Six years in and The Great British Bake Off has become one of the hottest properties on UK television. The feel-good mix of charming comedy, delicious baked goods and real people battling it out to become ‘star baker’ has earned the programme near cult status. In the era of on-demand, GBBO (as it is affectionately known by fans) possesses the rare ability to make normally fickle viewers sit down and watch a show at the scheduled hour.
It is hardly surprising then that news this much-beloved show is moving to Channel 4 came as a blow to viewers on Tuesday (13 September). The BBC is believed to have fallen £10m short of the figure expected by production company Love Productions, despite doubling its current offer to £15m in a bid to keep the show.
Love Productions took a battering on Twitter – where GBBO even has its own emoji – after reports emerged that it had refused to entertain offers below £25m.
The show’s record-breaking viewing figures will have made the Great British Bake Off a highly attractive proposition to Channel 4. The 2015 final was the most watched TV show of the year, drawing more than 14 million viewers. To put that in perspective, the 2015 final of The X Factor attracted 8.4 million, its second lowest viewership in 11 years.
The fourth episode alone of the current series on Wednesday was watched by 10.3 million people, peaking at 11.3 million during the last five minutes.
Will Channel 4 get what it paid for?
The GBBO brand is being called into question after popular hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins quit on Wednesday, refusing to “go with the dough” to Channel 4. All eyes are now on TV cooks Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood to see if they too will jump ship.
So, can the show exist without its stars or is the GBBO brand half-baked?
Laurence Parkes, chief strategy officer at creative agency Rufus Leonard, believes the brand is stronger than the on-air talent, arguing that following the contestants’ journey makes them the hero, not the presenters.
“This is a controversial view but if Love Productions and Channel 4 handle it with care, the brand will be fine. Yes, Mel and Sue are going. Even if Mary went it would be fine, as long as they keep the format and resist the temptation to change other elements.”
He argues that this is different to recent BBC flop Top Gear, which was driven by the rapport between its previous presenters, and therefore the lack of chemistry between new hosts Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc made the show seem inauthentic.
Executive creative director of creative agency Red Bee and co-author of The TV Brand Builders, Charlie Mawer, believes the challenge for Channel 4 will depend on how it views the format as a whole.
“What is the brand and format you buy? If it’s the name, set design and titles that’s one thing, but if it’s the presenters then that’s already a problem. Presenters can give you a tone of voice, which is essential on Bake Off as it has a non-scripted tone of voice.
“The challenge for Channel 4 is the fit between brand and channel brand. Channel 4 relies on taking risks with its programming and has taken a strong positioning when promoting shows like Humans or the Paralympics coverage, which underpin the essential brand essence. I will be interested to see if Channel 4 puts the same level of marketing support behind Bake Off as it doesn’t inherently fit with the ‘born risky’ strategy.”
Brands in the mix
The opportunity to advertise against GBBO for first time is likely to prove a mouthwatering prospect for a whole suite of brands, with options opening up for the main sponsorship, advertising breaks, branded products and licensed Bake Off merchandise.
Marks & Spencer (M&S) is expected to lead the chase, with YouGov research suggesting it would be the best sponsor fit following an analysis of the brands GBBO viewers use disproportionally more interested in compared to the wider public. Of those surveyed, 46% already consider themselves current M&S customers.
YouGov’s top five list of potential sponsors also includes Amazon, Lakeland, John Lewis and Bosch.
“I would not be surprised find it isn’t the Great British Bake Off – it’s Marks & Spencer’s Great British Bake Off.”
Leo Weir, director of digital, media and technology research, YouGov
Leo Weir, YouGov director of digital, media and technology research, argues that despite the uncertainties the GBBO brand remains a great opportunity for commercial partners, adding: “I would not be surprised to turn on Channel 4 next year and notice that it isn’t just the Great British Bake Off – it’s Marks & Spencer’s Great British Bake Off.”
Parkes at Rufus Leonard believes M&S is a good brand fit as it ties into the show’s quintessentially British image and could help the retailer build brand engagement. He identifies Sainsbury’s ‘Little Twists’ campaign as another potentially good tie-up as it feeds into the interactive element of Bake Off, inspiring people to get cooking.
“Any sponsor that enables people to find products to help them bake will work if they are chosen in a meaningful and useful way that adds to the consumer experience,” Parkes adds.
Mawer expects the list of brands queuing up to get a piece of the Bake Off pie to include M&S, the ‘big four’ supermarkets, and Aldi and Lidl. “It is interesting to look at the Twitter timeline at the moment as you’ve got every grocer and food brand commenting and playing into the national conversation.”
Sponsorship and endorsement deals with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry will become more attractive once they are freed from the restrictions of their BBC contracts too, suggests Dan Smith, head of UK advertising law at law firm Gowling WLG.
“Of course, the opportunities for brands to engage Bake Off fans directly through social media will increase in parallel with all this, but those without an official deal will need to be smart, as Channel 4 and Love Productions will likely seek to clamp down on anyone using GBBO assets without permission or seeking to ‘ambush’ official partners,” Smith adds.
Following the loss of formats like The Voice to ITV and the failure of the new look Top Gear team to impress after the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, there are questions over whether the BBC has the financial clout to keep hold of its flagship shows.
Criticism has, however, been levelled less at the BBC and more at Government restrictions that mean the broadcaster is prohibited from bidding big to compete for the most popular shows.
“The Great British Bake Off is a huge brand. It’s a cultural phenomenon and it’s a travesty that due to Government budgets the BBC couldn’t keep it,” says Parkes.
“It is a risk with the budget tight at the BBC that they don’t have the ability to retain popular programmes. The BBC has a long history of starting formats that are picked up by other people, it’s part of its reason for being to nurture versus a more commercial broadcaster. This doesn’t damage the BBC brand, it damages the image of the Government in terms of the pressure the BBC receives.”
Mawer agrees the BBC has done a good job in terms of nurturing talent, but that in the future in might think twice about the level to which it supports shows produced by independent companies. “I don’t think there is a problem with the BBC brand. It always existed to grow and develop new ideas, so for them to grow a show for six years the BBC brand is doing what it should do and invest it the new,” he states.
“This might, however, make all the channels look at these independent production companies and how much marketing spend and airtime they are putting behind these brands if not tied to them for a long time and are investing in someone else’s format.”