Great British Bake Off proves ratings winner for Channel 4

£75m buy immediately becomes channel’s most popular programme but audience of 6.5m is fall from its 10m BBC average

The Great British Bake Off attracted about 6.5 million viewers on Tuesday night, giving Channel 4 its biggest ratings success since the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games.

The show’s average of 6.5 million viewers in its 8pm slot gave it a 30.4% audience share. It peaked at 7.7 million and a 34.6% share. While the figure immediately makes it Channel 4’s most popular programme, it is significantly down on its BBC1 audience, which averaged more than 10 million.

The episode was the first to be shown on Channel 4 since it paid £75m to take the show away from the BBC, which aired the first seven series.

Judge Paul Hollywood is the only one of the original stars of Bake Off to have made the move to Channel 4, with fellow judge Mary Berry and presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins all leaving.

Hollywood is joined in the new series by judge Prue Leith and presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

It is vital for Channel 4 that Bake Off attracts a significant audience so it can recoup its costs.

Jay Hunt, the chief creative officer of Channel 4, said last week that it needed Bake Off to attract at least 3 million viewers an episode to break even and that she would be delighted if the programme attracted between 5 million and 7 million viewers.

After the release of the figures, Hunt said: “The Great British Bake Off’s audience last night proves it’s still one of the country’s favourite shows. I am delighted millions watched the new team put 12 magnificent bakes through their paces. It’s the largest share of young audiences we’ve had for a show for over a decade.”

Channel 4 averages about a million viewers for the Tuesday night slot, so Bake Off’s figures represent a major uplift. However, they are also down on the figures enjoyed by the BBC for the first episode of the last series, which generated a peak audience of 11.2 million and an average audience of 10.4 million.

Channel 4’s highest ever audience is 13.8 million, for the drama series A Woman of Substance in 1985, while Big Brother brought in almost 10 million viewers at the peak of its popularity at the start of the millennium.

TV critics have widely praised the new series of Bake Off in the run-up to the first episode airing. In the Guardian, Lucy Mangan said: “The whole thing was a glorious return to – or rather, retention of – form. Thank God. This is not the time for change. Kudos to Channel 4 for knowing what they had and not being afraid to stick with it. This is where I want to be when the bombs start falling.”

Bake Off moved from the BBC after Channel 4 paid £75m to the programme maker, Love Productions, to broadcast it for the next three years. Channel 4 has already raised funds by signing sponsorship deals with Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Dr Oetker worth an estimated £4m for Bake Off.

Tuesday night’s programme included more than 15 minutes of adverts and ran for 75 minutes in total, compared with one hour on the BBC. Channel 4 is understood to have demanded £150,000-£200,000 for a 30-second ad slot, compared with a typical peaktime price much closer to £100,000. Advertisers have been asked to commit to prices comparable to hotly demanded TV events – such as an England football match in a World Cup or the Euros, or a slot in an X Factor final when the show was in its prime – which can command as much as £250,000 apiece.

While the show’s audience went down, it did generate significant online discussion. An analysis of social media conducted by media monitoring agency Meltwater shows that mentions of Bake Off during the episode were up 299% compared with the first episode of last year’s series. Bake Off was mentioned 179,538 times, with most of these mentions on Twitter, with 45% of these positive and 36% negative. This compares with 46,079 mentions last year, 44% of which were positive and 29% negative.


Graham Ruddick Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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