The Today show’s accidental genius
SOMEONE at Channel 9 is an accidental genius.
On the morning of the Today show's relaunch - where two women are, for the first time, anchoring the program - it's already clear that the breakfast battlefield has changed. Channel 7's Sunrise might have finished 2018 as the undisputed number one breakfast program, but that means little now. This is a new year.
As journalists Georgie Gardner and Deborah Knight get to work informing the country about the news of the day, and entertainment reporter Brooke Boney settles into Richard Wilkins' seat, the people behind the scenes are probably anxiously examining their fingernails. This is their first crack at a female-focused hosting team and as far as commercial television goes, the stakes are high.
So far, it looks like the pay-off might be even higher.
While Sunrise has been well and truly on-top of Today for the last 18 months, there's something few in the industry want to consider: no matter who reigns supreme, everyone is losing. Last year, both juggernauts posted significant audience drops. Compared to 2017, Sunrise's average audience in August had declined by 68,000 people while Today's slipped by 63,000.
The stats don't lie: breakfast television is losing relevance.
And that's what makes Today's pivot so clever.
While the networks have been fighting over scraps for the last 18 months, Channel 9 has effectively walked away from the table and stumbled upon a nice, juicy steak. In elevating a former Triple J newsreader into Wilkins' position, and being the first Australian commercial channel to give two women the top gig of hosting, Channel 9 has made a dash for the meaty audience that's been twiddling their thumbs this entire time: Millennials.
Young women have long been put off breakfast television and its conservative antics. We've never been particularly strong fans of Sunrise, the show that has a reputation for disposing of female hosts before they reach 50 for more youthful alternatives (g'day, Mel Doyle and Samantha Armytage). Recently, we haven't been keen fans of Today either; Lisa Wilkinson's equal-pay dispute of 2017 is still fresh in our minds, so too is chatter that women are historically undervalued and underpaid by the network.
A breakfast program that's a smidge more progressive, a smidge more woman-friendly is a hole in the market. And millennial women will happily fill it.
This might have been totally against what the suits at Channel 9 wanted, of course. As senior television sources have told News Corp, "Brenton Ragless was meant to get the gig, but he knocked it back for family reasons so Nine had to go back to the drawing board." But that doesn't really matter. Even if this is entirely by accident, Channel 9 have given themselves the best possible chance of a comeback.
The task ahead of Gardner, Knight and Boney is not a simple or straightforward one. They've been handed the corpse of a show that was once glittery and great. The pressure will be unrelenting; they need to perform open heart surgery on something that has been repeatedly bruised and battered by bad PR, all while hundreds of thousands of people watch on. If they do revive Today, after what has been a nightmarish 18 months, it will be something of a media miracle.
Although, no matter how 2019 unfurls, thanks to this shake-up the interests of Aussies in their twenties and thirties have been well and truly piqued; something that would have been practically impossible if Nine had followed the same old, tired format of 'dude in suit' and 'female sidekick'.
And as three women steer the ship of one of Australia's most iconic shows this morning, one thing is clear: This is a new year, a new ratings season, and a whole new ballgame.