Could Shark Tank help save Ten Network?

There are two ways the series could help Ten, writes James Manning

There’s a certain irony that the Ten Network’s primary channel launched a new season of Shark Tank just days after entering voluntary administration. The show sets itself up with a team of experienced business people (Sharks) who look over startup proposals and then battle each other to invest their own hard-earned in these businesses.

There are two ways the series could help Ten. The business experts could turn their attention to the beleaguered network and offer their own advice on what could be done to put the channel on a surer footing. Unlikely though given the Sharks don’t claim any media sector expertise and their investments on the program are limited to startups, which immediately rules out Network Ten.

The other potential lifesaver is if the show manages to rate well and attract advertisers thereby helping secure the revenues that are the network’s lifeline. This is much more likely given this is the third season of the program which started last week on Tuesday night.

Speaking to Mediaweek on the day Ten Network entered administration, Shark Naomi Simson told us: “No business is set and forget. All five of us on the show are very aware of the challenges that face all businesses. What I do know is that Channel Ten produces great content. We are all really proud of the show that Endemol Shine produces for Ten.”

Also confident about the future of the network is Endemol Shine’s executive producer of scripted Margaret Bashfield.

“My first job was at Channel Ten Melbourne in 1986,” she recalled. “I have much love for Ten. The people at the coalface – Paul Anderson and Bev McGarvey among them – are quality people. Also their content specialists like executive producers Paul Leadon and Rick Maier are clever people. I am very optimistic about Ten. We have been through this before and I think they will come out of this and do well.”

Bashfield, a former EP on MasterChef Australia, has also recently worked on TEN’s Great Australian Spelling Bee and The Biggest Loser in addition to projects for other networks.

When speaking about the business opportunities the Sharks are presented on the program, Simson quotes fellow Shark Andrew Banks: “Investments are like buses – there will always be another one.”

Pushing the public transport analogy a little further, Simson added: “We want to make sure we are on the right route and the direction we want to go on. Life is short and I want to work with people who have the potential for being truly great, really great leaders who can make a difference to the world.”

As to how much weight should be given to the entrepreneur or their idea, Simson said: “You could have the best idea in the world, but if the person behind it is not an inspiring leader it is never going to work. They don’t need to be likeable, but I need to be able to respect them and that they do what they say they are going to do. That is all I want from somebody.

“This is not a popularity contest. It is about respect.”

Format changes

Leadon: “Season three is more dynamic and unpredictable. Plus, we have included behind-the-scenes style grabs with the Sharks, to give us a better feel of what they are looking for in entrepreneurs and products.”

Bashfield: “It will be a lot less obvious what might happen with the different proposals. The Sharks are very focused and when the deal is on don’t get in their way. They are very tough with each other on the businesses.

“We have also introduced what we call mash-ups. We have a showcase segment featuring some of the businesses we weren’t about to feature this year.”

Simson’s best investments

After having invested in a number of companies, Simson listed some of her best picks: “I love Vegepod because they are in the US too now and they are making a material difference to the planet. For people to be able to produce their own food on their balcony is just so wonderful. Founder Matt Harris is a leader and has great aspirations in the US.

“Another one that I adore, and it is something of a quiet achiever, is Sonsee Woman. (Sonsee means curvaceous.) Founder Vanessa Babuin-Perera has beautiful products. When she came on the show she was doing hosiery and she has now expanded into intimates and active wear. She is doing very well and tackling the US via Amazon.”

In the first year after investing in a new business, Simson said she meets one-on-one with the founder every fortnight. “We talk about their plan, their execution and I will introduce them to anyone who might help. In year two I reduce that to once a month, which is more a board conversation.”

As she invests in new businesses, Simson has built a team around her to help deal with the startups.

When will she get a return?

Simson: “I am looking at between three to five years for a startup to produce a return on the investment. Have I seen one yet? No. At the moment it is all going one way and nothing is coming back.

“However, this year we have really decent sized businesses with good income and lots going on. Because of that, some very big investments happen this season because they are real businesses.”

Selecting the 2017 entrepreneurs

Ten’s Paul Leadon looks after the network’s interests as executive producer. He told Mediaweek: “Initial applications are made online. These are then assessed for commercial viability by the show’s business advisor. Those remaining are then interviewed by the production team on a national audition tour. The best of these then are recorded on set and finally, the most interesting and entertaining of these make it into the episodes.”

Shark Naomi Simson confirmed what Leadon told us about how much input the Sharks had in the selection process. “Zero. The moment the people walk on the set is the first time we have ever seen them. What the producers don’t want is us having made up our minds before the business creators even come on set. Endemol Shine organises all the auditions.”

The production house has a casting team travelling Australia meeting entrepreneurs. Bashfield: “We are looking for people who have a really interesting idea and they are able to articulate what it is. We need to think the business is ripe for development. Sometimes it might be too early.”

Leadon: “The best result for us is a deal. If it’s a deal on a great product our audience understands and wants to buy, even better. If it’s a deal that involves a Shark Fight, better still. And best of all is a deal on a great product that our audience wants to buy – and it involves a Shark Fight!”

Shark v Shark

One of the highlights of watching Shark Tank is the sharks not just prodding the entrepreneurs, but each other. As to how genuine that is, Simson was most insistent: “None of us are actors. We couldn’t fake it even if we tried.” It often seems like boys versus girls when the merits of an investment are discussed, but this season Simson and Janine Allis have a few spats too.

“It can be a game of cat and mouse. When you see a business you really like, you don’t want the others to be bidding it up. You might say some horrible things about it, but you’re really thinking it is fantastic.

Steve Baxter and I just see the world completely differently. It is OK for people to see there are different approaches to business. He thinks we should always look for a tech business, but I don’t agree with him. We are a little like siblings – we squabble over our toys and fight relentlessly, but nobody else is allowed to pick on one of our siblings.”

Endemol Shine’s Margaret Bashfield has worked with some great talent over the years from Ray Martin and Eddie McGuire through to the judges on MasterChef. When asked about working with the Sharks she told Mediaweek: “Because they are not TV presenters they are different. They are highly motivated and they come to really work, to do a job to the very best of their ability, which is clearly why they are so successful in their business life.”

Bashfield joined the series for season two and said when she arrived the Sharks wanted to speak with her. “One by one they took us through what was wrong with their performance in series one and how they were going to be better at it. Are they better or worse than other TV talent? No, they are just different.”

Like the viewer watching the program, Bashfield said she also learns a lot from watching the Sharks in action. “I learnt a lot working on series two, but they have taken it to another level in series three. I see myself as the average viewer and I enjoy watching the show because I like people coming up with amazing ideas and then watching the Sharks explaining to people what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.

“Recurring themes in the new season are barriers to entry, what is it that could stop someone else from doing the same thing. Plus owning your idea. Warning people about not giving up their rights when building the business.”

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