chapter  12
10 Pages

Top Gear, top journalism: Three lessons for political journalists Stephen Harrington

When Australia’s Nine Network acquired the rights to the BBC television series Top Gear

(taking it from SBS, for which it had been a ratings leader for several years), it marketed

the show as the most-watched television program on the planet. When it made its

commercial, free-to-air TV debut at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday 16 February 2010, it was a

ratings stand-out, attracting an audience of 1.68 million viewers – a 2010 high for the

network (Shearer 2010) – suggesting that Nine’s outlay of a reported 19 million dollars to

help secure the rights for the show was well worth the investment (Vickery and Quade

2010). Nine Network’s chief executive David Gyngell boasted of its success, saying (in

McWhirter 2010; emphasis added) that ‘This is a world-class quality program with mass

appeal, which was reflected . . . by Top Gear being No. 1 in every demographic in every

market across Australia. Its continuing strength lies in that broad appeal.’ That a show

about cars had become such a big hit with viewers is in stark contrast to the Nine

Network’s previous attempt at the genre. The Car Show, which ran on the same channel

from 2003 to 2008, produced locally and hosted by Glen Ridge, followed a much more

mundane, prescribed path to automotive knowledge, and was to be found in a backwater

Stephen Harrington

Saturday afternoon timeslot, used mainly as filler material rather than prime-time

blockbuster. Even The Car Show’s production company, qmediagroup (n.d.) boasts that

it had averaged just 400,000 viewers per week in its time.