Outside of news, current affairs and big live sporting events, few shows now top 1 million viewers on linear broadcast television (though the number watching via time-shifted or streaming channels is constantly growing).
It’s also worth stating that the decline of MasterChef’s audience is in line with that of other formerly all-conquering reality formats on the commercial networks.
The winner announced segment of the fifth and most-recent season of Australian Ninja Warrior on Nine was watched by 918,000 viewers, down from 1.27 million viewers the year before and 2.23 million in its first season. The winner of Seven’s Big Brother was announced last month to an audience of 726,000, down from the 876,000 who watched a year earlier. The first season of the show, on Ten in 2001, drew 2.79 million viewers for the finale.
In response to the shifting patterns of viewer behaviour, the networks (including Nine, which owns this masthead) will soon stop reporting overnight viewing figures, adopting instead a new system in which the first figures revealed will be seven days after broadcast.
Eventually, the existing ratings system will be replaced entirely by VOZ, in which broadcast video on demand viewership is also captured, in a bid to present to media buyers and clients – the only audience for ratings figures that really matters – a more accurate picture of broadcast viewership.
For now, though, it’s worth noting that over its lifespan MasterChef has, as the Katy Perry song that serves as its theme would have it, tended to run hot and run cold. The first season winner in 2009 was announced to a metro audience of almost 3.75 million people, a number that is all but inconceivable these days. The second season did even better, with more than 3.96 million people tuning in. With regional viewers factored in, the figure rose to 5.2 million – almost one in four of the then population of 22 million.
Just three years later, the last rites were being read over the show as the winner announced segment was watched by just over 1 million viewers. But two years later, that number had more than doubled. Since 2015, though, the numbers have – apart from 2020, which was exceptional in so many ways – been trending down.
In short, our appetite for MasterChef has waxed and waned over the years, and it may do so again. It is undeniably diminished by comparison with those heady early days, but so it is for all mass media events.
At any rate, as viewers of Tuesday night’s two-and-a-half hour finale saw, the hosts have already put the call out for next year’s contestants. The recipe may be getting old but there is room, it seems, for at least one more serving.
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