by Colin Jowell

Ask someone their opinion and they will give you an answer. Observe what they do and you will see the truth. This is why free to air TV ratings are not just an indicator of where to find an audience, but a rich source of insight into what the zeitgeist of the nation is.

This is brought into sharp focus as the latest trend between the broadcasters is to go head-to-head in an all out ratings war. Looking at two of the latest face-offs, there is much to be learned.

Reality isn't nice

My Kitchen Rules vs The Block vs Australia’s Biggest Loser. On paper, the biggest loser should be the biggest winner. Positive values, self improvement, addressing probably the number one issue in Australia: Obesity. This year they even threw in small town heartstrings, and instead of focusing on how much weight people lost, focused on the age they were most likely to die. And yet it’s My Kitchen Rules that has its ratings recipe down pat, followed by the Block. By any measure, MKR is a less “wholesome” show. The jus that adds the flavor is the snarky comments contestants make so willingly about one another. And while the Biggest Loser contestants are Aussie Battlers for sure, a greater share of our attention is being drawn by fancy food and the perfect choice of bathroom tile. Unpleasant as it might be, the cultural shift is fundamental and probably permanent, and brands that continue to rely on an old stereotype of Australia may still be admired, but they are far less likely to be bought.

A little mystery gets a lot of attention

When 9 moved it’s much hyped “Schapelle” drama to last Sunday night, they said it was to align with developments in Bali. Taking on 7’s INXS biopic was a more likely story, and the strategy backfired with 7 achieving almost double the ratings. On the face of it, you could assume a current event would outrank an 80’s rock band any day. Both promised to uncover hidden secrets, behind the scenes insight we hadn’t had before. But more of us watched the fornicating antics of Hutchence and co because there was less we actually know about their story. The Corby story was a rehash of a reality drama we’d already seen. The fact that neither was particularly revealing is academic.

A new local aspiration

That so much of the ratings are dominated by local content is compelling. But the local content we are now aspiring to far  has less to do with bogans and battlers than it used to. Rather than selling our wares on Struggle Street, we should be signposting a way out.