Behind the breakfast TV war

Written By komlim puldel on Sabtu, 11 April 2015 | 20.01

The Today show host has responded to the backlash over comments he made on yesterday's show about Indians.

Breakfast battle ... The Today show, pictured, and Sunrise battle it out for viewers. Picture: Channel 9 Source: Channel 9

THE war for breakfast TV dominance has been raging ferociously for years, with Sunrise and Today pulling out all the stops to ensure they top the timeslot.

From dramatic changes in faces and format to wars of words between talent and producers, the fallout has endlessly fuelled the gossip pages.

Adam Boland's book spilt the beans on Sunrise rifts and gave readers plenty to talk about.

To outsiders, it seems an overly dramatic battle for a measly number of viewers. A good day sees a ratings figure of around 300,000.

But those numbers hide the enormous reach of each show and their importance to the network — both financially and in building viewer loyalty.

Invaluable to the network ... Natalie Barr, Samantha Armytage, David Koch, Mark Beretta. Picture: Channel 7 Source: Channel 7

"Up to four million viewers are watching at least five minutes of the breakfast shows every week," said media expert Nathan Cook.

The ratings cover a two-hour time span between around 7am and 9am.

"But very few people are going to sit down and watch an entire two hours of TV in that time," Cook said of why the ratings don't reflect that mass reach.

"Not only is that a big number for the networks, but breakfast TV is a platform they use to effectively cross promote and drive viewers into their peak audience areas."

Setting the tone

"One of the most important purposes for Sunrise is to set up Seven for the rest of the day," said Sunrise executive producer Michael Pell.

The Morning Show had first footage ... The siege at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place. Picture: Channel 7 Source: Channel 7

"Number one, we're the first show you see when people wake up and we're on every single day of the year."

"We're there every day and have developed a relationship of trust with our viewers. They know if something big has happened, we're going to be there to cover it. Sometimes a breaking news story can be on air for seven or eight hours live."

An example would be the recent siege at the Lindt Cafe, which saw all hands on deck as the story unfolded live outside the Seven studio in Sydney.

And another reason, added Pell, is to ensure the network's prime time schedule performs at its peak.

"Because we start the schedule we look at cross promotion," he said.

"We're pushing towards shows that are on prime time and then they push back to us the next morning. Breakfast and prime time are intrinsically linked."

Popular choice ... One Direction drew big numbers for the Today Show on their first visit to Sydney. Source: Supplied. Source: News Limited

The flow-on effect

Today executive producer Mark Calvert agreed the impact on what happens on his show has far reaching consequences for the success of other products.

"It's like any publicity, whether it's for (a Nine show) or a music actor or an author," he said. "You absolutely have an impact on what people are watching and buying."

"You might have an artist on the show and their song is sitting at number 20 on the iTunes charts and by 9.15am, after they've been on air, they're number one."

The bottom line

"Across Today and Sunrise you're battling for about $150 million worth of advertising dollars," a source inside one of the shows speculated.

That's a wrap ... Michael Pell and the Sunrise crew celebrate the end of their recent Hawaii trip. Picture: Instagram Source: Instagram

Cook said while he doubts the figure is quite so high, the format of breakfast shows lend themselves to sponsorship and integration opportunities prime time shows can't offer.

"Shows that are open to integration are becoming more valuable," he said.

Plus given many people avoid watching advertisements due to time-shifting or downloading, the live nature of breakfast TV means that they are more likely to be seen.

"Not many people record a breakfast show and watch it later," said Calvert. "So the ad spots become increasingly important at breakfast."

The new prime time

"People think with Michael (Pell) and I and our shows there's a rivalry," said Calvert.

"But what we do across both shows is great for our audience and our companies."

Popular ... Grant Denyer has had a meteoric rise since doing the weather on Sunrise. Source: Channel Ten Source: Channel 10

"We used to joke that breakfast is the new prime time. Given the way things have changed, it's actually true in terms of the volume of people watching, the buzz we create across the wider community and the scrutiny we're under."

From popular presenter awards to who's making news headlines, there's no doubting the Sunrise and Today teams have become the biggest names on their respective networks.

"To say it's the new prime time is a bit of a stretch, but breakfast is a big part of network strategy in building network loyalty," said Cook.

"It's no coincidence that when a big story breaks it's usually someone from the breakfast show that jumps on a plane and goes to report from on the ground. "

Making stars

Breakfast TV has launched a slew of successful faces including Family Feud's Grant Denyer, Beauty and the Geek host James Tobin and 60 Minutes reporter Liz Hayes.

Before 60 Minutes ... Steve Liebmann and Liz Hayes were Today Show co-hosts on and off from 1986 to 1996. Photo: Supplied Source: News Corp Australia

"Sunrise has become a star factory," said Pell. "There's so many hours of TV to fill and people develop a really close relationship with (the cast). They're also honing their skills like nobody else so that when it comes to doing prime time live, they've done it before.

The show also has a "halo effect" on regular visitors or stand-in presenters, said Pell.

"A lot of that is because of the popularity on the show and it's helped people to go on to have success in other aspects of their careers," he says.

As a result, the number of people vying for a shot on breakfast TV is "huge", said Calvert. "They see what a great gig it is. A lot of people who aren't on the show would like to be, I know."

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