Channel 4’s outgoing chief creative officer Jay Hunt today said she would be “delighted” if the new Great British Bake Off series exceeds 3 million viewers – despite it bowing out with a peak of 14.8 million on the BBC.
Bake Off’s new run will get underway on Channel 4 next Tuesday after the broadcaster paid £75m to snare the format from its public service counterpart.
But despite the eye-watering outlay, Channel 4’s ratings expectations are considerably more modest than the 14 million viewers who made it the most popular programme in the UK when it was broadcast by BBC 1.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival today (23 August), Hunt said: “If it gets 5, 6, 7 million I will be delighted.
“We’ve been very clear: this show is break even for Channel 4 at around 3 million, so anything north of that would be fantastic.”
Lord Grade, the former Channel 4 chief executive, last month criticised the broadcaster for the £25m-a-year deal, saying it undermined the station’s supposed creative principles.
“They rather gave the game away when they got the cheque book out and bought Bake Off,” he said. “Where was the check and balance to stop them doing that?”
Responding to the criticism, Hunt said big ticket formats like Bake Off – with its lucrative advertising and product placement appeal – give Channel 4 the ability to fulfil its public service remit by bringing in the revenue for more challenging commissions.
“[Grade's] interventions I do find slightly comedic because in the end Bake Off is the epitome of the cross-subsidy model on Channel 4,” she said, before highlighting provocative Isis drama The State as an example of the kind of programmes it can make with the funding from a more populist output.
She went on: “They are not big ratings plays and something needs to pay for big drama plays like that and Bake Off is part of that cross-subsidy strategy.
“Michael Grade understands that only too well. In the old days American shows did exactly the same job: they got money through the door to pay for the public service delivery. I make no apology for us operating a cross-subsidy model – that’s how Channel 4 works.”
Hunt also dismissed derision that Channel 4 had only acquired "a tent and a title" after presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins and judge Mary Berry opted to stay with the BBC.
"What we were buying was a very strong show," she said. "At that point it was clear we were going to need to reinvent it."
Part of that reinvention includes the introduction of new presenter Noel Fielding, a somewhat leftfield choice which Hunt claimed as her idea.
It's a move characteristic of a management style at Channel 4 that Hunt described as "no guts, no glory", and one of her last major decisions. She will leave the broadcaster at the end of September after almost seven years leading its creative strategy and programme commissioning.
Her departure was revealed just days before Channel 4 announced that Alex Mahon would succeed David Abraham as its chief executive, a role Hunt had been favourite to land.
Hunt pointed to Abraham’s departure as the catalyst for her own, saying: “We’ve worked incredibly closely together, and I’ve loved working with him, and the moment he decided to go as far as I was concerned there were only two options: I was either going to go for his job or I was going to resign.
“I’ve always been absolutely clear that that was a very powerful relationship creatively for me and I didn’t have any interest in forming a new relationship with a new chief executive.”
Hunt was coy about her next job and laughed off – but did not deny – a rumour raised by a member of the audience that she would be joining Netflix. “Am I? How much does it pay?,” she joked.