The Great British Bake Off ratings verdict: should Channel 4 be pleased?

Did Bake Off really have a good night on Channel 4? And what can we expect to happen in the weeks to come?

bake off presenters judges shoot

The Great British Bake Off began a new era on Channel 4 on Tuesday night, with viewers switching sides to see what the broadcaster had done with the nation’s biggest show.

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It’s now the morning after, and channel bosses and TV commentators are poring over the viewing figures to find out whether C4’s Bake Off gamble has paid off.

Well, the results are in: 5.8 million people tuned in to watch the first episode, with a further 700,000 watching on +1.

Those are the headline numbers, but what exactly do they mean? Let’s break down the figures.

How many people watched The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4?

A total of 6.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the opening episode, featuring Paul Hollywood, new judge Prue Leith and new presenting duo Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

Is that good?

Well, it depends how you look at it. If you compare these numbers with last year’s Bake Off, it’s well down: 10.4 million watched the series launch on BBC1.

So, not great then?

Hang on, Channel 4 never expected to beat an audience on BBC1, and it’s kind of unfair to compare the new show with the Beeb’s main channel.

Instead, take a look at the audience figures when Bake Off was on BBC2, before it made the big switch to BBC1. In 2013 (the last time show was broadcast on BBC2), the first episode was watched by 5.6 million people.

Channel 4 beat that. That’s good.

Is Channel 4 pleased?

Very much so. Jay Hunt, the channel’s chief creative officer, said that she was “delighted” with the results.

“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 bakers through their paces. It’s the largest share of young audiences we’ve had for a show for over a decade.”

And before the series launched, Hunt said that the broadcaster would need more than three million viewers to ‘break even’.

However, while Hunt was conservative in her pre-show predictions, returning judge Paul Hollywood was a little more boisterous, telling Radio Times, “If we were in a slump, down to something like eight million, then we’d say we need to change something. But we don’t.”

Eight million? Clearly there’s no pleasing the baking silverback…

How does Bake Off’s audience compare with what Channel 4 gets normally?

On a regular Tuesday night at 8pm, Channel 4 has averaged just 1.4 million viewers this year. Bake Off pulled in four times that, and has already become the most popular show of the year for Channel 4.

Is Bake Off Channel 4’s biggest ever show?

Not yet. According to Channel 4, Bake Off is their biggest overnight audience in five years. The last Channel 4 show to be watched by more people was the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, which recorded 7.6 million viewers.

Bake Off also still has a way to go if it’s to match the heyday of Big Brother on Channel 4, which pulled in almost 10 million viewers in the early noughties.

Did people switch off during the adverts?

Judging from Twitter, many viewers actually found the mid-show breaks quite handy, if only to pop out to the kitchen for a bit and make a cup of tea.

It’s hard to tell how many people actually switched channel during the adverts, but given the show’s audience peaked between 8:45pm and 9pm, it’s safe to say the majority of those watching didn’t immediately turn off during the first break.

Will even more people watch next week?

Probably not, if previous Bake Off series are anything to go by. Audience figures tend to dip after the first episode, before picking back up again in the build-up to the series finale.

For Channel 4, however, next week will be crucial, as that will be the true test to see whether people are sold on the new line-up.

A significant number of viewers would have tuned in this week out of curiosity, to see how much has changed since the show left the BBC. It’s only when the numbers for episode two come out that we’ll see how many of those Bake Off fans are convinced.

Top Gear’s reboot under Chris Evans for example lost 1.5 million viewers in week two, and fell again in week three. Channel 4 will want to avoid a similar slide.

Bake Off will also face stiffer competition next week, with BBC1’s big returning drama Doctor Foster beginning at 9pm. How many people will keep watching Bake Off all the way to its 9.15pm finish when there’s a big draw on the other side?

Bake Off on Channel 4 has so far risen to the occasion. Let’s just see whether it can maintain its shape in the weeks to come.

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The Great British Bake Off continues next Tuesday at 8pm on Channel 4