A Great British Debate: The Future of Bake Off.

So, The Great British Bake Off is to leave the BBC and take up residence on Channel 4. We know it’s difficult to swallow at the moment – Mel and Sue are off, Mary Berry’s taking her glass of sherry and scarpering, and the show, according to some, has suddenly lost its sweet, gooey soul. It’s the beginning of the end, they say.

For the BBC, the loss of its most popular TV series is a big blow. Having seen its negotiating position weakened by the BBC Charter – a set of government directives announced in the same week to ‘radically cut costs’ and fund free TV licensing for over 75s – it simply couldn’t meet the demands set by Love, the production house part-owned by Sky.

Not only has it lost a juggernaut that delivered an average TV audience in excess of 10 million viewers and accounted for 7 of the 10 highest-rated programming slots in 2015, it’s also found itself mourning the loss of a rare breed: a BBC show that’s popular among the 16-34 audience group, as well as every other demographic, for that matter. It’s not the first time the Beeb has relinquished the rights to a successful general entertainment mainstay either, with The Voice being readied for its ITV launch next year.

With the aforementioned cuts to funding expected to transpire in the near future, it could be time to sever the cord on the huge contracts that shows such as GBBO demand; to instead focus on fully delivering on its remit – with its representation of diversity one area where it’s walk has so far failed to match the talk. The BBC is, in its very essence, a vitally important British institution that represents a great deal of what is good in society – but it’s not perfect. Changes are required.

The Knead for Continuity. 

Much of the ire unleashed in response to the announcement of GBBO’s move centres on the fact that it’ll now be subject to ad breaks. Many believe it’s the end of the road; a grave error by Love Productions. Commercial breaks have never stopped millions of TV viewers tuning into each episode of Britain’s Got Talent, X Factor, Big Brother and IACGMOOH, but GBBO is different: we’re used to our weekly feed on a quintessentially British union between two cultural institutions. Commercial TV, the argument goes, will bleed the show of its charm.

Additionally, controversy surrounds Channel 4’s own status as a public service broadcaster, as well as the huge costs required to ensnare the format, which, as a tried-and-tested formula, hardly correlates with the channel’s headline remit to innovate. One line of argument in response, however, is that commercial TV is actually a positive, money-making force, and should have access to the biggest entertainment shows to maximise its profitability. Last year, the TV advertising market delivered over £5 billion in revenue to the UK economy. It’s also responsible for thousands of jobs, drives technological innovation and, crucially for viewers, provides the funding to develop new and improved TV programming.

For Channel 4, even if GBBO’s viewing audience was to end up halved as a result of the move, the broadcaster would still make a huge return in terms of TV advertising revenue, with smaller businesses actually likely to benefit from this drop in viewing. The change of hands is good news for UK advertisers in general, in that it provides a new opportunity to showcase their brand to an audience of millions – and with the cost of reaching one thousand viewers (CPT) now 30% less expensive in real terms compared to a decade, it’s an opportunity that needn’t be reserved for the world of ‘Big Business’. However, in order for success to be gleaned and the viewership retained, continuity is needed.

The Calm After the Storm?

Ultimately, Channel 4 will pull out all of the stops in order to ensure that the ingredients crucial to the Great British Bake Off’s status as a cultural phenomenon will be preserved and, where possible, expanded on, possibly through its cross-platform, digital offerings. It has a lot to lose if it fails, and must ensure that it takes heed of the mistakes made in the case of Top Gear, which bombed when redeveloped without its triumvirate of national treasures.

If it can get it right, then the future looks bright for the broadcaster. Mel, Sue and Mary will be replaced; after a short period of protest, we’ll likely warm to the new hosts and, with the format we’ve come to love expected to stay exactly the same – albeit with a different tent and shorter/longer episode lengths –  we’ll quickly rediscover the affection that has intensified Britain’s enthusiasm for baking. You’ll even by able to instantly purchase that must-have ingredient or utensil in the ad break.