NEXT year Network Ten will turn 49.
In demographic terms that puts Australia's youngest commercial TV network at the upper limit of its target audience: 18- to 49-year-olds. As birthdays go, there is little to celebrate. Off the back of the network's worst performance in years, a series of programming blunders has forced Ten to its knees. The network that once made more profit than its two commercial rivals combined is now a shadow of its former self.
On a single-channel basis, Ten is on track to lose to ABC1 for a sixth consecutive week. It has also lost more than 25 consecutive ratings days. Ten has slipped to fourth place on the ratings ladder and shows no signs of immediate recovery.
Ten's performance this year has been its worst in recent memory and its post-Olympic schedule now sits in tatters. This culminated in the departure of respected programming chief, David Mott.
Attention has now turned to management - chairman Lachlan Murdoch and chief executive James Warburton - and the market is looking for signs they can arrest Ten's decline.
Ten now faces a perfect storm of cost and revenue pressures. Its advertisers will be looking for a reduction in the network's rate card (the rates they pay for 30-second advertising slots).
The prevailing feeling in the industry is that Ten's management has made several major strategic blunders in the past 18 months, notably a bad play for NRL rights at the expense of AFL, and it is now without a major sport in its schedule.
It was also unsuccessful in bidding for The Voice - a logical acquisition given Ten's history with Australian Idol - and allowed another network to revive Big Brother.
Less clear is the way forward. Ten is suffering an identity crisis. Its strategy of targeting a younger demographic than its commercial rivals made sense when there were only five channels, but no longer works in a multichannel environment, where Nine's GO!, Ten's own Channel Eleven and pay TV channels such as Fox8 compete for the same viewers. In response it decided to grow up, but that strategy was arrested by a change of management and since then Ten has been plagued by stunning inconsistency.
The message Ten is trying to send the market is that it is focused on an under-50 audience, but recent recruitments - Paul Henry, a 52-year-old host for Breakfast, and Andrew Bolt, a 52-year-old right-wing commentator for a Sunday-morning panel show - do not deliver on that.
Ten's strategy for the rest of the year is to ''fast-track'' US content such as Homeland, The Good Wife and Modern Family. Beyond that, nothing is clear.
When Ten launched, on August 1, 1964, it was born into a world where television had the freedom to take risks and for most of the channel's life, risk-taking has been its calling card. Shows such as Number 96, The Mike Walsh Show, Prisoner, Big Brother and The 7PM Project were bold gambles. Ten was also the first to back blue-chip mini-series such as The Dismissal, Bodyline and Bangkok Hilton.
These days, commercial networks are flanked by the double threat of falling revenue and debt management, which makes them risk-averse. Even Channel Nine, with its ratings bonanza, still has a financial knife at its throat.