Back To Listing

Australia’s Top 20 most engaging TV shows

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source Australia: January to December 2016, sample n = 50,144 Australians aged 14+

A period drama scored Australian commercial TV’s most devoted audience in 2016-–and no, it wasn’t the final season about the Crawleys and their staff, Roy Morgan Research shows. When it comes to which program last year had the biggest share of viewers especially choosing to watch, SBS’s Versailles just pipped State of Origin (and Downton Abbey).

Roy Morgan Research measured the audience engagement of over 400 shows broadcast on commercial free-to-air (FTA) television in 2016, including whether people ‘especially choose to watch’.

Versailles on SBS took the crown for having the highest share of viewers in the audience especially choosing to watch (76 percent). Set in 17th century France, the drama edged out the State of the Origin rugby league matches (75 percent) for most highly engaging show of the year according to viewers. Of course, the total audience for State of Origin XXXVI was over four times that for Louis XIV, so the rugby had far more ‘especially choosing' viewers overall.  

In third was the other period piece Downton Abbey which, sadly for its highly engaged audience (74 percent) and Network Seven wrapped up in 2016.

Proving that nothing beats a good story, a number of other dramas made the Top 20. With around two-thirds of viewers especially choosing to watch, these engaging series include Nine’s Love Child and Hyde & Seek, Ten’s NCIS, X-Files and The Strain, Seven’s The Blacklist, Criminal Minds, The Secret Daughter and Winners & Losers, and SBS’s Vikings.

Top 20 Commercial TV Shows by Share and Size of Viewers that ‘Especially Choose to Watch’

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source Australia: January to December 2016, sample n = 50,144 Australians aged 14+

Most engaging programs by Audience Size

But thanks to their greater overall reach, news, sport, documentaries, reality TV and lifestyle programming dominate the Top 20 shows with the highest numbers of viewers especially choosing to watch. The weeknight news on Seven and Nine reach 3,683,000 and 3,097,000 viewers respectively who especially choose to watch (representing slightly less than 60 percent of all viewers). 

Over 2.5 million Australians especially choose to watch David Attenborough documentaries, with little difference between episodes airing on Network Nine or Ten. Nine’s brand new episodes of Big Bang Theory boast 2,619,000 viewers who consider it ‘must-see TV’, while 2,051,000 think the same way about the re-runs on Seven.

A few of the programs with the highest share of viewers who ‘especially choose to watch’ are also among the most TV’s most popular shows: State of Origin (with 2,830,000 viewers especially choosing to watch), Downton Abbey (2,109,000), Criminal Minds (2,047,000), NCIS (2,010,000) and cricket (2,357,000 on Nine and 1,891,000 on Ten).

Friday and Saturday night AFL, weekend night news, My Kitchen Rules and MasterChef, all also reach around 1.9 million+ especially choosing viewers. Better Homes & Gardens and 60 Minutes also make the Top 20—even though the majority of their audiences actually say they only watch when there’s nothing better on or because a household member wants it on. 

Engagement and Audience Size

The below chart shows correlations between total audience size and the percent of viewers who especially choose to watch. Overall, the more popular show, the higher the level of audience engagement tends to be.

The 400 shows: Total Audience* by Share who Especially Choose to Watch

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source Australia: January to December 2016, sample n = 50,144 Australians aged 14+. * Total Audience is respondents who have any type of engagement with the show.

There are some big gaps between shows with the most and least engaged viewers among equally sized total audiences: For example , Versailles and Dating Naked have a similar number of Australians involved with the program overall—but Versailles has almost half a million more viewers especially choosing to watch.

Lisa Meunier, General Manager – Media, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“Television remains the dominant at-home media, however the increasing competition makes it vital that the market plays close attention to the levels of audience engagement.

“Almost half of all commercial TV viewership is by people who ‘especially choose to watch’. Another 35 percent is being watched because there’s ‘nothing better on’ and 16 percent because a ‘household member watches’.

“Dramas may not always rate as well as reality TV, broad comedies, news and sport, but their value to broadcasters and advertisers is enhanced by the level of dedication among those watching. Hyde and Seek and The Secret Daughter are two new Aussie dramas that premiered last year on commercial TV and quickly gained a strong following.

"Roy Morgan Research has been closely monitoring the trends in traditional television viewership alongside the rapid take-up of smartphones, tablets, Smart TVs, casting devices, and Subscription Video On Demand services, as well as the changing behaviours on multi-screening, downloading and streaming, recording and viewing catch-up TV.

"Australians have more at-home entertainment options than ever, and more personal viewing devices. Increasingly, audiences have less reason to watch anything they don’t especially choose to, and so monitoring audience using this metric is vital. By definition, viewers who aren’t watching by choice are more inclined to switch—whether to another free-to-air TV channel, an SVOD service, or YouTube.

“Audience that especially to choose to watch are more reliable, and potentially more valuable to advertisers seeking to maximise the ROI of their commercial TV budget.”  

For comments or more information please contact:
Roy Morgan - Enquiries
Office: +61 (03) 9224 5309

About Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices throughout Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate


25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%