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Video clip synopsis – The ruthless world of commercial television and its chase for ratings is compared to the programming motivations of the public broadcaster.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 3min 19sec
Tags - audiences, broadcasting, consumers, culture, identity, media influence, popular culture, power, ratings, television programs, see all tags


The Ratings War

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About the Video Clip


The interviews with Liz Jacka and Mac Gudgeon were recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

Liz Jacka is an Author and Professor in Communications Studies for the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. Mac Gudgeon is a screenwriter and a community television advocate. You can view their full biographies at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


Area of study 3. Australian media organisations

This area of study focuses on an analysis of Australian media organisations and the social and industrial framework within which they operate.

Media products are produced within a cultural, aesthetic, legal, political, economic, institutional and historical framework. Their production, distribution and circulation is affected by law, self-regulatory codes of conduct, industry pressures and the practices of particular media organisations. Other factors (for example, sources of revenue, ratings, circulation, ownership and control) influence the nature and range of media texts produced by individual organisations. Consideration of the impact of these factors on media organisations and their products is important in developing an understanding of the production role of different Australian media organisations.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


Advertising is the lifeblood of commercial broadcast media because it is their main source of income. Both on radio and during the early days of television, advertisers or sponsors paid for entire programs – typically plays, variety or quiz shows – and broadcast stations simply put them to air. But this approach changed with the advent of the 'ratings’ system.

Under the current system in Australia, commercial television stations buy programs or produce them in-house, and then sell commercial spots during breaks in the program. The cost to advertisers to buy a commercial spot depends on the size and type of audience for that program. The audience is measured by the 'rating’, which is an estimate of the number of radio or television sets tuned in to a program, and the demographics of the audience – their age, gender and socio-economic status. The statistics or numbers used to calculate television ratings are based on extensive audience surveys and data collected by television set top boxes that automatically record channel changes.

For commercial broadcasters, the bigger their audience for any program, the more they can charge advertisers for a commercial spot. For advertisers, a big audience means more people seeing and hearing their advertisement, although 'it is not just a question of reaching the largest number of people, but of choosing a medium which communicates with the appropriate kind of people for the advertiser. In general, high-budget advertisers of mass comsumption goods and services will choose expensive prime-time television slots.’ (Sinclair 201)

During the 1980s, the battle for ratings between commercial television broadcasters reached new heights. In effect they battled for the biggest share of the total television audience. Increasingly broadcasters chose programs they thought would attract high ratings.

The Nine Network led the charge by, for example, producing the high-rating 60 Minutes current affairs program – importing a model already successful in the United States – in their effort to beat the ABC as the leading news and current affairs broadcaster. (Flew 177) Channels Seven and Ten drew a contest for ratings over soapies with Home and Away on Seven and Neighbours on Ten. Neighbours and Home and Away became Australian television’s greatest export successes.

Classroom Activities


Answer the following questions from the Video Clip Context and the video clip:

  1. Over the years, certain television stations have attempted to capture a specific demographic. Write down what sort of demographic Channels 7, 9 and 10 are trying to capture and list four shows they broadcast that would appeal to that demographic.
  2. When a particular show or type of show is a ratings success, often other television stations will try to create similar shows. List as many copycat shows as you can think of, indicating the original station and show and the copycat station and show.
  3. Should the ABC and SBS become involved in chasing ratings? What might you see could be some consequences of them basing decisions on ratings? What other criteria might there be in determining what programs to screen?

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.