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USA, China, Germany. All over the world, amateur and professional chefs have recently been facing up to a unique challenge: To conjure up a whole dish on a single spoon under enormous time pressure. “The Taste” is a cooking and talent show like no other that has come before. Red Arrow developed the idea together with its US subsidiary Kinetic Content – and made it a global TV event. The format has now been sold to more than 80 countries. In Germany, the show ran successfully on SAT.1. It all started, as things so often do, with a good idea.
Development: How an idea comes to life
Los Angeles in February 2012. It is early morning when Emma Conway (36) from the US production firm Kinetic Content hits upon the crucial idea. Still before breakfast, she and her boss Chris Coelen call Michael Schmidt (41) in Munich. He heads up the creative division of the international production network Red Arrow Entertainment as one of its Managing Directors and is immediately convinced by Emma’s idea: A cooking and talent show where the professional chefs not only coach the candidates but are also rivals. At the end, they sample the dishes in a blind taste-test – and potentially throw their own protégé out of the show. Tension, emotion, Schmidt knew immediately: “It has potential!”
From now on, a lot happens simultaneously. Emma Conway and her colleague Chris Coelen (45) assemble a development team at Kinetic Content, because they currently have nothing more than an idea on a sheet of paper. Nevertheless, they are already working intensively on a sales strategy with Michael Schmidt. “It quickly became clear to us that the idea was so strong that we could take it directly to a US station,” remembers Schmidt. That is only ever the case for a few concepts. Often, American networks want to see that a show has already proven itself in a smaller market. On the other hand, the "if you make it here ...” principle also applies to TV formats. If a US network picks up a TV show, it acts like a beacon. At one stroke, you have the world’s attention. Schmidt, Conway and Coelen therefore have a clear goal. As soon as the basic idea is set, Coelen approaches top American chefs — and scores a coup: Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain – two star chefs from US television – promptly say yes. “That they both snapped up the offer and were immediately enthusiastic was the first jackpot,” says Schmidt. It is not a long wait for the second. With an innovative idea, the first demo tape and two big names on their side, they go to US broadcaster ABC. “The concept fit, while ABC still lacked a cooking show in its program.” The three TV professionals know how to pick them: ABC orders the first season of “The Taste”. And Kinetic Content is commissioned to produce it.
But Michael Schmidt, Emma Conway and Chris Coelen do not have much time to celebrate. There is still a lot to do. Now the details of the show have to be worked out. They discuss at length how blind tasting could best be implemented. “The broadcaster fell in love with the idea of blindfolding our coaches – like in the Pepsi Challenge. I was not convinced.” I was not convinced.” “A piece of fabric over the face would only have been distracting and hindered communication between the coaches,” says Schmidt. So the idea arises to pack a whole dish onto a single spoon, a central visual element – not only for the show. “The spoon is the perfect product for involving an advertising partner,” says Schmidt. Together with his development team, he has the entire package in mind from the start: Online, social media, marketing, and of course the possibility of placing the show worldwide – all of this is considered in the concept design. Looking back, Schmidt says: “On 'The Taste', it was clear early on: Everything was right!” He was proved right on January 22, 2013: “The Taste” launched as the most successful ABC show for over two years. The format thus passed the test in the toughest TV market in the world.
Sales: How to market a concept worldwide
While the Red Arrow team drinks to its US success, “The Taste” has been sold over half the world. Nearly a year before, directly following ABC’s yes, Michael Schmidt got the sales subsidiary Red Arrow International involved. The company with sales offices in Munich, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong is in the middle of preparing for one of the most important trade fairs: MIP TV in Cannes. The television industry meets here twice a year – always on the lookout for the next big thing. Yan He (48) is head of sales for the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions at Red Arrow International and can hardly believe what is happening: After the trade fair, not only are the first seven orders placed, but in some countries the broadcasters have descended into an out-and-out bidding war. In Australia, the two station groups with the highest ratings are fighting over the cooking competition: “Nothing like this has happened for years,” says Yan He. In just a few months, “The Taste” has been sold to over 80 countries, including major markets like Great Britain, France, and Latin America. 25 TV stations are developing their own adaptations. Several parties are interested in Germany, too – and it is not a matter of course that SAT.1 will win the bid. “Two aspects count for us in this decision: The offer and the setting,” says Schmidt. “We pay very close attention to whether the format and the station are really a good fit, and always look for the ideal combination.” Because every single success gives a further boost to international sales. In Germany, the decision is easy. SAT.1 not only makes the most attractive offer, but also provides the perfect audience and advertising setting for “The Taste” – production can begin.
Production: How “The Taste” comes to Germany
The global production network Red Arrow not only delivers hits for the international TV market, but also provides its own stations with attractive programs. Mario Kristl’s (33) enthusiasm for “The Taste” is sparked after the first sales pitch when the colleagues from Red Arrow present the new show to him. Michael Schmidt notified him in advance: “Something cool is coming your way.” Kristl is Program Manager and Vice President of Entertainment at ProSiebenSat.1: “As a family station, SAT.1 is obviously interested in cooking shows in general. And with the show’s unusual approach we can reach new target groups – and further hone our brand profile.” For Kristl, 'The Taste' comes at exactly the right moment: “We redefined the talent show genre in Germany for the third time. First for singing with ‘The Voice of Germany’, then for dancing with ‘Got to Dance’. And now for cooking.” And now a second man is on board: Jobst Benthues (44). He is Managing Director of Redseven Entertainment GmbH, which is also part of the Red Arrow Entertainment Group’s global network. He adapts the US cooking show for the German television market and produces “The Taste” for SAT.1. For Benthues, the format is much more than a cooking show: “We take our viewers along on a hero’s journey. Winners, loses, the coaches’ ambition and the rivalry between them: That is television for a large prime-time audience.”
MARIO KRISTL brought „The Taste“ to Germany — for SAT.1.
Jobst Benthues has already spoken with Michael Schmidt and the US colleagues and therefore knows that two main challenges await him on “The Taste”: The coaches and the logistics. Benthues takes care of the coaches first: He compiles a list of potential candidates, crosses some out, adds some others – and telephones, e-mails, explains, persuades. After all, necessary qualifications include not only excellent cooking skills but also a distinctive talent for entertainment. Frank Rosin is cast quickly. Then the question: “Can we get Tim Mälzer as a counterpoint? He didn’t actually want to do any more television,” explains Benthues. The strength of the idea, which can now be illustrated by the first season in the US, shows itself again. Tim Mälzer gives an enthusiastic yes: “They really go on at you. A gigantic studio! Coaches who can make fools of themselves by throwing out food cooked by chefs they trained. Exciting!” Then Lea Linster, the grand dame of European cuisine, is won over – and Alexander Herrmann, a Franconian with a Michelin star. Jobst Benthues starts by going out for a good meal with his “dream jury”: “Then I knew that they were not only true professionals – they all wanted a good show. The trust was there straight away.”
Now Benthues benefits from the fact that the producers of the American original of “The Taste” are also part of the Red Arrow Group. He books a multi-day crash course with his colleagues, flies to the USA and bombards them with questions: What worked particularly well? Where are pitfalls lurking? Above all, however, he asks a lot of very practical questions: “How do you keep the spoons warm? How do you organize the complex food logistics – the purchasing and refrigeration?” This is how to ensure that mistakes on new productions are not made twice. The German studio is huge. When 16 kitchens are in use and filming takes place at the same time, it can get hot. Therefore, Benthues has a miniature set built in order to simulate the paths of candidates, coaches, technicians, and camera operators with Playmobil figures. Then everything is prepared, the casting starts – in August 2013 the complete season is produced in just three weeks. When the first episode of the “The Taste” airs on SAT.1 on November 13, 2013, it achieves a market share of 12.5 % among viewers aged 14 to 49. This figure is approximately 67 % higher than the market share of the show that was previously broadcast in the same slot.
Marketing: How ProSiebenSat.1 obtains
new advertising customers with “The
When a new prime-time show for a ProSiebenSat.1 station is being planned in Munich, Petra Kroop (45), Director of Brand Integration at SevenOne AdFactory, is involved from the start. The ProSiebenSat.1 subsidiary develops 360-degree concepts for advertising customers, which integrate all platforms: TV, online, mobile. When it became clear that “The Taste” was to air on SAT.1, Petra Kroop and her team first analyzed the market: Who are the potential customers? “We quickly hit upon the cookware manufacturer Fissler. The company was particularly interesting for us because it is a new customer for TV.” But the opportunity comes at the right moment for Fissler, too: “Fissler wanted to address younger target groups more strongly. This is much easier on television and with a show like “The Taste” than with print media, with which Fissler had advertised exclusively before.” From now on, Petra Kroop works closely with various interfaces at ProSiebenSat.1: She develops components of the online advertising campaign together with colleagues from the digital segment. The licensing department comes up with suggestions for how Fissler can include the “The Taste” logo in its own product line and advertise in that way. And on TV, it is also important to involve Fissler as a product partner in the show in close cooperation with the editors and production, in addition to format sponsoring and traditional advertising spots. Fissler is impressed by the comprehensive concept, once it is defined, and chooses the all-round package: Fissler gets involved in the show, providing sponsorship and equipment, and brings out its own “The Taste” collection, which of course includes the show’s iconic feature: The spoon. Selected products are engraved with the “The Taste” logo, while Fissler advertises with the logo on packaging. In the end, the cooperation is a success for both sides. In the advertising market, ProSiebenSat.1 also benefits from the fact that a primetime cooking show is airing on SAT.1 for the first time: “The Taste” gave us the chance to gain a new partner to whom we were previously unable to offer similar advertising space,” explains Petra Kroop.
PETRA KROOP won Fissler as partner and sponsor for the show.
Digital extension: How to involve the audience
While Jobst Benthues is in the middle of producing “The Taste” and Petra Kroop is honing the advertising concept for Fissler, Michael Lämmle and his people have long been working on bringing the show to the web and social media. Lämmle is head of program strategy for SAT1.de. He makes sure that the show becomes a multimedia experience, “The Taste” 24/7. To do so, Lämmle not only extends the TV content onto the internet, but also becomes active himself as a producer: During the entire production phase of the show, someone from the online editorial team is there in the TV studio, gathering stories in front of and behind the camera. “More than 50 % of the video viewed online was exclusive content,” says Lämmle. One of the earliest ideas proves particularly successful. “We gave our coaches little cameras so they could film each other.” “These ‘Coach Cams’ were extremely popular.” You could say a tasty second helping for the viewers: The teasing between Mälzer and Rosin continues long after the TV episode is over. In the episode, little notes (“inserts”) keep popping up: “More of the argument online!” Lämmle: “Afterwards our visitor numbers increased by up to 36 %.” Little video courses with the master chefs receive a good response. Finally, Tim Mälzer reveals the secret to making the best fried potatoes! Or Alexander Herrmann solves the problem of peeling tomatoes with a Bunsen burner. Tina Lilian, who works with “The Taste” as Senior Editor for SAT.1.de, remembers what ran through her mind when she saw the first US broadcast: “That is an ideal web and social-media format!” Half of the German Facebook community is assembled even before the first broadcast, not least because Lilian and Lämmle skillfully involve the fans of the star chefs. There are also recipes and tips and tricks on the Facebook page from now on: On "Dessert Thursday" or for “Sunday Roast”, for example. “The TV show airs once a week. We provide viewers and users with 'The Taste' news round the clock, whetting appetites for the next episode. This increases loyalty to the show massively,” explains Michael Lämmle.
They extended „The Taste“ into the net: TINA LILIAN and MICHAEL LÄMMLE.
Whether in digital marketing or everyday production, whether with the rules of the game or studio equipment: Experience gained on a show like “The Taste” in the ProSiebenSat.1 network is valuable and gathered together by Michael Schmidt. He regularly holds joint “The Taste” workshops in order “to consolidate international experiences.” Colleagues from all over the world then report on countries’ different versions – because shows must be adapted to the preferences of the local audience even in the global TV business. In Great Britain, for example, there are only three coaches on Channel 4, namely Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain, and Ludo Levebvre (who are also coaches in the US version). The UK atmosphere overall is more intimate, the kitchens look more homely than ultra-modern. “What has worked?” Schmidt asks the group. “What shall we incorporate into the ‘Bible’?” This detailed online database records all the elements that have proven successful. Jobst Benthues and Mario Kristl contribute some aspects from Germany: The music, the set design, the dramatic composition of the final round. “Our show bible has now been digitized and is available as a wiki-database. It includes all elements from production schedules to video clips, trailers, graphics, etc. All our customers can access it and thus use the knowledge gained by other broadcasters in their productions.”
How the story continues – and a success gets even bigger, worldwide
Yan He, Red Arrow International’s Asian sales specialist, has an office in Munich – and one in Hong Kong. She has lived in Germany for many years, but has never broken off her connection with her Chinese homeland. Laughing, she admits: “I was in love with 'The Taste' from the start. Food is very important for Chinese people.” In India, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam: Yan He has sold the US original with subtitles to all these countries. In China, she is proposing an adaptation: “The market is big enough, and Chinese cooking shows have all been quite ordinary so far. It’s time for something new!” Again, several broadcasters are interested; after the broadcasting giant CCTV won the bidding war with its second channel, a version was produced with a character all of its own.
Starting with the title: “The Taste” is joined by the subtitle “Battle of Taste”. This may sound a bit warlike in Europe, but it is just right in China. The studio kitchens have to be equipped differently – the contestants obviously work with woks. “Cooking in China is primarily a family affair,” explains Yan He, “there is no tradition of high-end gastronomy.” This is why the three-person judging panel includes only one chef, Sun Zhaoguo from Shanghai, a pioneer of molecular gastronomy. He is joined by two lovers of good food to advise, taste and decide: Blogger Craig Au Yeung from Hong Kong and the Taiwanese TV presenter and singer Bowie Tsang as the star of the trio. “In China, a lot depends on the story you tell with a particular dish. Is it about love, caring for your children or your parents? There is a new motto for every episode of 'The Taste' in China.”
And how will it continue? In the USA, the second season of “The Taste” has already been a complete success, in Germany Mario Kristl commissioned the continuation for SAT.1 long ago: “No, I have not started cooking myself,” laughs the Program Manager. “But 'The Taste' is simply a completely enthralling show.” Jobst Benthues says: “When you pursue an idea with so much belief and passion, sometimes it turns into something great. A whole 'The Taste' family!” In a single corporation. This is how it can go on: With refilled spoons, new candidates and more countries.