Channel 4 bosses have defended the big-money purchase of The Great British Bake Off , arguing "many people" think the 2017 version of the show is better than the BBC original.
Ahead of the Bake Off semi-final on Tuesday night, Channel 4's outgoing chief executive David Abraham and chairman Charles Gurassa were grilled by MPs from the House of Commons digital and culture committee about the show's revamp.
"With the audience feedback and the reaction in the media, many people prefer the show in its new guise than the version that was on the BBC," Abraham said.
"This was not a snatch from the BBC, this was a consequence of market forces at play."
Last year, Channel 4 bought Love Productions' Bake Off for a reported £25 million a year for three years after the show's producers couldn't agree on a new deal with the BBC.
TV critics and the show's devoted fans have delivered mixed reviews for the Channel 4 version of Bake Off, which has seen new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig join judge Paul Hollywood in the tent, as well as new judge Prue Leith.
According to Channel 4's management, Bake Off needed to get 3 million viewers per episode to break even. The show recently peaked with 7.4 million viewers. The figure is still below the 10 million Bake Off averaged on BBC1.
Gurassa said the show could have fallen into the hands of commercial rivals like Sky, ITV, or Netflix if the public broadcaster hadn't stepped up to the plate.
"We knew that if we were unsuccessful we would have seen millions of pounds of advertising, because this is the biggest show on UK television, potentially going to a competitor," said Gurassa.
"We were competing with the ITVs and the Skys and the Netflix who all would have paid considerable money for the show."
Abraham had earlier revealed the network's finances had suffered a serious hit after the EU referendum last year — a cyclical phenomenon he dubbed a "TV recession" — with Channel 4's advertising revenue down £40 million to £50 million.
But he said shows like Bake Off were effectively paying for Channel 4 News.
"There are parts of our schedule that operate commercially to create profits that then are put into parts of the schedule that deliver the public value," Abraham said. "So you know, Bake Off effectively helps to pay for Channel 4 News in effect."
Several MPs on the committee also grilled the executives for a high-profile error made earlier this year, when Channel 4 News incorrectly identified the terrorist who had launched a deadly attack on Westminster.
Abraham blamed human error and said it was "a very unfortunate incident" that occurred "under immense pressure".
In further comments, Abraham suggested the public broadcaster should not be focused on being an online news-breaking organisation.
“What we are actually doing is we are repurposing interesting video-based reporting and interviews and stories,” Abraham said of its large online platforms.
“The brief ... of that service is not to break news.”
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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