Great British Bake Off moves to Channel 4 as BBC negotiations collapse over fee

Production company tells corporation it will take its hit show elsewhere after it the BBC called its financial demands unaffordable

The Great British Bake Off will switch to Channel 4 following its current series after rights negotiations between the BBC and the show’s production company collapsed amid a disagreement over price.

The BBC indicated that financial demands made by Love Productions made the programme “unaffordable”, leaving Channel 4 to take on the most popular programme on British television in a three-series deal.

Jay Hunt, Channel 4’s chief creative officer, said the broadcaster was thrilled to have secured the show. She said: “I’m delighted we have been able to partner with the hugely talented team at Love Productions to keep this much-loved show on free-to-air television.”

The channel switch risks Bake Off losing its popular judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, as well as its co-hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc. None of its stars was consulted during the negotiations.

Both Hollywood and Berry have been vocal about their loyalty to Bake Off remaining on the BBC, but it is understood that Love Productions is keen to retain all the presenters at the show’s new home.

In an internal email to staff, the production company said it was “really saddened by this outcome because we always wanted to stay on the BBC ... this has never been about who might write the biggest cheque but about where we can find the best home for Bake Off”.

It added: “Unfortunately, we were unable to agree either a fair valuation, nor were the BBC able to provide the necessary comfort for the future protection of such a distinctive and much-loved television series.”

It is understood that the BBC offered about £15m to keep Bake Off and that the deal included paying for spinoff shows such as Extra Slice, but Love Productions, believed its value was above £20m. Sources say that, including sponsorship deals, the transfer to Channel 4 could be worth around £25m. Insiders at Love Productions say it rejected a higher offer from another unnamed broadcaster.

Love Productions is also 70% owned by the pay-TV company Sky, though insiders said it was keen to stay with a free-to-air broadcaster.

The launch episode of series seven drew in a record audience of 10 million viewers, the largest yet for the BBC show. Nearly half the total viewing audience tuned in to watch the new batch of 12 contestants try their hand at making jaffa cakes.

Negotiations between the BBC and Love Productions broke down on Monday after the two sides realised that there was “considerable distance” between them. The BBC is understood to have offered to double its previous terms but baulked when Love demanded an estimated £25m a year, four times the current deal.

Losing Bake Off is a huge blow to the broadcaster, which it has described as a “quintessential” BBC programme and that it takes credit for launching.

The BBC – which in the past has paid millions to presenters such as Chris Evans and Graham Norton – said it was not prepared to raise its offer. “We made a very strong offer to keep the show, but we are a considerable distance apart on the money,” said one corporation executive. “The BBC’s resources are not infinite.”

Up until a few months ago the BBC was optimistic that a deal could be struck to keep the Great British Bake Off on BBC1. However, things began to look less rosy a few weeks ago and it is understood that one of the other sticking points had been about the future of the brand and how it might develop.

Love Productions was also said to be concerned by the limited platform offered by the BBC for content related to the show, following recent changes to BBC online recipes.

It is not the first time Channel 4 has poached top-table talent from the BBC. After the BBC brought Jamie Oliver into the spotlight with The Naked Chef, he was signed by Channel 4, and in 2010 his old friend Jimmy Doherty followed in his footsteps and transferred to from the corporation to its commercial rival.

As a publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC is limited in how commercial its programmes and presenters can be. Indeed, it is not the first time the corporation has found itself in a sticky situation over the commercial fallout of a culinary hit.

Two years ago, the chef Michel Roux Jr stepped down from Masterchef after he could not agree a deal with the BBC about his outside interests, which included being an ambassador for potato firm Albert Bartlett. He said he was put through a “frustrating process” by the corporation and wondered if it understood “the realities of today’s commercial world”.

According to one insider, another sticking point in the negotiations was over the number of spinoff shows that have grown from the Bake Off brand and their future. As well as Junior Bake Off, a professionals version began this year on BBC2 called Bake Off: Crème de la Crème, which some critics dubbed “bland”.

The BBC’s pockets are also no longer as deep as they used to be thanks to a new licence fee settlement that includes it having to bear the cost of free television licences for the over-75s and is forcing the corporation to make cutbacks across the board, including recently making its youth channel, BBC3, online only.

Richard McKerrow, Love Productions creative director, said it had found “the perfect new home for Bake Off”.

“It’s a public service, free-to-air broadcaster for whom Love Productions have produced high-quality and highly successful programmes for more than a decade,” he added.

The first Bake Off programming planned to broadcast on Channel 4 will be a celebrity version of the show in 2017, in aid of Stand Up to Cancer.

Although Love Productions was keen to stress that talks did not break down simply over money, BBC sources close to the negotiations said the production company had asked for an “eyewatering amount”.

However, it appears the relationship between the BBC and Love also broke down over differences of opinion over management style and future direction of the show.

The BBC was felt to be constrained by its licence fee settlement whereas Channel 4 is said to have been happy to dip into its reserves to pay for the most watched show of 2015. “C4 has bet the house on this even though that house may be moving,” said one BBC source, referring to C4’s mooted move north.

The relationship between C4 and Love is a long one. McKerrow started his career as a commissioning editor on Channel 4 working on food shows such as Gordon Ramsay’s Boiling Point and Nigel Slater’s Real Food Show. Channel 4’s support during the Benefits Street controversy is understood to have helped convince the company to switch channels.

Sky, which bought 70% of Love in 2014, is understood not to have bid for the show, largely because the Bake Off creators were determined to keep it on free-to-air television.

In an interview with the Guardian two years ago, McKerrow expressed reservations about the BBC’s decision to move the show from BBC2 to its flagship channel. “We love making programmes for BBC2, [controller] Janice Hadlow is absolutely brilliant,” he said. “Commercially, it’s nice to do it for a channel where you have only got to get 2 million viewers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so my first instinct was – why do we have to move to 1?

However, a spokesman for Love said the company would not get involved with any tit-for-tat arguments. The company still makes the Great British Sewing Bee and the Great Pottery showdown for the BBC.

• This article was amended on 13 September 2016. An earlier version said BBC Good Food recipes had been removed from the BBC website. To clarify, they have been moved to the BBC Good Food website. This has been corrected.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Tara Conlan and Jane Martinson

The GuardianTramp

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