Can The Project save Ten from terrible Sunday ratings?

Peter Helliar will be joined by three co-hosts when The Project makes its return to Sundays. Photo: Eddie Jim

Peter Helliar will be joined by three co-hosts when The Project makes its return to Sundays. Photo: Eddie Jim

It's no surprise that Channel Ten is returning The Project to Sundays. The only question is: what took them so long?

Sundays have become a disaster for the embattled network, which went into receivership in June.

Last week's ratings illustrate the extent of the problem, with Ten's rivals each scoring their No. 1 programs on Sunday. Indeed, The Block topped the entire week, averaging 1.9 million viewers for Nine. (These figures include regional audiences). In second place were Seven's local Sunday bulletins, on 1.76 million.

In contrast, not a single show from Ten's Sunday line-up cracked the national top 40.

Languishing in the 6.30pm slot were two repeats of Modern Family. The first averaged 384,000 viewers. The second drew 311,000.

Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar and Waleed Aly host The Project on weeknights. Photo: Eddie Jim

Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar and Waleed Aly host The Project on weeknights. Photo: Eddie Jim

This is the kicker: while Seven and Nine were getting their best ratings of the week, Modern Family didn't even make the top 100. (Sunday's episode of AustralianSurvivor ranked 43rd.)

Obviously, something must change.

Ten would love to invest in a new big-budget reality show, aiming for Ninja Warrior-sized ratings. But a network in financial strife can hardly throw cash around.

Ten has already spent big on the lavishly-produced Survivor. It needs this series to work. That's a big ask, though, when Survivor is preceded by Modern Family on Sundays.

Last week, those repeats were out-ranked by Towies. A reality show about tow trucks. On 7Mate, no less.

Of course, Ten needs more than a better lead-in for Survivor. It simply can't afford to air a dud at 6.30pm on Sundays. That timeslot is too important.

This is where The Project comes in.

While it doesn't set the ratings on fire, it does punch above its weight in the desirable 25-54 demographic. Last week, the 7pm portion of the weeknight show averaged a respectable 791,000 viewers. (This compares to 538,000 for the 6.30pm portion, explaining why Ten codes each half-hour separately.)

Modern Family has done well for Ten - but its Sunday repeats are tanking.

Modern Family has done well for Ten - but its Sunday repeats are tanking.

Stretching The Project to a sixth night will increase Ten's costs. But it's a hell of a lot cheaper than creating, say, a new drama. The studio set, format and staff are already in place.

Ten already has a good grasp of these costs, given it ran a Sunday edition of The Project in 2012.

Back then, it rated lower than it did on weeknights. No doubt the same will happen when it re-launches this weekend. Yet Ten will be patient, because it knows Seven and Nine already dominate that evening - and viewers need time to adjust their habits. (The first Sunday episode will be hosted by regular anchor Peter Helliar, who will be joined by Dr. Chris Brown, Natarsha Belling and Rachel Corbett.)

Even modest growth is worth pursuing. Ten needs to get back in the game with its 6.30pm Sunday hour. Ideally, this would help Survivor. And The Project allows good cross-promotion for Ten's other programs.

In July, Ten extended morning show Studio 10 by one hour, to finish at midday. It presented an easy opportunity to lift ratings. As does The Project's Sunday re-launch.

It will be more interesting, however, to see what Ten does post-receivership. How much money will it have to spend on programming? Which viewers will it pursue? And how will it carve out a place in an increasingly tough media landscape?

The story Can The Project save Ten from terrible Sunday ratings? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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