The failure of ‘Gallipoli’ has more to do with the changing ways people watch television than Channel Nine’s promotional campaign

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.

What Stan is doing right: “Better Call Saul” and “Gallipoli”

Australia is often behind on global technology – I have no basis for this, except to say that we have been waiting for streaming subscription services ever since Orange Is the New Black was released on Netflix (or at least I have). I signed up for my 30 day free trial three weeks ago, and I haven’t actually watched that much – the pilot for The Shield, which was great, and now the first series of The Thick Of It, which I’ll probably write about later. The thing was, their current library is still quite small, so I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stick with it (probably a while, I can’t imagine that I’ll cancel it any time soon, especially since they’ve got all the Nickelodeon cartoons that were popular when I was growing up).

Then I remembered last week that Stan signed a deal with Sony Television studios (I have no idea if this also applies to Sony’s films), which meant among other things, that they acquired the rights to Better Call Saul, the prequel spinoff to Breaking Bad. The best part is that the episodes are being put online at 6 pm the day they aired in the US (technically the next day because of time differences, but you know what I mean). What is ridiculous about this is the fact that Stan is able and willing to do this when their associated broadcast partner, Channel Nine, won’t fast track any of the shows that they have in their lineup (not that I watch any of them, they have a deal with Warner Brothers, and I don’t watch many of the shows filmed there – except I did do a tour and it was great. I was really into Suburgatory, but it got cancelled, and I like Shameless, but I’m still on the first season). Maybe they know that the shows they have aren’t massive hits, but The Big Bang Theory generally tends to do well (it’s been a while since I looked at figures), or maybe it’s just that their target audience don’t really download television, which is also something that Channel Seven don’t have to worry about. I haven’t yet seen Better Call Saul because I spent 7 hours on a train today, but I think that Stan have been smart in the way they’re fast tracking it; if people sign up for their 30 day free trial today, they’ll probably only have to pay $20 to watch the entire first season, and there’s a library of other shows and films available to watch as well. If people in Australia are pirating Better Call Saul, they are obviously unwilling to wait until 6pm or just too cheap. Hmm.

I was already very impressed with the way Stan rolled out Better Call Saul, but then I got an email from them this morning to say that the new drama on Nine, Gallipoli, is all available for streaming in HD. This is a smart move for Stan, given that it’s partially owned by the Nine network, but more than that it’s a recognition that people don’t watch television the way they used to. I know people who don’t even own televisions any more, and my parents hardly watch anything live on commercial television because the ad breaks are so long. If you record Downton Abbey instead of watching it live on Seven, you’re basically halving the length of the show because there are so many ads. Nine also doesn’t have anything to lose; as owners of Stan, they get a subscription fee, so there’s no need to worry about ad revenue on that side of things, and older audiences are more likely to tune in when it airs on Sunday nights.

Other thoughts:

  • The Stan children’s library is great: Rugrats, Spongebob Squarepants, Arthur and Inspector Gadget are all fantastic shows
  • I’m sure I had something else to say here, but I can’t remember what it was, so I’m going to bed.
  • For the next three days I’ll probably watch JustifiedBetter Call Saul and Missing, and I’d also like to write about The Thick of It. 
  • I’ll either see The Theory of Everything, American Sniper or The Imitation Game this weekend, I just haven’t figured it out yet.