It’s almost summer. Time for a backyard barbie with friends, lazing on the beach and very little of value on TV.

Long before the Internet had as much influence over TV as it does now it made sense for the Australian TV networks to have a period where the competition didn’t exist. A period where they could give their stars and program makers a well-earned rest. Recharge for the ratings battle in the new year. Relax. Refocus. It’s an archaic call back to a time television would best forget.

Nowadays that tradition continues but the programming war in part continues right across this ratings “no-go” zone.

The past few summers have seen both Sunrise and The Today Show maintain a stronger presence though often hosted by alternate network stars or used as the chance to blood some newer talent. As the former ascended into ratings greatness it could be attributed in no small part to their commitment to keeping their A-team on air over summer – it allowed viewers to relax with Mel & Kochie while sharing the experience of the joys of summer in Australia. They bonded, and the rest is history.

While only 40 weeks in the calendar year count towards the official OzTAM ratings, the ten week break over summer still has ratings recorded and the networks do keep an eye on the performance of their news services, brekky programs and the all important sport figures. With a majority of the cricket and the entirety of the Australian Open Tennis taking place during the non-ratings period Nine and Seven respectively pay close attention to the viewer numbers. The Aus Open is seen as a major launch platform for Seven’s new ratings year content with myriad promos run to alert us to what shows are coming (and what stars from them are in the stands).

It still, however, counts for naught.

There’s always been programs tested over summer. Shows that the networks didn’t think were strong enough to run during the precious ratings season so they tried them out and if they worked then we saw them pop up later in the year for season two as the next big thing; if they tanked, well… it’s only summer.

The summer of 2013/2014 looks to be decidedly different.

Adam Boland is launching Ten’s new breakfast (Wake Up) and morning (Studio 10) programs with only 4 weeks of official ratings to go and then running them at full steam over summer, causing both Seven and Nine to counter by cancelling leave and ramping up their summer plans also. It’s a smart move by Bolo and Ten given Wake Up has a beachside set and is looking to snare a serious portion of the limited share of brekky TV viewers in 2014. If take up is slow (as it is expected to be) over the first four weeks they don’t really lose anything; if lots of people tune in and stay then that’s a story of redemption in itself. Perfect marketing/ratings spin.

This year the free-to-air networks have been racing more US content to our screens than ever before. Fast-tracking is the new black (thanks to Foxtel who have forced a lot of programmer’s hands with their “Express from the US” process).

New shows like Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Homeland, Super Fun Night, Sleepy Hollow & The Blacklist have all been rushed – well, kinda – to our screens to try to offset people sourcing them via the Internet (note for the networks: it’s not stopping them). With almost all these shows announced as getting full season runs in the last week or so this means they’re due to run across our summer, effectively “wasting” their effect in that bothersome non-ratings period. TV News ratings have never been closer too.

Every other business in Australia works 52 weeks in the year so why shouldn’t television? Do they need a big summer break (they’re not really taking it this year)? We’re used to seeing fill-ins on screen throughout the year for different reasons so why should summer be any different?

I’m sure the advertisers who hock their wares to us over summer on the commercial FTA networks take note of the numbers & demographics anyway, and when we get to February one network is going to claim the summer win anyhow. There’s just no need for any period to be seen as non-ratings… the figures are collected and published and people are still paying attention. They just may not be watching as much.

Just like a normal Thursday night during ratings.

Be competitive, networks. Show that summer isn’t a dumping ground for more repeats of Big Bang Theory or new episodes of Suits. Don’t make us wait for the new episodes of Downton Abbey (the new season of which will likely be finished before Christmas this year so fans that want to see it will find it).

Doesn’t it make sense to market good shows to viewers who find themselves with more free time on their hands to watch TV during the summer months… and then take advantage of it by having those figures count in the overall ratings race?