The Project finally appears to be closing the gap on its prime time rival Seven Sharp.

But the future of Three's 7pm show and its hosting line up remains under scrutiny, according to industry sources.

Since launching in February 2017, The Project struggled to gain traction with the 7pm audience, lagging well behind its TVNZ rival, hosted by Jeremy Wells and Hilary Barry.

But in the past fortnight, The Project beat Seven Sharp six times in the key 25-54 demographic.


Ratings through this week showed from Monday to Thursday, Three's show won three out of four nights.

Seven Sharp's executive producer Alistair Wilkinson said Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells were going from
Seven Sharp's executive producer Alistair Wilkinson said Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells were going from "strength to strength" as a presenting team. Photo / Supplied

On Thursday night, 85,429 viewers in the 25-54 year age bracket tuned into The Project. Seven Sharp had an audience of 80,074 in the same category.

A turning point for the network seems to have come in March, when Josh Thomson left the programme, and was replaced by comedian Jeremy Corbett.

At the time, Thomson said the decision to leave was his, as he wanted to spend more time with his family and "focus on his acting roles".

However, insiders say executives were under increasing pressure to lift the show's ratings.

And while those ratings have improved, speculation is rife there could be more changes to the presenting line up – with Mulligan's future in question.

Growing the ratings further will be critical for the network with The Project's licence up for renewal at the end of the year.

It's understood Three's parent company MediaWorks originally signed a two-year contract with Rove McManus' company Roving Enterprises and is now in the process of renegotiating the terms.

It's understood the investment to renew the licence is significant and will only increase the pressure on the team to deliver a solid audience.

A MediaWorks spokesperson said the network was delighted with the performance of The Project hosts Jesse Mulligan, Kanoa Lloyd and Corbett.

"Clearly the audience feels the same way with the show achieving some great results."

Plans were in place to keep the show running next year, the spokesperson said.

Responding to the latest ratings, Seven Sharp's executive producer Alistair Wilkinson said the programme was consistently evolving to retain its place as the country's most watched current affairs show.

"We're proud of what Jeremy and Hilary have achieved in their first year to date," he said,

"We think they're going from strength to strength as a presenting team."