The Melbourne Cup has always been known as “The Race that Stops the Nation”, but I wanted to investigate the numbers and see if this is still the case. By now you would have read the headlines that the Melbourne Cup coverage audience was around 500,000 Metro TV viewers down on 2018, but let’s dive a little deeper and see what is driving this.
Let’s look at the 2019 Melbourne Cup audience - Network Ten coverage of the Race itself averaged 1.44 million national metro TV viewers – which is 25% down on the 2018 (Network Seven) coverage. The decrease is relatively consistent across all demographics and markets. The reach (watched at least 1 minute) decline is also down relative to audience. So I guess that gives the Network something to work with, for if the Reach was higher, that would suggest people tuned in but didn’t like the coverage, so the fact many didn’t sample the coverage at all is a problem in itself but something tangible the Network can address in the future, but why didn’t people tune in?
I think to understand what happened on Tuesday, we need to go back a few days and gain some insights about what happened on the Saturday prior, because the writing was on the wall for Ten on Saturday and here is why.
Derby Day 2018 reached (watched at least 1 minute) 1.3 million people across the whole day on Network Seven. Now on the same day in 2019 (last Saturday) “Horse Racing” also reached 1.3 million people, the only problem for Ten was that the reach was split by Ten’s coverage of Derby Day and also Seven’s coverage of the Sydney Races. So, as a brand “Horse Racing” was on par year on year, but given the fragmentation, Ten’s audience across Derby Day declined and as a result the Derby Day Race itself halved in audience year on year.
There were over 400,000 Metro TV viewers that tuned into the Seven coverage but did not watch a minute of the Ten coverage – Why? Perhaps after 18 years, people had just been used to going to Network Seven for Horse Racing? Or perhaps more marketing investment needed to go into Derby Day coverage alone? Regardless the numbers suggest that Seven’s presence on Derby Day had a big impact on Ten’s audience which had to have a flow on effect come Tuesday.
Now looking at attendance numbers for the Melbourne Cup and it tells a similar story. The attendance for the Melbourne Cup day was 81,408 – it’s lowest attendance for 24 years. Since breaking the record in 2003 with 122,736 attendance, the crowd has been around or over the 100k mark until it hit 90,536 in 2017, then 83,471 in 2018 and 81,408 this year.
Another interesting statistic is looking at the TAB Win/Place pool for the Race itself. The amount of money gambled through the TAB for a Win and/or Place bet was down 20% year on year. Would be interesting to see other betting companies results, but I would think given this trend, they would record a similar story.
Bringing all this together I think unfortunately it was the perfect storm for Network Ten. General FTA ratings on the decline, Horse Racing as brand is on the decline, Numerous streaming options for viewers, Network Seven competition on Derby Day and a lack of viewers switching - I think all and not a single one of these contributed to a significant decline in audience for Ten.
Which leads to the elephant in the room question: Would the Melbourne Cup audience have recorded the same drop if it was still on Network Seven – obviously hard to answer definitively as a that would require a crystal ball or more precisely Doctor Strange’s Time Stone (one for the Marvel fans out there), but I believe that with only a couple of the above factors in play, Seven would have shown a small decrease in audience, but not as significant as Ten’s drop and again I bring it back to Derby Day – The numbers tell us that Seven would have recorded a similar (maybe slightly smaller) year on year audience on Derby Day and with a clear lead in into the Melbourne Cup I could only envisage a small year on year drop – more in line with the attendances decline than anything else.
So to answer the opening question around does it still stop a nation, I feel the answer is a “Let’s wait and see”, we cannot assume that given the decline this year that it will continue in years to come, but certainly if it does record a decline next year then it is real bad sign for the Cup and the Horse Racing industry as a whole. But I do believe that we need to give Ten some time and perhaps it can regain the gloss that comes with the Cup. As the old saying goes “You can lead a horse to the television, but you can’t make it watch” (I think that’s how it goes), in time Ten will find their groove and the viewers will return, the only issue for Ten is they only have 4 more years in the existing contract to get it right again.
Interestingly, the first week of Ten’s "The Amazing Race" reached more people than the Melbourne Cup, so should that be now known as the new “Race that Stops the Nation”? …….well stat’s for another time.
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