Ten goes back to future to lift ratings

MARCO PIERRE WHITE in the MasterChef kitchen, Lisa McCune wielding a stethoscope and Hamish Macdonald filing reports from the world's hot spots. Is it enough to save Channel Ten?

The Ten Network yesterday unveiled a 2013 program slate, including five new Australian dramas, which it hopes will lay the bedrock for a ratings recovery. But media buyers don't tend to think in titles and celebrity attachments, they think in numbers: ratings and revenue.

More importantly, they're looking for signals from Ten that recovery is achievable. Not just that the youngest of the three commercial broadcasters is confident of its own future, but that they have a clearer understanding of who they are, and who they are targeting as their audience.

In that sense, Ten's slate, and the manner of its presentation, is reassuring. The chief executive, James Warburton, was relaxed, and Ten's new head of programming, Beverley McGarvey, at ease with the mammoth task of reviving Ten's fortunes after a battering almost unprecedented in the network's 48-year history.

Warburton said Ten was re-focusing its strategy on their core audience of under-50s, who make up 70 per cent of its audience. ''That's who we are. We're proud of that and our programming will reflect and respect that,'' he said.

And in an instant, the Ten which wanted to swim with the bigger fish, the Ten which sought to carve off a slice from Seven and Nine's war of attrition (and seemed to walk away with only a black eye), dissolved in the ether.

To that end, everything - mostly - returns to Ten's glory days. McGarvey said Ten's 2013 strategy would focus on ''consistency, stability and better results''.

The Simpsons returns to the 6pm timeslot to provide a legitimate alternative to the 6pm news on Seven and Nine. The Project slides back to 6.30pm where it has the best chance of enticing eyeballs away from Seven and Nine's current affairs programs.

The marquee franchises are same, same, but different. MasterChef returns, accompanied by MasterChef: The Professionals, the spin-off which features elite chefs. The Biggest Loser: The Next Generation tweaks the established format with parent/child pairings.

Ten will also invest heavily in local production: the Lisa McCune vehicle Reef Doctors, the Shaun Micallef vehicle Mr & Mrs Murder, a psychological thriller Secrets & Lies: The Track, a chick-friendly romantic drama Wonderland and a series based on Peter FitzSimons' book Batavia.

It is a marked shift from Ten's historical position of favouring imported content.

Australian programming dominates the ratings charts in all demographics, young or old, and across the free-to-air spectrum, from funky Ten to the innovative but rather more grown up ABC. And Ten's strongest assets in recent times have been local dramas: Offspring and Puberty Blues (both of which will return) and the telemovie Underground.

Can Ten recover in the long term? Of course it can, though it is trying to do so amid a perfect storm for a traditional TV network: analog TV will switch off permanently next year, online TV consumption is rising and IPTV content looms large.

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