Channel 10 in strife: This is where the trouble began
IN EARLY 2011, Network Ten launched a major expansion of its news line-up, moving traditional evening staples like The Simpsons to its digital channel Eleven.
At the time, then interim chief executive Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer were said to have regarded the expansion of news coverage as "madness".
"They both knew it was turning away from the station's heartland," a source close to the pair told The Sunday Telegraph.
Within 18 months of the change, Ten had gone from being the most profitable TV network in the country to losing millions of dollars. On Wednesday, the struggling network finally called in the administrators.
It came after shareholders Mr Murdoch, Mr Packer and billionaire Bruce Gordon pulled the plug, telling Ten they would not guarantee a new $250 million loan to replace the existing $200 million overdraft, which needs to be repaid to Commonwealth Bank in December.
Illyria, Mr Murdoch's private investment vehicle, holds 7.5 per cent of Ten shares, while Mr Gordon's Birketu controls 15 per cent. Mr Packer is understood to be keen to sell his 7.7 per cent stake.
"This decision follows correspondence received from Illyria and Birketu over the weekend which left the directors with no choice but to appoint administrators," Ten said in a statement to the ASX.
It's the third time the broadcaster has been on the edge of ruin. The first was in 1972, and the second in 1990. But the strategies that saved it both times before may no longer be viable, according to Andrew Mercado, Australian TV historian and author of Super Aussie Soaps.
Mercado said Ten's mistake was to abandon its traditional youth audience in a misguided attempt to compete head-on with Seven and Nine. "I've watched Ten go through this before," he said.
"The last time Ten was in receivership, one Australian show survived. That show was E Street, because it had the best advertising demographic of 18-35, it had male viewers, and Ten realised young people could be their future, they could program for that age group.
"That became their strategy through the '90s, with The Simpsons, Twin Peaks, Melrose Place, Seinfeld. Ten became the youth network. They weren't coming number one in the ratings, but they ended up making the most money from advertising.
"That was Ten's strategy and it worked really well for them until they decided to abandon their traditional audience and push those people off to Eleven, the new digital channel.
They took Ten in a new direction to compete head-to-head with Seven and Nine, bringing in George Negus and new breakfast shows.
"From that day they lost their traditional audience and it all started to go wrong."
Mercado said while all free-to-air broadcasters were struggling to bring in advertising due to the rise of Google and Facebook, if Ten had not made those "disastrous" changes it "might have been able to weather this better than the others".
"To go from making millions to losing millions is a really hard thing to claw back from," he said. "And that all came down to a handful of bad decisions and bad shows. They had two opportunities to launch breakfast shows and do something different.
"Seven and Nine blatantly copy each other, but Ten always used to have a point of difference. But they got cold feet and automatically reverted back to the same breakfast shows."
The first time the network was in trouble in 1972, it launched the groundbreaking adult soap opera Number 96, the first show in the world to feature an openly gay regular character.
"They went for broke and risked everything with completely outrageous, adult-only content," Mercado said.
"If it failed the whole network would have gone under. But because they were brave and believed in doing something different, the network flourished off the back of that one show. The problem is there's no one there prepared to be brave and take risks any more."
Mercado said even if Ten tried to win back its traditional youth demographic, none of them are watching TV any more. "There's a generation of kids that are only streaming and aren't watching TV," he said. "The position they once enjoyed as being the cool, hip network is gone."
Targeting Gen Ys who grew up watching Ten in the '90s could be an option, but nostalgia alone may not be enough to save the broadcaster.
"People on Twitter who used to watch Ten are naming all of the great shows they used to love," he said.
"I think there's always been affection for Ten, and it had a really incredibly loyal audience. Fans from the early days, none of us would want to see it go under, and a lot of us would come back in droves if they offered a reason.
"[But] nostalgia may not necessarily rate. You always have to be looking to the future and figuring out ways to get new eyeballs."