Pretoria – Three tons of onions would be enough to drive
anyone to tears – especially someone who has to pay the grocery bill!
But M-Net is smiling broadly about these and other expenses
for its MasterChef South Africa series, the first episode of which was
broadcast last week.
This talent competition, based on the original MasterChef
Australia, is looking for the country's best amateur chef.
In the South African serious 4 000 aspiring participants had
to prepare a cold course late last year. They were systematically whittled down
to less than 20 participants, explains publicity manager Ingrid Engelbrecht.
This core of hopefuls is being further reduced, one by one, by a variety of
challenges (both with and without onions!) until only a winner will remain.
According to Theo Erasmus, director of general entertainment
at M-Net, the interest in MasterChef Australia took the company somewhat by
surprise. It was initially scheduled in the 18:30 time slot as an experiment.
“This time slot is dominated by soaps and we wanted to offer an alternative.”
It evidently bore fruit, as viewer numbers and discussions
over the coffee cups exceeded expectation.
The wheels were set in motion for MasterChef SA. Local
productions are however expensive. When announcing its annual results, Naspers
[JSE:NPN] – which owns M-Net – indicated that the cost of producing sports and
local programmes is continuously on the rise.
Over the past five financial years programming costs of
Naspers’s pay-tv service has increased by a compound annual rate of 21%.
Good content is nevertheless key to growth and the retention
of subscribers. In the previous financial year the number of subscribers grew
by about a quarter.
Erasmus says this is the basic business model. A programme
like MasterChef SA is mainly aimed at winning subscribers for the pay-tv
service, which in the last financial year represented R21bn of Naspers’s total
turnover of R33bn and delivered by far the major portion of the group’s trading
Erasmus says the total cost of locally manufactured
programmes is not recovered, but MasterChef offers several opportunities for
revenue, thus lowering the net outlay.
Apart from ordinary advertisements, which he says are
normally priced, there have been cash sponsorships, bartering agreements and
He says M-Net had to pay heavily for MasterChef SA, but this
series was not as expensive as Survivor SA. For this series, which needed to be
shot in remote and exotic places, M-Net had to foot a huge bill for transport
and accommodation of the 130-strong production team.
A major MasterChef expense was for the design and
construction of the MasterChef kitchen and set. This was done on the Nederburg
Estate in the Western Cape and, according to Engelbrecht, the managers of
Shine, the Australian firm that holds the rights to MasterChef, declared it the
most attractive MasterChef kitchen yet. This is quite an achievement, since the
series is currently being produced in 33 countries!
“We are going to store the complete set, with all the
kitchen equipment – electrical and otherwise – safely for future use,” says
Erasmus. This is in the event that viewer numbers justify a follow-up series.
Advertisements were the biggest source of revenue, but the
series also lent itself outstandingly to barter agreements and product
placements, more than other reality series like Survivor SA, says Erasmus.
“Almost all electrical devices, sets of knives and hand-beaters were
‘bartered’,” he says.
The rights to MasterChef represented 10% to 15% of the
production costs. This is apparently the norm for local productions based on
Engelbrecht says the series was produced by Curious Pictures
and Lucky Bean Media, under the leadership of Lucky Bean’s Donald Clark.
But M-Net was involved throughout and decisions were taken
Engelbrecht says M-Net expects a high viewership, but would
prefer not to mention figures yet.
The big question, however, is how many South Africans will
now get satellite dishes to discover who South Africa’s first MasterChef will
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