Free to air TV giants Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment are in the closest race for market share in over a decade, with an analyst tipping Nine will be on top at its half yearly results in February.
After neck-and-neck results in the last financial year, Nine will edge past Seven in 2018 for market share of revenue, Deutsche Bank research analyst Entcho Raykovski predicted in a note to investors.
Using data from Free TV Australia, Deutsche Bank's figures showed the last time Nine was even close to coming first was a brief period in 2015, with Seven having a strong lead since 2007.
This time, Nine's "ratings success" so far with The Ashes cricket is expected to put it in good stead, Mr Raykovski said, adding Married at First Sight would likely to drive audiences in the second half of the financial year.
This ratings strength would then drive up revenue for the network.
"We now expect Nine to have 39 per cent market share in fiscal 2018 (previously 38.5 per cent), with the gains coming at the expense of Seven," he said.
Seven's market share would then fall from 39.5 per cent to 38.2 per cent due to a "slow start" to the year in terms of ratings.
Seven came first for ratings in calendar year 2017 with 29.6 per cent network share across its suite of channels, just ahead of Nine at 28.1 per cent.
There was improvement across the metropolitan free to air market in the first half of the financial year, with growth likely in low single-digits.
The uptick in the sector was largely thanks to lobbying efforts from marketing group Think TV, the success of new formats such as Nine's Australian Ninja Warrior, and advertisers returning to traditional broadcast options due to concerns about digital platforms, such as the possibility for brand damage, Mr Raykovski said.
Network Ten has been a distant third since December 2007, when it tied with Nine for revenue before falling significantly behind. Its market share is under 24 per cent.
When the Deutsche Bank note was released to investors, Nine shares recorded an almost 8 per cent jump. Seven also recorded an increase.
It wasn't enough growth to elicit a price inquiry from the Australian Stock Exchange, but it did push the Nine share price to its highest point in about 12 months, reaching $1.64 before the long weekend. This time last year shares were trading at about $1.02.
At the Nine annual general meeting in 2017, chief executive Hugh Marks said the first half of fiscal 2018 was on track to be "at the upper end" of its guidance, with the first quarter down about 1 per cent but the second quarter looking positive.
A Seven West Media spokesman said it was in its eleventh consecutive year of market leadership for audience, expecting to grow its audience and revenue share in 2018.
"We are leading total people audience in the financial year to date and expect that leadership to grow in the coming months," he said.
He said the network had "huge and dominant audience numbers" in January with its airing of the Australian Open tennis.
"The positive outlook for the TV market, combined with near triple-digit digital revenue growth and prudent and pro-active cost controls, will all boost the bottom line".
Seven chief executive Tim Worner told investors at the company's annual general meeting that operating conditions in the first quarter were "soft" as a result of advertising market and ratings performance but said it had one of the strongest content line-ups in some time. The focus of the talk was on cost savings.
Last week Seven announced a new round of redundancies at its The West Australian newspaper in a "last resort" move by the publisher to cut costs.
Nine and Ten did not provide comment.