Ratings and Cancellations: The Demise of Seven’s “A Place to Call Home”

A Place to Call Home aired its final episode last night, even though there was a three year plan for the show. In early June, the Seven Network announced that they would not air a third season. I have read at least a dozen letters to the Green Guide bemoaning this decision in the past six weeks, mainly asking “Why did they do this? The new storylines have been so good!”. Seven’s comment was that it “was a programming decision, not a creative one”. It’s rare that scripted programmes are cancelled in Australia, unless they perform terribly in the ratings. On more than one occasion, the creators have chosen to end the shows on their own terms. The first instance of this was in 2000, when the creators of the fantastic ABC drama SeaChange ended the show after three years, and it happened again in 2013 when the creators of Packed to the Rafters made the same decision. Given that it was a programming decision made by the network, the ratings would have been a factor.

Commercial networks make the majority of their profits off of ad sales. The higher a show is rated means they can charge more money to organisations that want to buy ad time during that programme. Since scripted dramas are more expensive to produce than reality competition programmes, it is much easier to make a profit on a highly rated reality programme than a modestly rated scripted drama. In addition, the demographics of the audience are important; advertisers target consumers in the 18-49 demographic, who they believe are more likely to buy the products that are being advertised. On June 5, 2014, not long before A Place to Call Home was cancelled, Paul Kalina of The Age suggested that the show was in trouble because 58% of its audience was comprised of the over 55 demographic. Even though the series 2 premiere attracted just under 1 million viewers, it was a significant drop from the series premiere with 1.47 million (The Age).

Another factor that needs to be taken into account is how well the show rates for the network on which it is airing. The cancellation of the cult hit sitcom Community provides some context. For many years, NBC was the worst performing network in the United States, which meant that Community, a show that had a small but loyal following, was renewed for five seasons, when it would have been cancelled if it had been on any other network. The only thing working in its favour is that the ratings were consistent. In the 2013-2014 ratings period however, NBC moved from the fourth placed network to the first, and at the 2014 upfronts, they announced that they had cancelled Community. (The show has since been resurrected by Yahoo! for a sixth season in the streaming service’s attempt to move into original programming.) Community’s status as a cult hit was enough to keep it alive when NBC had trouble attracting large audiences, but now that the network is more successful, they’re focusing on programming that can attract larger audiences. Looking at the numbers in a broader context like this provides more understanding as to why Seven decided to cancel A Place to Call Home.

On Sunday June 6thA Place to Call Home was the 8th highest rated show on free-to-air television in Australia for the day, with 957,000 viewers. At 9th place was Ten’s MasterChef Australia with 909,000 viewers. MasterChef is one of Ten’s highest rated programmes; if A Place to Call Home was on Channel Ten, it would have a higher chance of being renewed, as Ten placed fourth in the 2013 ratings period behind even the ABC. Seven however, is the first placed network, and A Place to Call Home had a very good lead-in that night, behind the highest rated show for the night, the finale of the reality competition programme House Rules, which had 1.988 million viewers. This is where the cancellation makes the most sense. House Rules competed against MasterChef for a timeslot. After those two shows finished, A Place to Call Home only performed marginally better than a show that competed against its lead-in, and lost over half of that lead-in’s audience. While we form an attachment to the shows we love (at least I do, and I know that sounds weird), television is a business, and A Place to Call Home was underperforming for a business that is making more money with different programmes.