There is only one real rule of television: Know your audience.

This point came thundering home like Makybe Diva in the 2003 Melbourne Cup in a situation last weekend during Channel 10's already infamous Derby Day coverage on Saturday.

To be fair to Ten, I didn't watch it. To be fair to myself, neither did most of the country.

More to the point, the few who did seemed to instantly regret it.

Ten's coverage of the Victoria Derby only pulled in 172,000 viewers while Seven's broadcast of the fledgling Golden Eagle day in Sydney got 227,000.

Twitter is an appalling and dystopian barometer of the public mood but when you see almost 30,000 tweets being directed at a free-to-air broadcaster about a horse race then it's fair to say that broadcaster is not having a good day. Trust me, I know how it feels.

Joe Hildebrand says Ten’s coverage of the Spring Racing Carnival was not up to scratch.
Joe Hildebrand says Ten’s coverage of the Spring Racing Carnival was not up to scratch.

Back in my younger and cooler days I used to go to Derby Day every year - it was the true crown in the Spring Racing Carnival. But with Victoria's crippling COVID restrictions still banning anything resembling fun this one was always going to be a hard sell.

Even so, Ten managed to screw the pooch while flogging a dead horse, an achievement unparalleled in zoology. Punters were apoplectic about the lack of expert commentary while casual viewers who came for the colour and movement had no colour and movement. Seven's coverage of a recently non-existent Sydney race won by a country mile.

Audiences matter. In the media they are all that matter. And it is hard to escape the conclusion that Ten was thinking more about what it could cobble together than what it would mean for anybody who was actually watching.

This is not to be unkind - as COVID-19 has cut a swath through the whole economy, Ten has felt the razor more than any other network. Again, trust me, I know how it feels.

But any broadcaster that is more obsessed with moving units around on an Excel spreadsheet than what it needs to do to remain vital to its viewers is only delaying its demise, not disarming it.


Originally published as 'Flogging a dead horse': Ten's racing coverage falls short