Will Great British Bake Off be commercially viable for Channel 4?

Mel and Sue won't follow the hit TV show to its new home. What about the viewers?

Viewers of The Great British Bake Off erupted in fury when they heard that the hit BBC show was moving to Channel 4, and that presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins wouldn’t be following. Who else will question what the judges think of a contestant’s buns?

The move is a big deal, potentially giving Channel 4 an audience to rival anything on ITV. Bake Off was the most-watched show on TV last year. State-owned, ad-funded Channel 4 has reportedly paid Love Productions, the majority Sky-owned maker of the show, £75m for a three-year deal. That’s said to be as much as four times what the BBC was paying.

It’s a lot of money given that the current series is only 11 episodes. Channel 4 will get 40 hours of Bake Off-related programming each year. Still, that’s equivalent to £650,000 an hour.

MPs have criticised the cost. Former culture secretary John Whittingdale was surprised that a public service broadcaster outspent the BBC. Channel 4 has a remit to innovate, yet it is buying an established mainstream format at a time when the Tories continue to ask whether the broadcaster gives a good return to the taxpayer.

Another worry must be that with Mel and Sue gone, and the future of presenters Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood uncertain, the show could suffer the same fate as Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson and friends.

Dominic Williams, chief trading officer at Dentsu Aegis Network’s buying arm Amplifi, says the broadcaster is taking a gamble but "will be able to monetise the show because Channel 4 has bought Bake Off at its peak". Chris Locke, managing director at Publicis Media Exchange, reckons Channel 4 will "at least break even".

It is likely to try to grow Bake Off beyond sponsorship and airtime, such as through digital spinoffs, which could include short shows on contestants. However, Channel 4 will need to be wary of changing the show radically.

Bake Off is currently one hour long, so Channel 4 must decide whether to extend it with ad breaks or shorten it, Locke says. There is also the length of the commercial breaks. If the broadcaster includes too many ads, it risks alienating viewers.

Channel 4 is bullish after its coup. "Channel 4 is experienced in making sure it treats its programmes properly. We will treat Bake Off with absolute respect," a spokesman said. "There’s no plan to change the format. It will have a huge appeal and we’re sure it will be successful. It’s got a strong profile audience and emotional engagement. Bake Off will not be a loss leader."

Paul Mead, chairman, VCCP Media

"Don’t underestimate the huge commercial potential that can be unlocked in a show that proved we care more about Baked Alaska than any other issue facing humankind. Bake Off is a commercial machine freed from its shackles."

Ian Stevens, head of AV, MEC

"This is an established format in many territories and presents a valuable audience at scale for advertisers. Although much of its charm is derived from the hosting line-up, which remains uncertain, Channel 4 will work hard to preserve the integrity of the show."

Helen Calcraft, founding partner, Lucky Generals

"This is going to be really tough for Channel 4. They bought a format, but Bake Off is so much more. The magic is the combination of ingredients. Two key ingredients, Mel and Sue, have already been removed and it simply won’t be delicious without them."

Barnaby Dawe, chief marketing officer, Just Eat

"With a ten-million audience, even if the show loses 60% of its viewers in crossing over to Channel 4, it would still be one of their biggest shows. It’s a great property to sponsor and, coupled with advertising revenue, they would get a good return over time.

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