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While streaming services like Netflix dictate our TV viewing habits these days, there was once a time when that little black box was the only way to get your television fix. There's just something about sitting down in front of a fresh episode of The Block or the AFL grand final that's almost patriotic.
Finder decided to find out which TV broadcasts were the most popular in the 21st century. We gathered historical TV ratings data from Screen Australia and OzTAM from May 2021 all the way back to 2001 to figure out the nation's most popular TV episodes.
The 100 most watched broadcasts
The 2005 Australian Open men's singles final ranks as the most watched TV broadcast in Australian television, with 4.04 million viewers tuning in.
This is followed by the 2010 Masterchef Australia finale (4.03 million viewers) and the 2003 Rugby World Cup final (4.02 million viewers).
Australia is a nation of sports and reality TV lovers. More than half (60%) of the top 100 most watched TV broadcasts are sports games and 33% reality show episodes.
The 100 most watched sports broadcasts
Sports broadcasting is still the main way Aussies get their sporting fix. However, the rise of sports streaming means Australians can now access local and international games live from their phones.
The research suggests AFL is the nation's favourite league, with 38% of the most watched sporting broadcasts being AFL games. The NRL falls not far behind (28%), with tennis (12%) coming in third place.
2005 was a big year in sport, with 10% of the most watched sports broadcasts occurring in that year. This is partially due to the Australian Open and AFL grand final in 2005 both ranking as some of the most viewed sporting events in Australia. The NRL grand final, the Melbourne Cup and the FIFA World Cup qualifiers also ranked as some of the most viewed broadcasts that year.
Seven Network has the most sporting broadcasts in our top-watched list. Half (48%) of the most viewed broadcasts occurred on its network, followed by Nine Network (37%) and Network 10 (13%).
The 100 most watched reality show episodes
Aussies love sitting down to a bit of reality drama, especially if it involves food. Masterchef reigns supreme, sitting in first, second and third place for the most watched reality episodes in the 21st century.
Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules are the shows with the most number of episodes ranking in our top 100 watched reality episodes (both 20%). This is closely followed by The Block (18%) and The Voice (17%).
A whopping 40% of the reality show episodes in our ranking are cooking shows (which tells you we truly are a nation of foodies). This is followed by singing and talent shows (33%) which peaked in popularity around the early 2010s.
The data suggests 2012 and 2013 were popular years for reality television. Close to half (40%) of the most watched reality show episodes in Australia occurred in those years.
Nine Network has had the most number of episodes rank in our top-watched list (37%). Seven Network (32%) and Channel 10 (31%) trail closely behind.
The top 20 most watched broadcasts by year
Want to watch your favourite shows on a budget? Compare streaming services like Netflix and subscription services like Foxtel to make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck.
- Viewership data was sourced from Screen Australia (2001–2019) and OzTAM (2020–2021). The data on this page claims only to be as accurate as the data published by these organisations.
- The raw data from Screen Australia contains the top 50 most watched TV broadcasts each year between 2008 and 2019, as well as the top 20 most viewed programs each year between 2001 and 2007.
- The raw data from OzTAM contains the top 20 most viewed programs each week between 2020 and 2021.
- Prior to 2001, TV viewership data was collected by AC Nielsen. In most cases this only contains data from viewers in Melbourne and Sydney, therefore we have excluded data from earlier than 2001.
- Analysis includes free-to-air programs in Australia only. Programs viewed on subscription services such as Foxtel, Netflix or Apple TV are excluded.
- Analysis includes metropolitan figures only as this is what is reported by the sources used. Metropolitan figures include data from the 5 largest cities in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth).
- Screen Australia, Top 50 Programs on Free-to-Air Television, Metro, 2008–2019
- Screen Australia, Top 20 Programs Shown on Television, 2001–2007
- OzTAM, Consolidated 7 Top 20 Program Rankings – Free to Air Viewing (2020–2021)
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