Bake Off was a success, but could Channel 4 have been more ambitious?

The Great British Bake Off Hosts

Looking back, Bake Off’s relaunch has been hard to fault. Despite fans initially stamping their feet about the culling of Paul Hollywood’s co-conspirators, everything went off, pretty much, without a hitch.

The launch was admirable. Even with the initial, largely unprecedented backlash – it’s not like they got Roy Chubby Brown hosting, is it? – Channel 4 owned the show and sold it perfectly to a new crowd. Tweeting to its 910,000 followers, as opposed to BBC Two’s 303,000, gave the broadcaster an opportunity to tantalise and tease on Twitter. Engagement was high and everyone was clamouring, crawling, crying for the answer to the question: what’s the new format like?

Well, the new format was identical to the old format. And we knew that was going to be the case, right? Channel 4, the home of genre-defying, boundary-pushing documentaries, buying a baking show? That’s risk enough. And with 6.5 million average viewers at the series’ launch – at the time, Channel 4’s biggest overnight performance for five years – it was heralded as a success. As was the finale, raking in 7.7 million viewers after Prue Leith’s Twitter faux pas. It was champers all round, even given the fact that BBC’s figures hit 14.8 million at the show’s peak.

This euphoria was topped off with an extra slice of income – a cool £4m each from commercial sponsors Tate & Lyle and Dr. Oetker – that Bake Off just would not have seen on the BBC. This resulted in beautifully crafted, bespoke spots book-ending the programme’s breaks.

Bake Off was undoubtedly a bold move for Channel 4. Who would have thought they’d buy a family baking show from the Beeb and place it in a prime time slot? Had it bombed, jobs could’ve been lost. £75m squandered.

Beyond the initial decision, I think they’ve played it safe. So much of the original was kept alive. Paul constantly referencing previous series was a nice touch, as was the retention of the spin-off show, An Extra Slice. And even having Noel Fielding as a host, giving the show an edge of Channel 4 quirkiness, didn’t actually change much. He’s not to my taste, but neither are half the cakes – for every time he dressed up as a tiger or put the pressure on with a clock made of pasta, the warmth, the fuzzy comfort blanket of the format, the genuine likeability of the contestants pulled you back in, keeping you invested.

Bake Off’s broadcast supremacy is matched by an impressive digital performance, becoming All4’s biggest ever draw with 1.7 million views per episode achieved via the catch-up service. This digital audience would have been a perfect place to experiment. Where were the interactive elements? Something that impacted the show? What about live votes? Suggestions for next week’s bakes?

The BBC syndicates content brilliantly, to hundreds of countries and millions of viewers. What has Channel 4 done to ensure Bake Off remains a global institution, or even just a force more than a TV show? If you look at shows like the X Factor, they are bigger than a TV show, with live tours and merchandise keeping the brand active beyond broadcast. So, where do I book a course with Liam? Where do I see the blooper reels? Just imagine Bake Off: On Tour. That would be ambitious.

This series ended without really articulating a ‘what next?’ scenario for the viewer, other than ‘we’ll be back next year’. To maximise investment in this beloved programme, steps will likely be taken to spruce things up next time round. That will surely be the real relaunch – just in time for the BBC to line up a suitable competitor.

Channel 4 has definitely served us a show stopper this year. Can they spice it up to be bigger, better and bolder next time round? The proof will be in the pudding.

James Roles, sales and marketing director at Five by Five

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