Rick Hirst in the Drum: Will The Great British Bake Off continue to be as successful on Channel 4?

13/09/2016

The news about The Great British Bake Off leaving the Beeb is causing a bit of a fuss. There are a number of possibilities as to why the show is moving home that all seem pretty plausible but I'm under no doubt: the eggs, flour, sugar and cream of Bake Off just got more expensive.

Rick Hirst Rick Hirst Chief Executive Officer London Rick Hirst GBBO channel 4
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Interesting that people are so upset about it. After a summer of success (continuing with our brilliant Paralympians) in Rio, the uncertainty of Brexit and more and more iconic British brands being bought by foreign businesses, including Cadbury and Land Rover, perhaps the public feel this is another national treasure 'lost' from the Empire.

Or is it about timing? It was only a few weeks ago that the government announced the extension of the TV licence to anyone watching television regardless of if they accessed it using a TV set. We ask people to pay more and then we see the BBC unwilling to spend that additional cash to secure the best programming. All of this happening whilst Bake Off is all over our screens with promos for series seven? Well, the PR experts will say this deal was rather well timed.

Lest we forget, though, we live in the modern world. Bake Off commanded the largest TV audience of the year last year. In 2014 Sky bought a 70 per cent stake in Love Productions which developed and produces the show. 2017 will likely coincide nicely with any earn-out agreements that would no doubt have a significant influence in these negotiations. Channel 4 apparently offered more money but I'd expect the business team at Channel 4 also put together an attractive story around sweating the Bake Off asset in ways that only a commercial broadcaster can do.

So a coup for the team at Channel 4. Success, however, will be judged on whether it keeps the large audience when it takes the show on next year. I imagine there's lots of talk behind closed doors about whether it keeps the format of the show as is and whether it retains the show's talent who apparently only found out about the deal hours before it was publicly announced. If that’s true, I'd quite like to be Mary Berry's agent this week.

Changing things up will be handing the public an easy excuse to shun the show whilst keeping it the same could be interpreted as not doing enough. Bake Off is loved for its gentleness and quaintness – it's very different to the Big Brother/Gypsy Weddings of the Channel 4 history books. It'll be a tough call given what's happened with the heavily publicised and shaky relaunch of Top Gear.

I hope the move means a new, bigger platform for the Bake Off brand and that Channel 4 do for it what it has done for the Paralympics: bringing a fresh outlook and new energy that keeps people engaged. For the BBC this looks like a classic no-win situation. Lose Bake Off and be criticised for how it spends its money. Keep Bake Off by paying through the nose and be criticised for how it spends its money.

We'll see how this one comes out of the oven. As for the important stuff? My money's on Selasi for the win.

Rick Hirst Rick Hirst Chief Executive Officer London Rick Hirst GBBO channel 4
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