The BBC faces the very real long term prospect of cultivating hits only to lose them to commercial rivals, says TVWise Editor Patrick Munn.
And so it happened. After extremely lengthy negotiations, and rumours that it might go this way, the BBC failed to reach a new deal with Love Productions and wound up losing the rights to The Great British Bake Off to Channel 4.
The Channel 4 deal was announced mere hours after Love informed the BBC that they would not be accepting the corporation’s latest offer – thought to be in the realm of £10-12 million per year, which was double the current rate. In a borderline defensive memo, Love Productions told staff that the negotiations were never about who could “write the biggest cheque”.
It would be easy to call bullshit on that claim. After all, Love wanted twice as much cash as the BBC offered, somewhere around the £24-27 million mark per year. Channel 4 was happy to agree to pay that huge amount in order to secure the hit show under a three-year deal (worth a total value of £75 million) which will see Love also produce a number of Bake Off related productions, including a Celebrity Edition, alongside the main series.
While it’s a hard pill to swallow, there may be some truth that Love was less interested in cash than who would provide the best home for Bake Off, as the indie rejected larger offers from both ITV and Netflix. But a flat denial that it’s not about money simply will not fly. Like it or not Love made the decision that they felt, given its popularity, the BBC was undervaluing the show, especially as it was financed under the lower cost factual tariff.
The problem here is, as several industry insiders have stated both publicly and in private conversations, the fact that the BBC took a swing with the format in the first place and helped cultivate it into the hit it became has been almost completely overlooked. There is a real sense of anger within the BBC. Not least because, even under HUGE political and financial constraints, executives doubled the offer to keep the show. But also as no other commissioners wanted the show when Charlotte Moore originally green-lit it.
Love, as an independent production company, does have something of a duty to secure the best deal possible for their IP. But walking away from the broadcaster who helped develop and grow this global brand, and rushing a deal with Channel 4 without any discussions or deals to bring along Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry does not feel like the ‘best deal’, especially if you’re going to make the slightly dubious claim that it wasn’t all about money.
Now depending on who you talk to, there is no clear picture on whether Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry will sign any time soon or even at all. There is some real hesitation amongst the core group, who made it clear to those close to the negotiations that it was their preference that the show stay at the BBC. If the quartet refuses to sign, will this look like a good deal? Or put another way, what is the value of the brand to UK audiences without them?
Channel 4’s decision to pick up the show, beyond the obvious ratings grab, is a little baffling. It hardy fits into the broadcasters remit to be innovative and distinctive and nurture new talent. Additionally, mere months ago, Channel 4’s Chief
Hypocrisy Creative Officer Jay Hunt, speaking about Netflix poaching Black Mirror, said: “We grew it from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally. Of course it’s disappointing that the first broadcast window in the UK is then sold to the highest bidder, ignoring the risk a publicly owned channel took backing it”. The hypocrisy is delicious, isn’t it?
Losing The Great British Bake Off is a big blow for the BBC. It is the direct result of the corporation having to defend itself from a sustained assault by certain national papers and the Tory government; squeezing the licence fee to such a point that they were unable to compete. It is also a result of the mandate that more and more BBC productions come from indies, meaning that the BBC has zero control over underlying format rights. The same was true with The Voice and given that these are not temporary conditions, the BBC faces the very real long term prospect of cultivating hits only to lose them to commercial rivals.