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Will the cookie crumble for the Great British Bake Off without the BBC or can Channel 4 take its brand to new heights?

Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off is loved for its larger-than-life hosts, mouth-watering dishes, an impassioned audience, distinctively British tones and infamous (and gifable) moments such as #bingate.

Making its name as one of the BBC's most successful franchises, the show has now been seized by commercial broadcaster Channel 4 which flexed its financial muscles to land GBBO for a tantalising £25m a year.

Channel 4 may be disappointed at the news that beloved GBBO hosts Mel and Sue will be leaving the show - followed by Mary Berry. Paul Hollywood may also resign, leaving it with the brand and the format but none of its stardust and adding insult to injury.

But it has an opportunity to unlock commercial value that the BBC could not. With the current series on BBC One averaging around 10 million viewers an episode, GBBO is credited among retailers as being a proven driver of sales because of the food frenzy it stirs.

Brands have seen repeated success from piggybacking on the Bake Off's appeal. Martin Corcoran, head of insight consulting at online retail firm Summit, says that GBBO helps retailers and manufacturers boost sales and grow their brand, with the move to Channel 4 set to "greatly increase on-screen branding and advertising opportunities" on all things kitchen and food related, from Jaffa Cakes to rolling pins.

Emma Rose Hurst, senior strategist at Brand Union, agrees that the new slot will provide a good home for brands, but is less confident about how well the GBBO brand – which she likened to the Royal Family, Harrods or Yorkshire Tea – will fare on C4.

Hurst attributes the show’s success largely to the unrivalled platform-building and marketing capabilities provided with the BBC, and believes that “Channel 4 doesn’t just lack the viewership (domestic and international), it lacks the gravitas”.

Although GBBO is a strong brand, the “romantic idealisation” around it may start to break as the public realises that “it is, just like everything else, a commercial entity,” said Hurst. "And this is only something Channel 4’s plethora of adverts will exasperate." She adds another risk is that it will lose audiences with “too many, too annoying, too distasteful adverts, sponsorships and product placements... that could degrade both the GBBO and Channel 4 brands."

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 brands that get in early. Media agencies across the UK will be salivating at the thought of opening up the GBBO commercial biscuit tin in ways previously forbidden under BBC guidelines.

Dan Smith, head of UK advertising law at the international law firm Gowling WLG, believes the move will generate a series of lucrative brand partnerships and endorsements from the hosts (whoever they may now be).

Social media will continue to be a prime piece of real estate for brands to get involved, including ambush marketers who may now have a harder time tapping into the chatter. Smith says: “[Brands] without an official deal will need to be smart, as Channel Four and Love Productions will likely seek to clamp down on anyone using GBBO assets without permission or seeking to 'ambush' official partners."

So does the brand have a future on Channel 4? 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" and do for the show what it what it has done for the Paralympics: "bringing a fresh outlook and new energy that keeps people engaged." By contrast, the BBC would be criticised whether it spent big to keep the property or (as it eventually did) lost one of its flagship shows, he wrote.

On the other hand, Andy Barr, founder of PR agency 10 Yetis (and his office staff) thinks the show is doomed. He says bluntly: "Let’s be honest, Bake-Off is the twee’ist of twee shows where the most exciting element is the incredibly cringe-inducing double entendres around 'cream in someone’s mouth'. This twee-ness makes it fit perfectly with BBC. Channel 4 is a more edgy brand with a more edgy audience."

He predicts that in a reverse of the Top Gear scenario, the BBC will launch another baking show hosted by Mel and Sue, under a different name and siphoning off any audience it would have lost to Channel 4. Following that, he says, "the show will die or get merged with one of [Channel 4's] other shows: First Baking Dates or Baking on Benefits are two ideas I would pitch if I was a C4 production junior... I’m calling it: Love Productions has biffed this up for themselves, brand Bake-Off is destined to die on Channel 4."

Jodie Fullagar, head of entertainment for M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment stated that its old school style has won the hearts of viewers: "Its complete lack of edge is exactly what people love about it. Like a great big hug from your generous chested auntie, the show makes you feels safe and warm.”

Herein lies the biggest challenge for Channel 4, tasked with delivering a show which “couldn’t be more BBC,” she said, also expressing a hope that the move wasn’t just implemented for financial reasons but for strategic purposes.

Fullagar predicted that Channel 4 will court controversy and hire younger hosts to attract a new audience. On the financial side, the broadcaster is likely to make back its £25m investment in its first year of broadcasting through advertising, show sponsorship, product placement, merchandise, licensing, audience voting and more.

She concluded: “There is clearly a parallel to be drawn with Top Gear. The Beeb (ironically) learnt the hard way that losing hosts of a flagship show can be a total disaster for an established and hugely popular TV show. Whilst the show will bring significant commercial perks for Channel 4 in the short term, they should remember that brands are as fickle as audiences. Without that magical mix, and big audience figures, Channel 4 are just left with trying to flog a generic show about people making puddings."

On Wednesday evening, episode four of the season aired - Brandwatch provided data outlining that there were 31,000 mentions of the show from when the Channel 4 news broke up until Thursday morning - 68 per cent of commenters reportedly found the move positive, it also found that the social media gender divide talking about the show was 62 per cent female, 38 per cent male.

Viewers will have to wait until the celebrity edition of Bake Off's take on Stand Up To Cancer to get a glimpse at what Channel 4 has planned for the show. If brands and marketers are still clambering to get onboard then the proof will be in the pudding.

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