morning TV boss Steven Burling, who told the Sydney Morning Herald he would be “happy” with a 10 per cent build in 2020.
For Fusion Strategy media analyst Steve Allen, if Today can “move their audience week after week by 20,000 viewers that would be a really good result.
“The gap between Sunrise and Today is still about 70,000 and that’s what they’ve got to work on.”
The problem with looking at ratings now is “this week there’s a heightened awareness of bushfires, so there’s extra viewers across all channels,” Mr Allen told The New Daily.
“Then there’s curiosity about Karl’s return. People are going to go in and sample and it will be interesting but not really enlightening looking at the figures until we know how many are going to stick with it.”
He said ratings won’t be particularly telling until at least February 3, when cricket and tennis are done and there’s “clear air to see what will really happen”.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) January 6, 2020
While the actual audience figures aren’t staggering – 825,000 metro viewers watched Ten’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! on January 6 – the breakfast TV market is worth between $110 and $120 million annually.
Despite its diabolical ratings plunge in 2019, it’s understood Today gets a share of that spend of between 45 and 50 per cent.
Nine’s position is that while poor ratings may have given Sunrise “an extra million or two”, the network still feels it is highly competitive in revenue terms.
Given Nine writes around $1.4 billion each year, Today’s struggles have had “no impact” on its prime time schedule and marginal impact on revenue, the source said.
“It is solely a PR issue driven by news outlets who know Karl is good for a headline.”
So why is winning breakfast TV important then?
“It’s quite profitable and it’s bragging rights,” Mr Allen said.
“While these are magazine format and not hard news shows, when it comes to Seven and Nine duelling with each other, they’re part of current affairs.”