All eyes at the Ten Network will be on the final Sunday night of its big hit, MasterChef Australia, but the more financially astute will be eyeing the website of its Canadian parent, Canwest, a day earlier to see if it has at last become The Biggest Loser.

Chef hit another audience high last night, the 4th this week with over 2.3 million people tuning in. Sunday night could see over 2.5 million people tune in. The success has been overwhelming, but in financial terms, its been marginal because Ten has been unable to convert the big ratings into ad dollars because of the economic slowdown.

That’s not to say Ten will run the program at a loss: far from it, Ten might be doing it tough, but not as tough as the Nine Network. At the moment, Ten’s probably on par with Seven.

The ratings successes Ten have enjoyed for the past 10 weeks thanks to hits such as MasterChef and Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, have distracted TV writers from the real story: the continuing struggles of Canwest to remain afloat. Few understand that there is equally gripping drama unfolding on the flat plains around Canwest’s Winnipeg HQ.

It could be a soap opera in itself: at least six, perhaps seven deadlines for debt and interest repayments with last minute funding deals and last minute extensions. There are more anti-climaxes in the Canwest story than in a season of Neighbours or Bold And The Beautiful. There’s even hereditary management in Lennie Asper, who is trying to to keep family control of the company started by his father, Izzy Asper.

The last extension was set to last to today, North American time — midnight in mid-western Canada where Canwest is located is the middle of Saturday afternoon, when Ten is broadcasting the AFL game: tomorrow it’s Sydney vs. Carlton.

If Canwest collapses the signal won’t go off, but it will make for a shaky weekend in at Ten’s HQ at Ultimo. The grand final of MasterChef might be a bittersweet experience.

At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Canwest’s creditors to push it into receivership or administration, except for the uncertainty surrounding one of its last lenders, the Canadian offshoot of CIT Group — the New York-based business financier refused aid by the US Government. Its board has still to announce what it will do. The shares have plunged and bankruptcy looms.

Canwest said at the time of getting the extra money:

The holders of the new 12 per cent senior secured notes of CMI and Canwest Television Limited Partnership as well as CIT Business Credit Canada Inc., the provider of a senior secured revolving asset-based loan facility to CMI, have agreed to extend to July 17, 2009, the date by which CMI must reach an agreement in principle with members of the Ad Hoc Committee in respect of a recapitalization transaction, as well as certain other milestones that were to be achieved by June 30, 2009. The date by which CMI must enter into a definitive agreement in respect of a recapitalization transaction has been extended to July 31, 2009.

CMI and the members of the Ad Hoc Committee have also entered into a further extension agreement and forbearance to July 17, 2009.

So another D-day tonight, our time. CIT Canada has a $C75 million revolving credit with Canwest, part of the last ditch $C175 million financing done in May to keep the company alive and allow it to make program deals with US producers for the next season.

If CIT fails, then its likely that revolving credit line will be frozen: that could trigger a crisis at Canwest which could see it placed into bankruptcy, or the other lenders come up with enough money to replace the CIT credit.

For Ten the immediate future is just as uncertain as it was last week, in May and at the start of 2009 when Canwest began drifting close to the shoals.

Ten’s fate will be decided in Canada, not here, for all the success of MasterChef. The 56 per cent of the company owned by Canwest is pledged to the parent’s lenders as security. Ten confirmed this for those business writers who thought the situation had changed in May after the last refinancing.

So if Canwest goes down, Ten’s shares will be sold eventually by the creditors holding them as security to raise funds to meet Canwest’s debt and interest payments.

It’s not known who will buy these shares. Very few worldwide media deals have been done.

Cox, the US media group is presently marketing a majority share in the Travel Channel, a successful cable business, for a reported $US600 million. That sounds a lot but is half the 2007 valuation when Cox picked it up for selling its remaining shares in The Discovery Channel. And if you’ve a spare $US1 dollar, McGraw Hill will reportedly sell you Business Week magazine, so long as you understand that the annual losses of $40 million and a 30 per cent-40 per cent drop in ad revenues that goes with that “bargain”.

Ten is at least in better shape than that.

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