Phoenix rising: the reborn Ten begins emerging from the ashes
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 14: The sunset on a sad day for Channel Ten as the network announces it is entering voluntary administration on June 14, 2017 in Sydney, . (Photo by Jessica Hromas/Fairfax Media)In Greek mythology the phoenix was an immortal bird which died when it was consumed by its own fire, only to be reborn again and again. In n mythology the phoenix is a 53-year-old television network named Ten.
Twice in its life Ten has been seared by the flames of receivership, only to have its debts wiped, bestowed with a second chance at finding a competitive edge among our unholy trinity of commercial broadcasters.
In 1990 the network was saved through its acquisition by the Canadian-based Canwest Media. This year salvation has come from the US$30 billion ($39.06 billion) American commercial television giant CBS.
Though CBS has not yet fully acquired the network – a wrinkle expected to be smoothed in the coming days – the leaner, meaner Ten was showing off her best side last night to media buyers, producers and industry heavyweights.
The message was clearly steady as she goes: established Ten brands such as MasterChef, I’m A Celebrity and the various Bachelor (and Bachelorettes) are deemed safe. The drama slate, while solid, is expensive, which means the fate of programs such as Offspring and The Wrong Girl is less certain.
The crucial piece of the jigsaw is Ten’s next move, something we won’t clearly see until the new in-laws arrive from America and start renovating the house.
But the way forward is not as simple in 2018 as it was in 1990.
Back then Ten was saved by a curious pastiche of British reruns, US talk shows and the then-much younger seeming 20th Century Fox library titles including The Simpsons and The X-Files.
Nowadays the Fox library – yanked from the network schedule in the wake of CBS’s sudden displacement of the Murdoch takeover plan – looks comparatively tired; The Simpsons is in its 30th season and The X-Files, recently exhumed, has also aged.
Equally, CBS’s own program library, while formidable, is no genie bottle. Nor is Ten’s personality suited to take on its breadth. Seal Team and True Blood are too American. Bull is too niche. And NCIS shows the fatigue of most 15-year-old brands.
The rebirth of a CBS-owned Ten will ultimately be defined by the re-alignment of the network’s personality. The younger-skewing Ten, while difficult to shed quickly, will likely be consigned to demographic history.
In its place will stand a debt-free n commercial network backed by a deep-pocketed American one.
To suggest Ten could become the equal of Nine or Seven might seem ambitious, but Ten’s rivals, having evaded their own financial rebirth by fire, are instead older and loaded with debt.
And in competitive terms Ten might be restarting the race as a rookie sprinter but she’s a decade younger and half a billion in debt lighter than either of her two rivals.
And in commercial television terms that makes Ten a deadly, if still unpredictable, proposition.