Since hitting our screens in 2010, The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) has quickly become one of the most popular shows on BBC One, and one of the BBC’s biggest brands. Therefore, the recent ‘poaching’ of the ‘quintessentially British’ TV show has caused more debate than whether you should, or shouldn’t, dunk a Jaffa Cake (why the Hell not, IMO).
And little surprise. GBBO is loved for its larger-than-life hosts, tongue-in-cheek puns, impressive showstoppers, distinctive ‘Britishness’ and moments such as #bingate and one very well-endowed squirrel. So now that the show (or as some have argued, just a very large marquee and Mr Hollywood) has been seized by commercial broadcaster Channel 4 for £25m a year, what does it mean for the future of the brand? Can the bakery powerhouse survive the transition?
Whether or not viewers continue to watch the programme with Hollywood at the helm essentially comes down to brand loyalty. The GBBO is a much loved brand with a celebrated format that people clearly enjoy, but it’s the very appeal of Mary, Paul, Mel and Sue, successful brands themselves, that gives the show its winning formulation. We’ve already learnt the hard way that losing hosts can be a total disaster for an established and hugely popular TV brand… remember the Jeremy Clarkson and latterly Chris Evans and Top Gear debacle which saw the show plummet to an all-time low of 1.6 million viewers? Will Channel Four be able to combat this?
Viewers aside, Channel Four has the opportunity to unlock huge commercial value from the brand that the BBC could not. With the current series on BBC One averaging 10 million viewers an episode, GBBO is a proven driver of sales because of the food frenzy it stirs. Waitrose has revealed that the eleven weeks of The Great British Bake Off are the third most important event of the year, behind Christmas and Easter, with grocery sales increasing by up to 392 per cent during this period. In addition, Morrison’s appointed a “Chief Baking Officer” in order to keep up with the demand generated by the programme. And it’s not just those in the world of baking who’ve reaped the benefit of the GBBO phenomenon. In 2015, a jacket worn by Mary Berry sold out within the hour long show.
However, while the new slot will provide a good home for brands, there is far less confidence about how well the GBBO brand itself – which has been likened to the Royal Family, Harrods and Yorkshire Tea – will fare on C4. To be honest, the GBBO brand may have been irreparably damaged the moment its audiences gained the impression that Love Productions, the programme’s makers, were so in pursuit of Mammon when negotiating with broadcasters. Although GBBO is a strong brand, the romantic idealisation around it may have already started to break as the public realised that it is, ultimately, a commercial entity. The suspicion that the programme’s producers had been “greedy” also sits uneasily with the virtues of generosity, friendliness, co -operation and good fun that the series projects.
So does the brand have a future on Channel 4? The optimistic view is that Channel 4 has taken a bite out of a sizable audience with a passion for baking and cookery, providing immediate gains for associated brands. In an upbeat piece in The Drum, Carat chief executive Rick Hirst wrote that Channel 4 could elevate the Bake Off brand to “a new, bigger platform, bringing a fresh outlook and new energy that keeps people engaged.”
But it’s precisely the show’s dare I say, ‘twee-ness’ and old school style that won the hearts of viewers. And here lies the biggest challenge for Channel 4, tasked with delivering a brand which ultimately, couldn’t be more BBC.
So whilst the show will bring significant commercial perks for Channel 4 in the short term, they should remember that brand loyalty – especially for brands that have lost their way – is fickle as audiences. And without its magical mix, the GBBO could well lose its unique identity, and Channel 4 be left with flour on their hands trying to flog a generic baking show.
Gail Titchener, Chief Writing Officer