MasterChef South Africa: has Season 1 been a success?

It is interesting to analyse how successful MasterChef South Africa has been, its final 19th episode being broadcast this evening, the winner of the first season being announced in the special 90 minute Grande Finale.  It would appear that the reality TV cooking program has been enjoyed by many South Africans, yet some aspects about it were disliked.

To judge the success of MasterChef SA we looked at quantitative information:

1.  Audience Ratings (ARs) are used by the South African advertising industry to quantify the success of a TV program.  ARs = Reach x Frequency, or the % of the Target Market reached.  It was explained by a media strategist that the AR statistics do not reflect viewership of M-Net repeats, and therefore they do not reflect the full number of viewers.  The AR of 0,8 achieved for MasterChef SA exceeds the expectation of 0,5 on an ‘All Adults’ target market filter, she said, and described the program as ‘world class’, ‘professional’, and with good production values.  A food TV producer felt the opposite, saying that M-Net must be very disappointed with the viewership achieved, its ultimate goal having been to sell more decoders.

2.  On Twitter the @MasterChef_SA account has grown to 11253 Followers.  One may have expected more Followers, for the stature of the programme.  When one reads the Timeline after an episode, the mix of South African Tweeters is evident, attracting commentary from male and female viewers, and from different language groups.  @RobertsonsSpice has only achieved 733 Followers, a very poor performance.  @Woolworths has 33 466 Followers, an exceptional number, but had embraced Twitter prior to its MasterChef SA sponsorship.  @Nederburg only has 1265 Followers, also disappointing for this sponsor.

3.  On Facebook the MasterChef SA page has 8511 likes, Robertsons Herbs and Spice has 1373, Nederburg 7544, and Woolworths an amazing 193676 likes!

4.  The YouTube videos of the Robertsons’ Masterclasses by Chef Reuben Riffel show the viewership, and it is understandable that some of the earlier videos would have the highest viewership.  The first Masterclass in week 1 (16 March) was for a ‘Cheesy Garlic Bread’, and has achieved 4154 views in the past four months.  ‘Stuffed Chicken Breast’ (30 April) has 3335 views to date. ‘Crepes’ (20 March) achieved 3201 views. ‘Pepper Sauce’ (19 March) was seen by 2882 viewers. ‘Chocolate Braaied Bananas’ (16 March) has achieved 2864 views. ‘Milktart’ (2 May) has 2732 views to date, and ‘Roast Chicken’ (15 May) has 2252.  The other videos have had lower viewership, some extremely low.  The viewership figures must be disappointing for Robertsons, and we could see a sharp drop-off in viewership growth two months ago, midway through the series. The dishes demonstrated by Chef Reuben were hardly of a ‘Masterclass’ stature!

5.  Arnold Tanzer was the leader of the MasterChef SA culinary team of eleven, which included Chef Vanie Padayachee from Le Quartier Français too, working behind the scenes in testing every recipe that the Finalists had to prepare, often more than once, checking the preparation times, and making sure that the challenges were ‘doable’.   Interesting was the article in the Sunday Times, detailing the quantities of food and liquid that the 19-series programme went through, supplied by Woolworths in the main: 62 kg mussels, 300 kg fish, 500 kg beef, 400 kg lamb, 165 kg chicken, 2592 free-range eggs, 250 kg of cheese, 215 kg of fresh herbs (mainly mint, thyme, and dill – there is no mention of Robertsons’ herbs and spices, which are not stocked by Woolworths), 100 kg mushrooms, 100 kg butter, 600 l Ayrshire milk, 200 kg onions, 240 l sunflower oil, 144 l olive oil, and many more ingredients.  These quantities used benefited the suppliers of these products.

6.  Twitter was a new social medium to most MasterChef SA Finalists, and they were encouraged to open Twitter accounts.  Deena Naidoo has by far the largest number of Followers at 1986, followed by Sarel Loots (1331), Jade de Waal (1254), Ilse Fourie (1019), and Lwazi Mngoma (1018). The other Finalists have very much lower Follower numbers.

Qualitatively, it was interesting to observe:

1.  Initially, no one went out on Tuesday evenings, being glued to their TV screens.  From Twitter one could see that after the first four weeks life started getting back to normal, and event organisers were not afraid to schedule functions on Tuesday evenings any longer.  The hype about MasterChef SA never reached that of the Australian series when flighted locally.

2.  Many TV viewers, especially men, were initially not interested in watching the program, but the talk on Twitter and in social circles enticed them eventually to watch the program. Towards the end of the series we saw fewer proactive Tweets about MasterChef SA, and fewer people talking about the reality series socially.

3.  Most restaurant staff were unable to watch, as they were working at the time of the program.  If they had access to a PVR, they watched a recording afterwards. Most of them do not seem to own a M-Net decoder, and seemed surprisingly uninformed about the reality TV series, or were not interested in it, most chefs seeing it as ‘amateurish’.

4.  Viewers expressed their extreme dissatisfaction with the judges’ decision to eliminate Guy Clark and not Jade de Waal in episode 9.  There was talk on Twitter about the elimination choice being a ‘production decision’, and many said that they would no longer watch the program due to the perceived rigged choices made.

5.  The program sponsorship will have benefited Woolworths and Nederburg, but the impact on Robertsons’ sales is not expected to be significant:

*   Woolworths has run superb food advertising during the MasterChef SA episodes, well matched to the theme of each episode, and creating amazing appetite appeal. In the episodes too the Woolworths Pantry was well-branded when the Finalists had to source their ingredients. Significant discounts offered to Woolworths card holders must have brought more feet into their stores. The sponsorship is said to have taken attention away from the embarrassing Frankies beverages debacle. Surprisingly the in-store branding of their sponsorship of the reality TV series was low key, with small banners at the tills.  The initial uproar caused by two recipes of the Woolworths Pantry guest food bloggers appeared to have blown over quickly.  The Woolworths sustainable seafood commercial linked to the seafood episode shot at Paternoster caused controversy, because the content of the advertisement was not reflected in its stores.

*   A media strategist interviewed for this blogpost fed back how she had started buying Nederburg wines again, now finding it trendy to do so, as a result of watching MasterChef SA. Despite the show being filmed at the wine estate, there was little Nederburg branding in the episodes.  Its commercials were less impactful than those of Woolworths, and many say that the ‘ingredient’ composition of the Nederburg wines shown in its commersials, to demonstrate the flavours of the wines, may have been taken literally, if viewers did not know better. Surprising was the low key product placement of Nederburg wines, given that the MasterChef SA kitchen was built for the show on the wine estate. A bottle of Amarula received prominence in a Mystery Box for a dessert, one episode focused on food and Nederburg wine pairing, which highlighted that Deena had little wine knowledge, and one episode featured the celebration of the harvest at Nederburg. Disappointing for Nederburg would be Deena Naidoo winning MasterChef SA tonight, as he does not appear to be a wine drinker, given that the prize includes a sommeliers’ course, and a year’s supply of their Winemasters Reserve range wines.

*   Robertsons went through the Social Media wars since MasterChef SA started in March, its endorsement by Chef Reuben Riffel having raised credibility and advertising honesty questions, and its Social Media Manager Sonia Cabano having been dismissed soon after she took on the job.  The end result is that Chef Reuben’s Robertsons’ endorsement has cost him credibility as a chef, and he appears to now be written out of the Robertsons’ advertising, only one of the five or six spice brand TV commercials featuring him in each of the last few episodes. A further blow to Chef Reuben’s credibility is his very recent endorsement of Rama margarine, also a Unilever brand. Robertsons did not manage its sponsorship well, in that registered ‘members’ of their Masterclass page were sent recipes unrelated to the previous day’s MasterChef SA episode, a marketing failure. In general, Robertsons went through a torrid time, and ‘MasterChef SA‘ must be a swearword inside its hallowed halls!  Its attempt at Social Media was a miserable failure in many respects, and appeared poorly managed, despite its use of the Liquorice social media marketing agency.

6.  The MasterChef SA series benefited sponsors Woolworths and Nederburg, jointly creating two wine brands specifically for the series (Grenache 2010, and a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend). It also opened the door for Nederburg to sell its Winemasters Reserve range in Woolworths stores over the four month MasterChef SA broadcast period.  There was no cross-benefit between Woolworths and Robertsons, the retailer having to publicly admit on Twitter that it does not stock Robertsons spices and herbs.

7.  Initially the response to our competitions to predict the overall winner of MasterChef SA and the weekly Finalist leaving the show was surprisingly low, but increased the closer it got to the Finale, and the fewer the options for elimination and winning the grand prize became. The readership of our weekly MasterChef SA episode summary the day after the show saw an increase week by week. Restaurant staff working on Tuesday evenings, international readers, and local non-subscribers who cannot view M-Net, and surprisingly even viewers of the program, fed back that they read our MasterChef SA weekly write-ups. We got hooked onto MasterChef SA, loving writing up each episode, and will miss the Tuesday evening programmes.

8.  MasterChef SA dislikes focused strongly on the judges, particularly the expression on Chef Andrew Atkinson’s face, his dress, and his stare at the Finalists when judging their dishes. Chefs who have met him, however, say that this is not him at all, and praise his culinary skills.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood attracted negative criticism from the second half of the series onwards. Chef Benny Masekwameng was the most loved judge by far, always kind and supportive to the Finalists. In general chefs felt that the chef judges should have worn chef outfits, and not worn earrings and piercings, to set a good example to young chefs.  Interesting is that every guest chef wore a chef’s outfit in the series.   Initial feedback at the start of the series was critical of all the chef judges being male. After Chef Margot Janse’s appearance, she was judged by Twitterers to have been an ideal judge.

9.  The program series has been criticised for the poor quality food that the Finalists prepared for many weeks, although this criticism subsided in the last few programs, when the Finalists had to replicate dishes made by top chefs Michel Roux Jnr of La Gavroche, Peter Tempelhoff of The Greenhouse, and Margot Janse of Le Quartier Français.  Linked to this is the chefs’ criticism about the prize of a year-long (now extended to two years) contract at MondeVino restaurant at Montecasino, saying it is irresponsible, as none of the Finalists could step into the shoes of a restaurant chef, who has had years of training and experience, and said that it is demeaning to their career to imply that little or no training is required.

10.   There is no doubt that MasterChef SA has stimulated an interest in cooking, and in trying out more complicated dishes.  It probably has stimulated interest in eating out at restaurants such as Terroir, The Greenhouse, Biesmiellah, Sel et Poivre, and The Tasting Room, all featured in the series.

11.  The most gratifying end result of MasterChef SA has been the growth in the Finalists’ cooking skills, in what they learnt from the judges, and the Masterclasses held by the visiting chefs. They also grew vastly in confidence. Chef Arnold Tanzer fed back in the Sunday Times that ‘you could see the change in people as the series went on, particularly how their perception of food changed‘.  He added that he was surprised that even the film crew members were excited about what they had filmed, and wanted advice on how to make some of the dishes. A number of the Finalists have made the best of their MasterChef SA participation:  Berdina Schurink has opened Bella Sophia Culinary Café in Pretoria; Thys Hattingh has changed jobs, now working at the Compass Group as a staff restaurant consultant; Guy Clark changed careers, and now is a chef for the Madame Zingara group, at Café Mozart and at Bombay Bicycle Club; Charles Canning and Samantha Nolan have a stand at the Old Biscuit Mill market on Saturdays, following in the footsteps of Chef Pete; and Lungi Nhlanhla is now deputy food editor at Drum magazine. There is not one Finalist that has not benefited from his or her participation in MasterChef SA, being a springboard to living their passion for cooking.  Tonight it will be Sue-Ann Allen or Deena Naidoo who will walk off with the MasterChef SA 2012 crown, and one of their lives will change forever!  We wish them both the best of luck.

POSTSCRIPT 28/7: A furore has been created by The Citizen, reporting yesterday that MasterChef SA winner Deena Naidoo was unhappy about the misrepresentation of his Tsogo Sun MondoVino restaurant prize, damaging the image of the reality TV series, M-Net, its sponsors, Finalists, and chef judges.

POSTSCRIPT 28/7:  Times Live has published audience figures, to highlight the success of MasterChef SA TV series: MasterChef SA had the 5th highest viewership on M-Net between its start in March and 24 July, beaten by ‘Carte Blanche’ (265939 viewers), ‘Lincoln Lawyer’ movie with Matthew McConaughey (221411), ‘CSI Miami’ (202102), and ‘Idols’ (196698).  The reality cooking show beat ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ on viewership.  M-Net had capitalised on the trend to viewership of cooking programs in producing the local MasterChef SA TV series.  No decision has been made about producing a Season 2 of MasterChef SA next year.

POSTSCRIPT 29/8: If the article from Channel 24 is correct (it is part of the same media group that owns M-Net), there will be a season 2 of MasterChef SA, another measure of the success of the reality TV series. M-Net has not confirmed this.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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