End of Year Analysis: Soap Operas

On Friday, NZ On Air had their latest funding decision meeting. Very shortly we will hear whether Mediaworks have managed to convince the state funding body to pour millions of dollars into a new locally made soap for TV3. But is it the right time to be launching a new soap opera in New Zealand? Sure, it’ll be great for jobs in the short term, but are people still watching these types of shows?

Today, lets take a look at the ratings for both Shortland Street and Home and Away. Shortland Street has been the biggest success story of local drama for more than two decades on New Zealand Television. It has anchored TV2’s weeknight line up and delivered consistent ratings but as we explored recently, TV2 has suffered with a drop in channel share of 20% in 2010 to only 13% in 2015.

While Shortland Street is still the most watched show on TV2 for the majority of the week, it usually has the highest average audience in the key 25-54 demo.

However, 2015 has seen a slump in the viewership stakes with one of the biggest falls we’ve observed.

In 2010, Shortland Street had an average audience of approximately 538,000 viewers every night. 2011 saw those numbers grow to 549,000 and even further to 566,000 in 2012. In 2013, the 7pm weeknight drama took a 12% hit, dropping below the magic half million mark. 2014 saw it drop another 5% but the year on year figures for 2015 are considerably lower again.

This year, the average audience of Shortland Street is down a staggering 20% on last year to only 379,000 viewers per episode. Despite the falls, the show is still number one in all the right places and according to TVNZ, it performs well ondemand. But Shortland Street at 7pm hasn’t been the appointment viewing destination as it once was.

The other show of interest is Home and Away which TV3 lost to TV2 in mid 2013. While 2014 saw Home and Away lift to the second highest average audience since 2010, 2015 has seen a similar situation unfold as has done with Shortland Street. Compared to last year, Home and Away is down 19% to an average audience of 202,000 viewers per night.

It is interesting to note that both programs have lost about a fifth of the audience they had in 2014 at the same time as TV3 has been lobbying NZ On Air for millions of dollars in taxpayer funding for a new show.

Is a new, daily soap opera going to deliver the much needed ratings that TV3 is so desperately in need of right now and is there actually an appetite for this type of show when it would appear that viewers are either switching off or accessing their content from sources other than broadcast?

Tonight, Shortland Street has their annual season finale Christmas cliffhanger. It might be a strange night for a finale but its better than the alternative which would have been this Friday and opening weekend of the new Star Wars movie…

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About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they’re on, I’m usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.

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  • FrenchBug

    Ironically, the fall in viewership for Shortie is proof that people DO watch it.
    Hear me out: the show has not been very good at all this year with nothing of interest happening and very few appealing characters. Hence the fall in viewership: people noticed and tuned out.
    We can surmise that improving the quality and writing buzz-worthy storylines could bring back some of those casual viewers. It would worry me more for the long-term if the show had bad ratings even though it was good. Getting crap numbers in a crap year is fair enough.

  • Mark Wasley

    Tonight’s Christmas cliffhanger is set to bring some excitement and I’m sure the viewers. Can’t wait for it!

  • Guest

    The fact of the matter is that a lot of people are watching Shortland Street, Home and Away AND Neighbours online via On Demand. People no longer have to rush home to see their favourite show. I think – and I hope Simon Bennett reads this – Shortland Street has done a fabulous job in upping it game this year. I don’t like a few of the characters but all in all the storylines have been great and I certainly never miss an episode. I hope this little gem lasts a lifetime.

    • Simon Bennett

      Thanks for this. It feels like the show is firing on all cylinders again after a soft start to the year.

    • Mike

      yep, Shortland Street is always in the top 10 downloads for TVNZ OnDemand. Last Decembers 52,000 average views will be interesting to measure against this years

  • Guest

    Funding for TV3’s new soap has been declined.

    • Shannon Ryan

      Good to hear. NZ on Air are much better off with spending the money on quality drama or comedy than another soap opera, of which Regan rightly pointed out is in decline. Also I don’t think it will be the saving grace that TV3 thinks it will be, especially going up against Home and Away. Family Feud however is a good idea as it is ideal counter-programming, but again probably won’t have much effect on the rest of the night. So TV3 will probably order more of these episodes, or play the international ones.

      3 News isn’t affected that much by its lead-in as we’ve seen so it would make more sense to look at how to improve Mediaworks bottom line by cutting costs. With the massive decreases we’ve seen in traditional viewing, it doesn’t make sense to have three free-to-air channels running so they should probably merge into two next year. The Edge TV has so much repetition that it should just be detracted to one show a day and air on FOUR. The constant repeats are getting tired which is reflected in the viewership levels.

      TV3 really needs to differentiate itself from TV One rather than be a carbon copy to attract that younger audience that has a shorter attention span. So really the lineup next year should be 5:30 Family Feud, 6:00 3 News, 6:30 Story, 7:00 The Simpsons. And not just weekdays – weekends too, of course with the hosts chopping and changing to keep it fresh. Then have the late bulletin start at 10pm where possible and run for an hour to compensate.

  • David Finch

    I have no particular opinion on the virtues of TV3’s planned soap (and no affiliation with its producers) but I hope NZ on Air will be publicly pressed to explain themselves a little more. They say a soap doesn’t match their priorities, which begs the question… whose priorities exactly? What kind of influence does NZ on Air truly have on what we watch? If they are guided by the power of ratings, which is the only measure of success which matters to our current government, then there is at least as much logic in investing in a nightly soap on a major channel than there is in pumping another $4m subsidy to little-watched Prime for Brokenwood Mysteries (just for example). The one soap we have consistently tops the ratings for its host channel after 25 years despite an increasingly fragmented market and changing viewing habits. It has out-rated every other drama series that NZ on Air has ever invested in (except perhaps Outrageous Fortune at its very peak). Which would be less embarrassing if those other shows really were ambitious serious non-commercial dramas. But they’re not. Most of them have been flashy soaps with bigger budgets. NZ on Air say they favour “returning series”, but a series designed to return four nights a week indefinitely doesn’t interest them.

    • Me

      Good points! I was surprised that Brokenwood Mysteries was given more money to proceed with another series too – I find it boring; and the ratings haven’t been amazing. The new 10-week (twice weekly) series ‘Filthy Rich’ is being referred to as the most expensive-ever funded series on NZ TV at around 8/9m (from memory) … surely they could’ve invested in an ongoing drama for 1/2m more and got their money’s worth?