It was announced last August and has been in non-stop promo since late December, but Ten's third digital channel 11 finally launches today (11am on 11/01/11). Ten has promised a different approach to the other commercial networks when it comes to programming repeats from its main channel, but will that strategy last?
We already knew that 11 was being developed as a joint venture with CBS in the US, and that Ten was taking the relatively unusual step of switching Neighbours from Ten to be shown exclusively on the new channel. It's also hired Brisbane radio personalities Labby and Stav to host its afternoon broadcasts, in what the network describes as "drive time radio for your TV".
All that local activity is pretty unusual. Digital channels aren't subject to the same local content rules as commercial "main" channels, and the small amount of local programming on the extra channels from Nine (Go! and GEM) and Seven (7Two and 7Mate) generally amounts to ancient repeats (Leyland Brothers World) or programs that have tanked on the mainstream channel (Random Acts Of Kindness).
As the network has come closer to launch, Ten has been emphasising that there'll be no overlap between what's on Ten and what's on 11. Not only will Neighbours and The Simpsons be 11-only properties, but the same logic will apply to everything else. As CEO David Mott explained to TV Tonight:
Our philosophy has been very clear from day one, that what plays on ELEVEN stays on ELEVEN and we're not going to be running shows on both TEN and ELEVEN. They are going to be destinations in their own right and I think we have the content to deliver that.
If it remains true, then this is quite a revolutionary idea. It's long been the subject of online jokes that switching onto any of the Nine-backed channels in prime time will result in an episode of Two And A Half Men appearing on screen. The Nanny is a similar multi-channel offender. Admittedly, much of 11's non-first-run content can be found on other pay TV channels, but within the Ten universe, there doesn't seem to be any overlap right now.
The fear, of course, is that it isn't gong to be true for the long term. Ten's rivals have been particularly ruthless when it comes to moving and rescheduling shows: if something isn't rating (even at the lower levels these extra channels demand), then it gets ditched without any ceremony — and without any regard for viewers who might have been following the show (or sports viewers in the case of Nine and GEM). It's hard to believe that Ten will behave entirely differently when it comes to Eleven.
Mott says that Ten will stick with its schedule, even once the official ratings season begins and competition from the mainstream channels intensifies. I hope so. But television, in the end, is a business, and increasingly it seems that the business decisions don't have that much respect for the viewers.
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