In an echo of recent US developments, Australian TV networks are suffering marked declines in audience levels.

Viewing figures for the first few weeks of the 2004 ratings season show free-to-air broadcasters are failing to halt a long-term slippage in audiences. The fall is particularly acute among young men, whose viewing levels are down 11.9% from 2002.

A similar trend emerged last year in the US, where Nielsen Media Research found an 11% year-on-year drop in viewing among 18 to 34-year-old males over the first two months of the TV season. Nielsen claimed young men were turning to DVDs and video games; the networks claimed there was something wrong with the figures [WAMN: 12-Nov-03].

Australia's networks have seen audiences decline for several years. Compared with 1992 levels, viewing is down 20.5% across the whole population, and 34.5% among 16 to 24-year-olds.

"Clearly there is an underlying and somewhat depressing trend," commented Mike Porter, Australian ceo of Mediaedge:cia. "What those figures show is that the problem is far more significant in younger demographics. Large advertisers are concerned about it and complaining but, in a sense, they're not doing too much about it."

In an effort to address media buyers' concerns, ratings body Oztam was last year asked to assess how much Australians under 40 used their TV-sets for DVDs, as games consoles and for other non-viewing purposes. It has yet to complete its report.

However, falling audiences have not translated into falling ad revenues. First-quarter advertising across the three Australian networks is set to rise around 20% year-on-year -- a situation the broadcasters were unsurprisingly quick to defend.

"TV is in an enormously strong position and remains so," said David Leckie, chief executive of Network Seven. "The more this market fragments the stronger we become because the only way to get your product over is for it to be on free-to-air TV."

Data sourced from: Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff