“The Great British Bake Off” put in a strong opening performance in its new home, U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, despite a notable drop in viewing figures from the launch of its final BBC season last year. Overnight figures show that the inaugural episode of the new-look season, which aired at 8 p.m. Tuesday, drew an average of 6.5 million viewers, a 30.4% audience share in its time slot. Peak viewing reached 7.7 million with a 34.6% share.
While nearly 4 million fewer viewers tuned in, on average, compared to last year’s opening episode on the BBC (10.4 million), the result gave underdog Channel 4 its biggest overnight figures since the opening ceremony of the London Paralympic Games in August 2012 and was 3 million higher than its previous biggest draw of 2017, the documentary “Diana: In Her Own Words,” which drew an average of 3.5 million and a peak of 4.1 million viewers.
“‘The Great British Bake Off’s’ audience last night proves it’s still one of the country’s favorite shows,” said Channel 4’s outgoing chief creative officer Jay Hunt, who spearheaded the move to poach the show from the BBC last year. “I am delighted millions watched the new team put 12 magnificent bakers through their paces. It’s the largest share of young audiences we’ve had for a show for over a decade.”
“Bake Off” was the most popular program in its time slot for all viewers as well as Channel 4’s key demographic of 16-34-year-olds. The launch outperformed the debut episodes of “The Great British Bake Off’s” first four seasons, which were broadcast on BBC Two. The BBC moved the show to flagship channel BBC One in 2014 with Season 5, and saw viewing figures for the opening episode jump from 5.6 million from the previous to 7.2 million. Season 6’s debut episode delivered 9.3 million viewers for BBC One. The climactic final episode of last year’s run, in October, scored an average 13.6 million viewers and peak of 14.8 million.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival last week, Hunt, who is exiting her role at Channel 4 at the end of September, tried to downplay expectations that Channel 4’s viewing figures could match those seen for the final season on BBC One. “This show breaks even at around 3 million, so anything north of that would be fantastic,” said Hunt, adding that if it reached between 5-7 million viewers she would be “absolutely delighted.”
Channel 4 poached “The Great British Bake Off,” which is produced by Love Productions, in September 2016 in a three-year deal worth £75 million ($97 million). Later in the month, popular presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins and judge Mary Berry announced they would not make the move to Channel 4, leaving judge Paul Hollywood as the sole carryover.
In March this year, Channel 4 confirmed that Prue Leith would replace Berry as the second judge, and announced Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding as the show’s new presenters. Early reviews last week of the new team and the new show were largely positive.
Moving to commercial broadcaster Channel 4 from the advertising-free BBC has meant extending “The Great British Bake Off’s” time-slot to an hour and 15 minutes to incorporate 15 to 17 minutes of advertising while retaining the show’s previous length. Channel 4 also signed two sponsorship deals for the show worth an estimated £4 million ($5.2 million).