What the MasterChef walkout tells us about the future of free-to-air TV

What the MasterChef walkout tells us about the future of free-to-air TV

Is the Masterchef walkout indicative of a broader trend (Image Source: Queensland Country Life)

By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill

In news that shocked Australian free-to-air TV watchers, judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris announced that they would be leaving the show at the end of the season 11 finale of MasterChef.

In 2010, MasterChef was Australia’s most-watched program, reaching 2.48 million viewers.

However, nine years later, it has only averaged 984,000 viewers.

Channel Ten confirmed the judges’ shock announcement, stating contract negotiations had failed and the judges would be exploring other ventures.

“We were really keen to continue, but we were unable to agree to all terms for the new contract,” Mr Preston said via a post on Instagram.

Channel Ten has stated that MasterChef will be back in 2020 regardless, with new judges representing the show.

The problem is when you think of MasterChef, you think of two things: delicious food and three very recognisable judges.

It is hard to imagine a show like MasterChef being able to replace judges that have been the face of the program for 11 years.

But it has happened time and time again: popular television hosts leave or are replaced and the show is never the same.

In 2015, the popular British TV show Top Gear saw all three of its hosts walkout after Jeremey Clarkson’s contract was terminated due to viewer complaints about behaviour.

The actions of Clarkson’s co-hosts demonstrates the power they hold over companies and brands.

When you put three hosts or judges at the face of your television program, they begin to represent your brand.

When they choose to leave to pursue other things, suddenly your program is missing something that replacement judges will not be able to fix.

But with their undeniable on-screen chemistry, no one is worried about the future of the judges’ careers.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the judges have been in discussions with Australian networks and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Streaming services are rapidly becoming more and more popular, with users opting to pay a monthly subscription fee for exclusive content.

Platforms such as Netflix, Stan, Foxtel and Amazon Prime are currently competing to provide users with the rights to the best exclusive content.

Disney+ has also announced they will be bringing their streaming service to Australia this year.

Disney+ will be the home for Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and much more.

However, like a little kid in a candy shop, the problem with streaming services is that there are almost too many to choose from.

The Australian Financial Review calls this problem a global streaming war.

Analysing what platform suits you best is more difficult than it seems; which is why a study conducted by Telsyte found more than 40 per cent of Australian households subscribe to more than one streaming service.

The same study found Netflix is the leading streaming giant, with approximately 4.9 million subscriptions. Stan came in second with 1.7 million.

Telsyte found that streaming services users are willing to pay an average monthly budget of around $30 to cover their video entertainment needs.

What this data suggests is that individuals who are dedicated to specific television shows or franchises are willing to pay more to access them.

The overwhelming amount of streaming services offered makes the future of free-to-air look dim.

And based on the overwhelming response from MasterChef’s announcement, it seems that wherever the judging trio choose to stream their next adventure, people will be willing to pay for it.

Cameron McTernan is a lecturer and tutor at the University of South Australia and has a specialised interest in cultural studies, communication and media and film.

Mr McTernan said if we are to remain positive about the future of free-to-air television we are likely to see one of three futures.

The first is that television stations need to create more niche content in order to cater to a target audience.

“This would mean they will continue to ingratiate themselves with the demands of a changing market that has normalised viewing content on devices,” Mr McTernan said.

“We can already see this with most stations offering content online and across a variety of segmented free-to-air channels like 7 Mate, 9 Gem and Eleven.”

The second option is that television focuses on its strengths with features such as family viewing and live event television.

“Television consumption in the past had previously been centred around families and the living room space, [meaning] content was tailored to suit a rather generic idea of a Western audience,” Mr McTernan said.

Shows such as Friends, The Simpsons, Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother are all prime examples of family viewing—shows that offer something for everyone.

“It is possible that stations might attempt to recapture the golden age of television and replicate this content and service delivery,” Mr McTernan said.

“I think there would have to be enough consumer and cultural impetus to make this happen though.”

The final option that Mr McTernan discusses is a blended model that looks very similar to what free-to-air is now.

“Television stations [will] continue to develop their own content, with their own digital platforms and will license out some of their content to other service providers,” he said.

“This will require advertising revenue to maintain some of its current strength and an audience base that is happy to stay with this model.”

An alternative option is that free-to-air phases out completely, being overrun by the popularity of streaming services.

But Mr McTernan argues that free-to-air is simply too important to let that happen.

“Losing event television would be a disaster,” he said.

“The integrated advertising and product placement is too valuable, and currently harder to replicate on subscription services, and would be an ominous sign for the industry at large.”

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