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Bake Off shows how TV’s indies have learned the art of the deal

The (former) Great British Bake Off team: Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc. Photograph: Love Productions/BBC

London (Telephost) - Television programmes have been switching channels for years – from Men Behaving Badly to Big Brother, University Challenge to The Voice. Yet none have met with quite such an outcry as the poaching of The Great British Bake Off from the BBC.

After all, it’s not every day that the UK’s favourite TV show switches channels. GBBO’s maker, Love Productions, has been pilloried in parts of the press, especially since it did the Channel 4 deal without securing the show’s current presenters, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, or judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

The company turned down an offer of £15m a year from the corporation – and higher bids from ITV and Netflix – to take the hit baking show to Channel 4 for around £25m a year.

However, beyond the brouhaha about whether Love Productions was right to take a hit that had been nurtured by the BBC to a rival, does the headline-grabbing move also signal a shift in the balance of power between broadcasters and producers?

New terms of trade introduced more than a decade ago, which allowed producers to hold on to more of the intellectual property rights to their programmes and gain a greater share of revenues from overseas sales and merchandising, helped tilt the balance away from broadcasters. This has also been a factor in the UK production sector’s growth, with revenues up from £2.2bn annually seven years ago to £3bn.

The other key change in the sector has been consolidation of ownership, with many of the more successful UK independent producers bought by bigger companies or merging to create so-called “super-indies” – providing access to international distribution networks, more investment to develop ideas, and, in theory, more muscle in dealings with broadcasters.

Love Productions, founded by husband and wife Richard McKerrow and Anna Beattie in 2004, is now 70% owned by Sky.

Media analyst Claire Enders explains: “The overall long progression over the last 25 years, through a number of phases, into a flourishing production sector has created extraordinarily viable businesses that can actually get an extraordinary change of deal for a programme; an extra £10m a year is an awful lot more.

“The power has moved to the super-indies and they are in a position to call the shots and extract deals that would be unimaginable five years ago, let alone 10. That’s also because the BBC’s commissioning structure was fundamentally changed, and is continuing to change, in favour of independents.”

Enders thinks Love “made a completely commercial decision, which was totally the right decision”, as did the BBC in not topping C4’s offer, as its enemies would have had “a field day”.

The BBC wants to be more than just an incubator of shows for other broadcasters and plans to create more of its own intellectual property. It has set up a new, soon-to-be-commercial production arm, BBC Studios, which was created in large part to stem the brain drain of producers to the independent sector.

However, in exchange for allowing BBC Studios to make shows for rival broadcasters, the government says even more of the corporation’s shows now have to be put out to tender. On Wednesday, around 300 independent producers will meet at the BBC in London to find out how many more of the corporation’s commissions they will be able to bid for.
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