GBBO and Channel 4: Is Commercial TV the Future of Content?


*Update: After writing this, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc have announced that they are stepping down from presenting The Great British Bake Off. While the fate of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry is still unknown, it’s not looking hopeful. This begs the question, though Channel 4 may have optimised the production and distribution of content, is this at the expense of quality? Despite the fuss, we would have gotten over the ad breaks. What I, and I expect every other Great British Bake Off fanatic, will not be able to get over is the loss of the presenters and judges. The show simply won’t be the same.

Yesterday news leaked that BBC stalwart Great British Bake Off is… well… no longer that. Love Productions, the company behind the show, couldn’t reach an agreement with the BBC on the terms to renew the commission of the hugely popular baking programme and so it’s moving to pastures new: Channel 4. The BBC said in a statement yesterday, “We made a very strong offer to keep the show but we are a considerable distance apart on the money. [Our] resources are not infinite.”

Unsurprisingly, Twitter didn’t handle the news well:

The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off

 

What will this mean for long-time fans of the British institution and will the move to Channel 4 really make such a difference?

It wouldn’t be the first time a hit show has moved networks, but it’s certainly rare. GBBO’s predecessors include The Voice UK, Robot Wars, Men Behaving Badly and University Challenge. The Voice UK’s move from BBC to ITV last year was described in the Independent as “a path that twinkles with promise that is rarely fulfilled.” Only time will tell if the move from BBC to Channel 4 spells the same fate.

It will be interesting to watch the development of GBBO as it wades into commercialised territory. The aesthetic of the show has been mentioned frequently across social media, with one of the main concerns being adverts that will now interrupt the build of anticipation from the Signature Challenge through to the fist-biting Showstopper.

There hasn’t been any confirmation on whether Mel, Sue, Paul and Mary are remaining (many are sceptical), but spin-offs based on the show prove how delicate the format is. The American Baking Competition presented by Paul Hollywood and Marcela Valladolid was cancelled after just one season and the more recent Great Holiday Baking Show fell “flat in the oven trying too hard to be ‘nice’”. While the Australian version of the show has proved extremely popular, there is no denying that Mary and Paul’s gentler demeanours don’t translate in Australia, where the judges are far harsher in their criticism.

But let’s get over the initial shock for a moment and look at the facts. Just last month Campaign reported that commercial TV viewing is on the rise while the BBC declines. Total TV viewing between January and June fell by two minutes to three hours and 34 minutes a day, while on commercial TV there was a rise of one minute a day to an average of one hour, 49 minutes. Online, the recent change in BBC iPlayer TV licensing laws will undoubtedly boost All 4 (Channel 4’s digital offering) with an uplift of TV viewers.

Is GBBO one step ahead of us? Is Channel 4 paving the future for commercial broadcasting?

For a more detailed answer to this question, this article is an insightful read, but the crux of it is this: Channel 4 isn’t limited by the corporate constraints of terrestrial in the same way as the BBC. Instead, it capitalises on the huge opportunity digital offers it, with All 4 delivering a service similar to Netflix. It has the freedom to create and commission more content, monetizing online viewers as fully as broadcast viewers through an advertising and data strategy. Rather than being simply a ‘catch-up’ service, All 4 is a standalone channel alongside Channel 4 that showcases new and original content.

This strategy has grown Channel 4’s digital revenue to the point where traditional linear viewing and online viewing are equally as valuable. It’s the reason it could afford GBBO and why Love Productions view it as a progressive place to foster the future of the brand.

Whether the BBC will be able to hold its own in the changing TV landscape is yet to be seen.

For now, we’re more worried about whether Mary and Paul will survive the transition. Our fingers are crossed.

By Bella Foxwell

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