Right now, across the Internet, tempers are rising as high as a baker’s dozen of baps. The focus of this ire is the Great British Bake Off’s move from its historical home on the BBC to a new slot on Channel 4.
Like a mistimed sponge made of questionable ingredients, the situation has left many outraged netizens with a bad taste in their mouth. However, formats switch channels all the time – why is this move in particular making viewers so upset? At Hook Research, we’ve been exploring channel brand in conjunction with passion programming like the Bake Off to try and better understand why moves like this can make audiences so angry.
What happened with the Bake Off?
For those of you who have been living under a rock cake, the Great British Bake Off is an award-winning baking competition that was, until recently, run on the BBC. Each week, a dwindling line-up of bakers takes part in different challenges in an attempt to avoid elimination. Until the move to Channel 4, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc provided their own brand of quirky humour as co-hosts, while the inimitable Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood served as judges, sharing their baking knowledge with the competitors. Last year’s final attracted more than 15 million viewers to the channel at its peak, making it the biggest show of the year – and stats have shown that it is also particularly attractive to an under-35 millennial audience. Bake Off is certainly a very lucrative format.
However, as of Monday, the BBC has now lost it contract to broadcast the Bake Off. After a year of negotiations, Love Productions – the producer of the show- turned down BBC’s offer of £15 million for the rights, instead awarding the show to Channel 4 (who allegedly paid at least £10 million more for the privilege). The response has been vitriolic online, resulting in hundreds of angry tweets and (of this writing) a 19,000-name strong petition to keep the show on the BBC.
Getting in between viewers and their Passion Programming
Shows regularly move between channels without uproar – Black Mirror’s move from Channel 4 to Netflix is one example, as is The Voice’s shift from BBC to ITV. However, these shows represent a lifestyle or attitude that viewers feel a tribal attachment to.
When viewers feel kindred with shows, moves and changes feel traumatic. Top Gear – for these viewers – symbolised a group of personality-packed grumpies who weren’t going to be constrained by political correctness gone mad. When Jeremy Clarkson was sacked there was anger not just because people liked the show and the way it presented driving, but because it symbolised a move in the BBC away from spikiness and anti-political correctness.
Bake Off is moving channel for different reasons and the blame is not being attached to the BBC. However, the move is expected to change the heart of the show (whether or not the talent stays – the show will be shorter due to ad breaks meaning less room for nuance and personality), and there is no doubt viewing figures will be affected. Bake Off, like Top Gear, is classic passion programming: passion programming builds a particularly strong connection with its viewers by leveraging hobbies and having a specific recognisable personality – it is also connected intrinsically with the channel (and channel brand) it is broadcast on.
Channel Brand: A “Quintessentially BBC” Programme
Like Top Gear before it, The Great British Bake Off is seen as having been nurtured in the BBC. Viewers have seen the format grow over the years, and – subsequently – it has become intertwined with the channel’s brand identity. Judging from the Twitter fallout, it doesn’t seem that viewers align the Bake Off’s values with that of its new home…
A channel brand runs through content like a watermark. Like the BBC brand itself, the Bake Off – in its current form – is more traditional and conservative than the genre-busting content appearing on Channel 4. Black Mirror’s move worked because its darker themes matched the edgier, quality-driven focus of Netflix; whereas viewers seem to think that the gentle crust of Bake Off will be broken in transit to its new home.
While the show’s purchase will definitely bring eyeballs to Channel 4 in 2017, will it be able to retain that audience as it gels with the C4 channel brand?