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M-Net shells out for expensive series

Mar 25 2012 12:54 Antoinette Slabbert

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Last Updated: 30-03-2015 at 04:19. Prices are delayed by 15 minutes. Source: McGregor BFA

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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 profit.

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 product placements.

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 international formats.

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 jointly.

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 be.

 - Sake24

For more business news in Afrikaans, go to Sake24.com.

m-net  |  naspers  |  masterchef sa


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