'Cautious' Bake Off was out of character for Channel 4 brand

Channel 4's Great British Bake Off felt same-y and a little too cautious for a broadcaster that is willing to take risks, argues TMW Unlimited's head of planning.

A familiar family recipe was handed down from the grown-up parents to the more rebellious children last night. And sadly – or, maybe, thankfully – not much really changed.;

As it turned out Channel 4, one of our most cutting edge broadcasters, decided to change very little in the original format, content, style and approach of The Great British Bake Off. This was a disappointing approach albeit a predictable one given that the broadcaster paid a lot for ownership rights and now needs to recoup that rather quickly, in as safe a way as possible.

Under the BBC’s stewardship, Bake Off established itself in the nation’s hearts – becoming not only widely loved but deeply valued for its ability to soothe in these tumultuous times. It has become an antidote to the scary headlines we now encounter daily by being a warm and loving primetime cuddle.

But in spite of its new presenting line in the shape of Prue, Paul, Sandi and Noel, Channel 4’s Bake Off felt both very same-y and a little too cautious for staying firmly on the right side of the line. Despite the risks usually taken by its broadcaster typified by The State – the controversial Isis-themed drama which caused quite a stir when it aired ion the same channel just a week before.

And from what I could see, there was nothing that the broadcaster had done to give Bake Off its own spin ... other than to build in an ad break every 12 or so minutes. So it very much felt like an hour in which the BBC had taken over Channel 4.  

Which is the line that Channel 4 must constantly tread, of course. Crowd-pleasers such as Bake Off unlock invaluable new inventory (numerous idents in last night’s first Bake Off episode, and plenty of baking and food related ads) for a whole heap of new and excited brand owners. But these crowd-pleasers play an important role in both bankrolling and enabling the broadcaster to keep driving the cultural agenda with other more divisive and eye-opening content that gets people thinking.

Yes, there’s definitely room on Channel 4 for both types of output. But we should recognise each for what it is and what it does. While one creates the audience and fills the war chest the other uses that surplus to challenge us to think differently through edgy content. Given that we we will always have the BBC to turn to for warm cuddles on a Tuesday evening, let’s hope that Channel 4 stays true to its founding principles and continues to get that balance right.

Adam Knight is head of planning at TMW Unlimited

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