Magic number Karl must achieve
The hopes of Channel 9's troubled breakfast show rest on the shoulders of resurrected star Karl Stefanovic, and there's a magic number he needs to reach in the next year.
When he returns to the Today hosting chair in January, a little more than 12 months after being booted amid a ratings slump, Stefanovic will face an enormous task in trying to save the sinking ship.
And there's a number he and the new-look team must achieve in order for his sensational comeback to have been worth it.
Media analyst Steve Allen said the chances of Today winning the breakfast ratings war and wrestling the number one spot from Channel 7's smash hit Sunrise are nil.
"I think it's a very pragmatic decision, not necessarily a strategic decision, by Hugh Marks and his executive crew to put Stefanovic back in," Allen told news.com.au.
Allen said success for Stefanovic would be "making any kind of substantial dent in the gap" between the two shows, which has widened significantly in recent years.
"I think (Channel 9 boss) Hugh Marks and his executive team would be looking at this realistically," he said.
"In the next year, if they can half that deficit between Today and Sunrise, that would be a fantastic outcome. That's my thinking. They just need to see that huge gap narrow."
In the final week of the ratings year in November, Sunrise averaged 436,000 national viewers and 256,000 metropolitan city viewers.
In stark contrast, Today achieved 289,000 national viewers and 187,000 metro viewers.
But on the metric that's perhaps most important, at least from an advertising perspective - total reach across the full programs - Sunrise is miles ahead.
The Channel 7 show reaches 1.19 million Australians each morning on average, while just 784,000 people tune in to Today at some point.
If Stefanovic and Co can half that 400,000 divide, Channel 9 will be happy, Allen said. The magic number he needs to achieve in the next year is 200,000.
Given his replacement Deb Knight and her on-air partner Georgie Gardner were given less than 12 months to turn the ship around, he mightn't have long to do it.
With Gardner and Knight at the helm, Today experienced record low ratings in 2019, with its metro audience dipping below 200,000 for the first time ever.
"The Today show in 2019 quite often dipped below 200,000 metro viewers," Vivienne Kelly, editor of media industry website Mumbrella, told news.com.au. "That hurt them."
Its top-rating episode this year averaged just 238,000 metro viewers.
Today's best national audience with Stefanovic in the chair was 475,000, which it hit in 2016, with 315,000 of those residing in the key five-city metropolitan viewers bracket.
It was in that year, with Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson hosting, that the show came close to rivalling Sunrise for a brief period.
But in the three years since, including while he was still front-and-centre, viewers have steadily abandoned Today in favour of its Channel 7 foe and News Breakfast on ABC.
When Stefanovic was dumped in December last year, it was on the back of months of negative publicity over his personal life, which executives viewed as a key cause of the ratings slump.
"I think the chances are better than with Georgie Gardner and Deb Knight, but in their defence, they weren't given a very long time to turn things around in such a tumultuous period," Kelly said.
"Karl and Allison have a good chance but they're so far behind Sunrise now. Sunrise is so established as the market leader."
The sheer number of "low lows" in the past 12 months mean Channel 9 will be looking for consistency in Today's ratings, she said.
"I'm sure Nine has a few metrics in place and I'm sure they've communicated to Karl what success does and doesn't look like.
"I think they will value more consistent. It's not necessarily about beating Seven in all of the capital cities, but they'll work hard to make sure there aren't headline-generating numbers and record lows.
"They've had a number of very low lows lately. I think they'll be happy if they can build it back up and see more consistent numbers."
How long Stefanovic's second chance lasts remains to be seen but Kelly said the worst thing the network could do would be to move him on again too quickly.
"They can't do what they've been doing - chopping and changing when things don't go their way," she said.