"Running a national television network is a big business," 'Fairfax Media' reported in 1997. "In the 1995-96 financial year, the operating expenditure for channel Nine was $850.3 million, compared with channel Seven's $630.6 million. Each ratings point linked to revenue." The decisive TV ratings battle on Australian television in those days usually took place between the all-important Monday-to-Friday 6 o'clock hour. 

"According to the A.C. Nielsen ratings print-out (in September 1997), of the 12.2 million potential television viewers in Australia's 5 mainland State capital cities (television markets of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth), the difference in prime time audience share between the 2 leading networks (channel Nine and channel Seven) was a mere 1%. Channel Nine had 32.6% of the 5-city audience, to Seven's 31.6%. One per cent. It is the narrowest of margins.

"The bottom line is that more ratings equals more viewers equals more advertising revenue equals more profits. For the networks, the audience share figures mean far more than just winning first prize in the television ratings game - they are the empirical data that largely determine how the $2.23 billion national TV advertising cake is cut.

"According to Australian Broadcasting Authority figures, in 1995-96, channel Nine and its affiliate stations in Adelaide and Perth took a 41.7% slice of the advertising cake, compared with Seven's 33.5 and Ten's 24.8." Chris O'Mara of channel Seven told 'Fairfax Media' at the time, "The gap between us is actually quite small, and will fluctuate and seesaw. But it won't be narrowed by us or overtaken by us until we improve our position from 6:00pm to 7:00pm in Sydney and Melbourne."

For 5 years at least, the "seemingly unbeatable combination of Brian Henderson's news and Jana Wendt's 'A Current Affair'" held a stranglehold in the prime time television war. In Sydney, both programs consistently attracted over 30 points in the ratings. By 2003, Ross Warneke reported, nearly 3 million Australians sat down at 6.30pm on weeknights to watch either channel Seven or channel Nine.

One reporter pointed out to 'Fairfax Media' at the time, "You give the customers what they want and there are 2 sorts of customers here. There are the viewers, who have become used to a certain type of material at 6.30pm and don't want that to change … That's why these shows don't tackle anything too serious, or at least 'serious' as journalists and ABC viewers would define it.

"And there are the advertisers who want the networks to deliver them a certain type of viewer, or should I say consumer? The people who watch 'A Current Affair' and 'Today Tonight' are precisely the sort of viewers that big advertisers will spend a fortune to reach, so you have to hang on to them. You give them what they want. I don't imagine for one moment that Ray (Martin) is professionally satisfied by having to introduce a report on a cat that's been on a get fit campaign."

Back in 1990, Steve Cosser of channel Ten signed Ian Leslie of '60 Minutes' in what described as a "challenge to Nine's prime time supremacy." Ian made the comment at the time, "I think we (channel Ten news) will have the first real challenge to Brian Henderson and Jana Wendt's domination of the hour between 6 and 7. Ours will be a tight, lean, even traditional approach that is usually only found on North American television, making it unique because no-one has seen it here before. I would be lying if I said I didn't have a few butterflies about stepping into the shoes of anchorman because I leave behind so many good years of on-the-road reporting."

In 1992, Gerald Stone of '60 Minutes' developed 'Real Life' which went up against Jana Wendt and the phenomenally successful 'A Current Affair'. Stan Grant made the observation at the time, "Nine has created the myth of Jana the Media Goddess who's unflappable. Some say she's the best thing to happen to night-time current affairs." Speaking to Jim Schembri, Gerald Stone recalled, "When we started (in 1992), 'A Current Affair' in Melbourne was rating 31s and 32s and we were down to 10s. We got down to 9 in Melbourne.

"We were often getting beaten by 15 points, so when you look at the trend (in March 1994) you're also going to have to see that 'A Current Affair' in Melbourne is rating nowhere near what it used to with Jana. So although our ratings have not gone up to what we were in September, October and November last year (in 1993), 'A Current Affair' is certainly much closer in striking distance than they were 2 years, or even a year ago. If we're talking trends, I think there's nothing, no trend, that suggests that we're in trouble. It's the opposite."

However by November 1994, channel Seven announced the cancellation of 'Real Life' to be replaced by the State-based program, 'Today Tonight'. 'Fairfax Media' told readers, "Take the ratings of a week in mid-November (1994): Monday 'A Current Affair' peaked at 30, 'Real Life' at 16; Tuesday 'aCA' 29, 'Real Life' 13; Wednesday 28 versus 11; Thursday 23 versus 12; Friday 22 versus 9."

Ray Martin was made host of 'A Current Affair' from 1994 to 1998. Gerald Stone conceded, "He's stolen some of our girls away, I'll give him that credit. But a lot of the girls are women over 55, that's in the audience he took from 'Midday'." Without Jana Wendt in 1993, "'A Current Affair', the traditional leader in the 6.30pm time slot hovered around the low to mid 20s, with occasional spurts into the high 20s, while 'Real Life' kept pace with figures around the mid to high teens. This year (in 1994) in Melbourne, however, 'Real Life's' fortunes have darkened. With the introduction of Ray Martin, 'aCA's' ratings are up and 'Real Life's' are down, often to low teens. 'aCA's' are holding at mid 20s."

Gerald Stone acknowledged, "There's no doubt that Ray Martin carries a great deal of audience with him wherever he goes, and there's a 'tune-on' factor to Ray which we anticipated. Last year (in 1993) I told our executives that I expected it would take about a month of rough treatment by Ray and the publicity he attracted. But Melbourne has always been difficult for us." 

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