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Battle of the bulge sparks ratings war as slimmers' inspiring stories prove a big, fat hit with viewers

The battle of the bulge has spilled over into a fight for ratings among our two biggest stations.

TV3 and RTE are now going head-to-head in the weekly TV schedule when it comes to pulling in viewers for their two different weight loss programmes.

RTE Operation Transformation, hosted by Kathryn Thomas, aired for the first time two weeks ago and pulled in huge ratings for the national station.

An average of 631,000 people tuned in to see this year's batch of aspiring slimmers being put through their paces in a bid to shed the pounds in 2011.

The figures were similarly strong last Wednesday, with an average of 586,000 people watching the second episode, which was 35pc of the available audience.

However, TV3 isn't taking the competition lying down and is screening a similar show entitled The Biggest Loser, which features Irishman Paddy Cunningham (28).


Although its programme shares the reality show with ITV, its British media partner screens the show at 9pm on Monday night while TV3 doesn't show it until two nights later -- in the same slot as Operation Transformation.

Yet a spokeswoman for TV3 denied it was a deliberate move to eat into RTE's ratings. "It was the best available slot in our schedule and a coincidence that it has gone up against a similar type programme on RTE," she said.

"The Biggest Loser did reach a figure of 316,000 viewers, which we were delighted with, and the fact that Paddy is flying the Irish flag is great too."

Now in its fourth season, Operation Transformation saw Kathryn Thomas step into the shoes vacated by the late Gerry Ryan.

She has joined forces with RTE Radio 1's John Murray for a multi-media link up as they report back weekly on the team leaders' progress.

This year's group of participants hoping to transform themselves through a tough diet and exercise regime include Dublin mum-of-three Rachel Walker (36) alongside Sinead Heffernan (37) from Enfield, Co Meath and Jayne Galvin (30) from Newbridge, Co Kildare.

The youngest person taking part is Emily Piggott (21) from Killarney, Co Kerry, and the oldest is Ronan Scully (43) from Knocknacarra, Galway.

The late Gerry Ryan is also up for a posthumous award at next month's IFTAs, after the show was nominated in its Factual Category.

An RTE spokeswoman said they were "delighted" with the latest viewing figures for 2011. "We'd like to congratulate the five leaders who between them this week have lost nearly two stone," she said.

"It's a fantastic start to the series and the viewing figures combined with the website and Facebook traffic show that the people of Ireland are really interested in following Ronan, Jayne, Emily, Sinead and Rachels' progress."