Channel 7 wins 2021 ratings battle despite Matt Doran, Adele scandal


Channel 9 could not have been more scathing when 7 announced its big new show for 2021 – now the numbers are in, proving their epic miscalculation.

Channel 7 has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to swamp its competitors and take out number one position in the TV ratings this year – and it’s all thanks to one big miscalculation from 9.

After slipping from first place in 2019 and 2020, Seven achieved the strongest free-to-air commercial audience share growth of any network across the ratings survey year, which excludes the Olympics, with Channel 9 in second place and Channel 10 trailing behind in third.

The result means Seven has now won 13 of the past 15 years, with their digital offering 7 plus also the number one service for the second year in a row.

But it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Seven, with controversies dotting the network’s program schedule and dominating headlines for much of the year.

From the deportation of would-be Big Brother VIP star Katie Hopkins, to a shock Farmer Wants a Wife pregnancy scandal and Australia’s Got Talent canned as NSW was plunged into lockdown with celebrity judge Neil Patrick Harris fresh out of hotel quarantine — not to mention Matt Doran’s spectacular Adele flub — Seven has still somehow managed to come out on top,

So how did they do it?

While the Tokyo Olympics coverage contributed significantly to the network’s success as the number one sporting event for 2021, even excluding Olympic weeks 31 and 32, Seven was still number one in prime time.

Speaking to, Seven West Media CEO James Warburton said a strategic game change going in to 2021 was key to dominating the coveted timeslot.

“For us, it’s actually just been completely refreshing the schedule,” he said.

“We’ve gone from a strategy where we were making our own content to the big formats, tried and tested formats in other markets around the world, and then we’ve completely reimagined them.”

Name checking ratings juggernauts The Voice and SAS Australia among the shows that captured strong audience numbers, Mr Warburton was quick to add that not every risk paid off.

“It wasn’t a perfect year,” he admitted.

“We had things like Holey Moley at the beginning of the year that didn’t really work for us. Ultimate Tag failed, and Big Brother VIP didn’t do as well as we expected.

“And we’ve still been affected by covid,” he added, pointing out the Australia’s Got Talent palaver of June when filming was suddenly put on hold as Sydney entered lockdown.

“We had all the big champions and competitors from overseas, we had Neil Patrick Harris here, we were ready to go, they came out of quarantine after having done 14 days and had to leave when we went into lockdown. It cost us about $5 or 6 million dollars in lost cost,” he revealed.

One show in particular was central to the win — and the result of a cunning ploy by Seven to blindside their competitors.

“We wouldn’t have won the year without The Voice to be frank,” said Mr Warburton of the show they bought from underneath Channel 9 last year.

As the numbers attest, they’re still reaping the rewards from the sneaky deal.

It premiered to its largest audience in five years in August, backing up that successful launch with another win the following night against Nine’s The Block and Ten’s Survivor.

It all came after Channel 9 had scoffed at Seven in a statement last year issued after news broke that Seven had poached the franchise.

“Unfortunately due to the age of the show and its declining demographic profile, The Voice had become by far the poorest financial performer on our slate. We wish Seven well in their quest to revive yet another Nine show,” a network spokesman had scathingly said at the time.

How The Voice saved Seven

Strategically launched off the back of the Tokyo Olympics coverage, The Voice on its new home on Seven was hailed the number show for 2021.

“We stole that from under (Channel 9’s) nose,” Mr Warburton said with a chuckle.

“The voice was such a dominant force. The voice is top five in every country around the world, it was an absolute no-brainer.

“The competitor will try and tell everyone that they didn’t renew it, but they were complacent.

“They kept on believing that Seven was broken in the corner and we got in under the skin.

“It will go down as one of the biggest programming coups in the history of television,” he added.

Sunrise remains number 1

For the 18th year running, Sunrise reigned supreme despite multiple reports the Today show was hot on their tail.

“We knew it was going to continue to be dominant, and we’re delighted with how it trended,” said Mr Warburton.

In what came as a shock to viewers at the time, Samantha Armytage left the show in March as speculation swirled about the “dynamic” between her and co-host David ‘Kochie’ Koch. Natalie Barr stepped up to the plate to replace her.

Noting that it was Armytage’s choice to leave the show, Mr Warburton said there was no concern the host switch-up would impact ratings.

“Natalie Barr is a superstar, we knew her research, we’ve seen her pretty much fill in pretty much any time, it wasn’t a surprise that she’s as strong in terms of research in the market compared to any other host in that breakfast television area. We knew that refreshing from that perspective would achieve that result.”

Armytage, who now hosts News Corp’s Something To Talk About with Samantha Armytage will host Farmer Wants a Wife next year.

‘Disappointment’ surrounding Matt Doran’s Adele fail

Matt Doran’s headline-grabbing Adele flub meant the network missed out on what would have likely been yet another ratings blitz against competitors.

Commenting on the fiasco, Mr Warburton said it was “obviously disappointing” the interview never made it to air after Doran admitted to not having listened to Adele’s new album before sitting down for a chat with the songstress in London.

The interview — which Sony refused to release — cost the network $1 million, and saw Doran become a global laughing stock.

“The extra piece to that would have obviously been some exclusivity and that would have been great content for Sunrise and Sunday Night the week before to promote the special, and we didn’t get that and that’s really disappointing,” Mr Warburton said on the matter.

“The Oprah Winfrey special for us was absolutely fantastic and did its job in brilliant ratings and streaming numbers,” he added of what did air, which generated 747,000 metro viewers.

When asked what lessons were learnt in light of the saga, Mr Warburton said all they could do was move on.

“This is a first … nothing like this has ever happened before. We’re in Sydney … it happened in London. So what do you do?”

“Matt’s a pro, he’ll get on with his job,” he added of the Weekend Sunrise host, who yesterday issued a grovelling apology to Adele.

“He’s got two choices, collapse in a heap or get on with his job. He’s said his piece and I’m sure everyone would probably wish that they could have done things differently but that’s life and we’ve got to get on with it

Controversies surrounding Big Brother VIP and SAS Australia

There was also the estimated $200,000 paid for Katie Hopkins to appear on Big Brother VIP only to be booted from the country before filming began.

The controversial British commentator was flown out to appear on the realityshow and, before even entering the mansion, made headlines for flouting mandatory hotel quarantine rules.

It led to mass backlash against Seven for even associating with her in the first place and ended with Hopkins getting axed (and deported) but still paid, without ever appearing on the show.

Meghan Markle’s half brother was brought in instead — to more public backlash — joining a mishmash of local and international stars including Caitlyn Jenner and MAFS alum Jessika Power.

But when the series finally aired, it failed to take off.

“We made the decision (to create Big Brother VIP) in the second wave of lockdown,” Mr Warburton explained.

“We’d just lost Australia’s Got Talent and we were losing productions and everyone was really nervous about making a show, so the idea of isolating people in the house and having certainty of production was a pretty attractive thing which pushed us down the path of Big Brother VIP.”

“The show launched as Sydney and Melbourne were coming out of lockdown, so it was a pretty tough environment for any show,” he added, pointing out that neither The Bachelorette on Ten or Parental Guidance on Nine fired either.

Asked about the controversy surrounding the casting of Hopkins on Big Brother and embattled sports star Sam Burgess on SAS Australia — both of whom were at the receiving end of fierce criticism, Mr Warburton defended the decision.

“You’ve gotta look at every different lens on it … you can be too conservative. We never set out to ever vindicate any form of activity or condone any activity.

“We do specific checks, police checks, we deeply look into our contestants and do the right thing from a production point of view, but if you don’t take some risks you’re never going to get people through the front door either,” he said.

“You could argue you could be more politically correct, but those shows tend not to work.”

My Kitchen Rules set to return

Seven’s CEO is confident rebooting MKR — which took a dramatic nosedive in 2020 — will see more success for the network in 2022.

“By the time MKR goes to air it would have been rested for almost two years,” he said.

“It was dominant for a decade, people loved it. So we’re bringing it back with a short, sharp run. We’ve shown what we can do with The Voice so we’re confident it will work.”

Commenting on why it sunk so far — even being declared “dead” by one TV commentator — Mr Warburton said the narrative had shifted too far from the food.

“It just chased a certain direction in my personal view. I sort of came on board as the last two seasons were going to air, but it chased villains and gossip and bitchiness and all that kind of stuff. (It had) really extended dinner parties, we’d blown it up to 60 episodes so it was a massive commitment.

“(Next year) it’s back to what people like which is six couples, cooking in their own kitchens, intimate dinner parties like you’d have on a Saturday night and back to unbelievable food.

Looking forward to 2022

“We’re getting known content to launch next year,” Mr Warburton said of what to expect in 2022.

“(We’ve got) SAS Australia launching after the Ashes, Dancing With The Stars, The Voice Generation spin off and of course the Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games well as Australian Idol which we haven’t been able to make because of Covid.”

He predicted that the next instalment of Big Brother — featuring past favourites and titled Big Brother: Back to The Future, would be a winner despite the results of VIP.

With 7 plus earning the title of number one broadcaster video-on-demand (BVOD) for the second year in a row, Mr Warburton explained that digital would remain a focus, too.

“You look at our growth year on year, it is going to double from $60 million to more than $120 million on Seven West media digital earnings alone, when you put that into context you can see how quickly we’re growing and pivoting to digital growth streams, so that will continue and that will continue at pace and in fairness we’ll probably accelerate it,” he said.

Originally published as Channel 7 wins 2021 ratings battle despite scandal-ridden year

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