Australia has long been behind on the shifting nature of the ways that people watch television – Stan launched in January, and Netflix will arrive in March. That’s a long time to wait for streaming. I will admit I’m part of the problem, I haven’t watched a single second of Gallipoli, but I know it’s available on Stan whenever I want to watch it. My parents have recorded most of the programme (I don’t know if they did last week), and they still haven’t watched it. One of the main problems that they have with commercial television networks is that the ad breaks are taking up to half the running time of any given show, so they’d prefer to watch their programmes later, and without ads (they also do this with Downton Abbey). The other issue is that it isn’t on until 9 at night, which given that they wake up at 6 during the week, is just too late.
Last week, Channel Nine announced that they would be burning off the remaining episodes of Gallipoli with two on Monday nights instead of one, following declining ratings. The premiere had huge ratings of 1.104 million and last week dropped outside the top 20 free-to-air programmes for the night with 527,000 viewers. There’s always attrition in viewership after the premiere, but losing over half the audience over three weeks is rough.
The problem with the current ratings system is that it doesn’t reflect the changing ways that people are watching television. People are getting cable, watching things on streaming services (even though Netflix hasn’t launched in Australia, they’re using Netflix US through a proxy server), timeshifting, and of course downloading things illegally. Stan is a joint venture between the Nine Network and Fairfax Media, and the release of the entire series on Stan after the first episode has aired is at least a recognition that Netflix’s all-at-once release of its original series has been successful. We don’t know how successful, because Netflix isn’t required to share its numbers with anyone and keeps it all a secret.
What I’m saying is that Gallipoli won’t be a complete loss for Nine, given that it is available on their streaming service for which I am paying $10 a month. In addition, Fairfax announced that they expect the service will have 100,000 subscribers by March (tomorrow), which would be $1 million in revenue per month. I have no idea what their profit margin is because I don’t know how much it costs to buy streaming rights, but this is still promising. The recognition that streaming video is the future of television might just pay off.
The other aspect of Gallipoli’s falling ratings could easily just be timing. I understand Nine’s desire to promote Gallipoli as its flagship show and have it premiere at the beginning of the year, but even if the schedule had not been changed, the finale would have aired three weeks before ANZAC Day, the 100th anniversary of Australian and New Zealand soldiers landing at Gallipoli. It might have been more successful if it had aired closer to ANZAC Day, but we’ll never know. Either way, declining ratings for Australian dramas is something we should expect to continue in the near future unless the way we record ratings changes.