EXECUTIVES from Channel Ten will be nervously awaiting overnight viewing figures to learn if the launch of the fourth series of its blockbuster MasterChef lives up to expectations.
About 8.40 this morning, news from the ratings agency OZTAM will confirm whether there's cause for champagne or commiserations for the No. 3 commercial TV network.
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Masterchef goes back to basics with an emphasis on food and food artistry.
''We're just as nervous as you, all right, so just remember that, because for us this is a special day,'' judge George Calombaris told aspirants for last night's show, who were auditioning for a top 50 spot. A Tasmanian school teacher made the grade with a fish curry and a western Sydney art gallery director with Singapore black pepper crab.
The Ten Network's head of programming, David Mott, and chief executive, James Warburton, will be disappointed if last night's opening attracted fewer than 1.5 million viewers. Opening nights for the previous MasterChef series have consistently garnered that number. Typically ratings soften and then gradually build up to a ratings climax.
At its half-year results this year, Mr Warburton warned investors that Channel Ten could no longer rely solely upon the show for its ratings. ''We have to diversify. It's no longer good enough to be a one-bet, one-punch MasterChef network,'' he told shareholders.
There is a widespread expectation among media analysts that this season will fail to match last year's figures, which were down 15 per cent on the previous season.
Much is riding on MasterChef for Channel Ten, which has started the year poorly in ratings.
Last week the prime-time audience on Ten's main channel shrank to just 19 per cent of all viewers, compared to Nine's share of 49 per cent and Seven's 36 per cent.
Nine has taken the fight to Seven with its talent show The Voice and the return of The Block, blunting the growth of some of Seven's top rating shows such as Australia's Got Talent and prompting the leading network to tinker with its schedule.
Media analysts such as Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy said that if Ten got 1.5 million viewers and maintained that figure, then it would be ''delirious''. But he said that was unlikely, principally because next week it would find itself up against The Block, which has had a clear four weeks to ''weld itself onto viewers''.
''It was the exact opposite last year when MasterChef had a clear run,'' Mr Allen said.
''It all depends on how welded on viewers are to The Block at 7pm and how many will now shift to MasterChef. It has never launched against that backdrop.''
A 45-minute overlap with The Voice one night next week would also take its toll, he said.