Channel 4’s swoop for ‘Great British Bake Off’ leaves sour taste

Broadcaster complained when it lost ‘Black Mirror’ but happily poached the BBC’s cake

Presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins have won hearts by saying they are “not going with the dough”.  Photograph: PA

Presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins have won hearts by saying they are “not going with the dough”. Photograph: PA

 

One is a darkly satirical brand of drama typically set in a cruel and often dystopian near-future. The other is a show about baking cakes in a bunting-adorned tent. But as industry case studies, Black Mirror and the Great British Bake Off have much in common.

Cold hard cash has snatched both away from the broadcaster that originally commissioned and “nurtured” them from their respective makers, Endemol Shine (50 per cent owned by 21st Century Fox) and Love Productions (majority owned by Sky).

When it emerged that Netflix would have first-run UK rights to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, which it is now funding, Channel 4’s chief creative officer Jay Hunt lamented that it was the one that had grown Black Mirror “from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally”. For it to be “sold to the highest bidder” was disappointing, she said, as it ignored the risk that publicly owned (for now) Channel 4 took in originally backing it. “Black Mirror couldn’t be a more Channel 4 show.”

This week, it was Hunt’s turn to act the poacher. The Great British Bake Off, the most-watched television programme in the UK in 2015, couldn’t be more of a BBC show, and yet Love Productions decided to sign a deal with Channel 4 that will inevitably halve its audience while delivering a sweet pay day. Its deal is reported to be worth £25 million (€29 million) a year for three years. That’s a lot of money that Channel 4 could have spent backing more original programmes - the next Black Mirror, perhaps - instead of coveting the BBC’s crumbs.

While presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins have won hearts by saying they are “not going with the dough”, there is little love for Love Productions for cashing in. At least when Endemol Shine took Black Mirror to Netflix, it could cite the rationale of longer episode orders and bigger production budgets. It is not clear how Channel 4 can improve upon Bake Off, assuming it ever reaches the air.

The whole affair both leaves a sour taste in the mouth of viewers and invalidates any future complaints Channel 4 has about losing its programmes to richer competitors.

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