Underbelly: articles

Underbelly ... the aftermath

1. The Street Fight

IT BEGAN as a gangland war and became a courtroom battle. Now Underbelly is a street fight. On footpaths across Sydney, rival teams from channels Nine and Ten fought a running battle last week, spraypainting advertising slogans for Underbelly and Women's Murder Club.

As fast as Nine's teams of contractors could paint outlines of fallen bodies, complete with the internet address http://www.underbellytv.com, to promote the 13-part series on Melbourne's underworld killings, teams from Ten would discover them and add "Case Closed - By the Women's Murder Club".

It's a cheeky and very visible display of just how serious this year's ratings battle will be as Nine struggles to regain its No. 1 position, lost last year for the first time.

"We're flattered that Channel Ten found the need to associate themselves with a fine show like Underbelly," a Nine spokesperson said.

"We can hardly blame them for wanting to get publicity off the back of such as great show."

Ten, however, saw the campaign as a chance to promote its latest procedural crime drama and share an in-joke with viewers at the same time. "It's done with respect, because Underbelly is a good show and we're happy to see Australian drama working, but our marketing team saw what was going on [with the footpath campaign] and thought it would be fun," said Ten's network head of programming, Beverley McGarvey.

Ms McGarvey estimated their sidewalk squad had "adjusted" about 50 Underbelly outlines in Sydney in the run-up to the series premiere.


Hope in death ... Nine hopes Underbelly will resurrect its ratings.

UNDERBELLY had been hyped by Channel Nine as the great hope to grab ratings and give the network a much-needed boost.

And even after it was banned from screening in Victoria, where it was expected to find its largest audience, the series premiere on Wednesday night was able to set records and attract a smaller than expected but still respectable national audience of 1.3 million.

Despite the smaller audience, it was the most successful launch of an Australian drama in Sydney since the new OzTam ratings system was introduced in 2001, and scored the highest rating in the 25-54 year-old demographic.

The difficulty of trying to ban a television broadcast from any one state became obvious when thousands of illegal copies of Underbelly turned up on the internet within hours of it going to air.

"I started finding copies [of Underbelly] available online about 35 minutes after it was broadcast," said University of Technology, Sydney researcher Alex Malik, who studies copyright infringement.

"After another hour I was finding it in a lot of other places."

By yesterday, one site which bases its servers in Canada was linking more than 2000 "seeds", or separate versions of the program.

Other sites had similar numbers of copies available to anyone with the right software and a broadband connection.

Mr Malik said: "The strange and perverse result of all of this is the series is not only not [effectively] banned in Victoria it is now actually being viewed around the world in places and by people who would never have otherwise seen it."


Nine network was not the only company left with a headache by the court decision to exclude the broadcast of Underbelly from Victoria.

Gambling outlets which took bets on the number of viewers the series would attract found themselves in a bind.

Prior to the court decision, online Sportingbet Australia was tipping the crime drama would outperform Nine's previous big hit, Sea Patrol, which had a national average audience of 1.9 million viewers.

Gambling the series would debut with an audience of between 2.5 and 2.6 million viewers, Sportingbet offered to pay $3.50 for a $1 bet.

The less likely lower audience numbers of less than 1.8 million were to return up to $21 for a $1 bet.

Sportingbet Australia betting manager Bill Richmond said "a handful" of smart punters placed bets, winning up to $10,000 each. Others, who had tipped with a full audience in mind, were refunded their money.

"We paid all winning bets that went under our low mark and anything that went over we just refunded the stakes," he said. "It was the only fair thing to do really. People made those bets with the best intentions."

By Scott Ellis
February 17, 2008
The Sun-Herald