Last year's series of The Great British Bake Off provided ten of the top 30 most watched programmes of 2015. The final topped the list, with 15.05m. Cumulatively, the ten episodes totalled over 123m viewers. The current series is doing even better, with the first episode consolidating at nearly three million more than the 2015 opener.
The contract with indie Love Productions, who sold the first series to Janice Hadlow at BBC2 six years ago, without Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood yet on the horizon as presenters, also brings spin-offs - An Extra Slice, Masterclasses, Celebrity and Christmas specials. It seems to have been ticking over at £6.25m a year for some time, delivering a total of 33.5 hours of broadcasting - under £220k per hour. The first smell of something up came in The Sun in July, who said Love Productions now wanted £20m a year.
In play was a three-year deal. Auntie is believed to have doubled, to around £12.5m a year, or £37.5m over the contract. C4 is believed to have done a deal at £75m. ITV are said to have offered more, but Love Productions couldn't provide them with presenter guarantees.
The announcement comes in the week of the publication of the draft Royal Charter. Love Productions, 70 per cent owned by Sky, in turn 39% owned by Rupert Murdoch, says it wasn't all about the money - but it's hard to believe production costs have quadrupled in a year. There's an underlying argument from Love here about value - i.e. high-end drama like The Night Manager costs around £3m an episode (not all, remember, funded by Auntie), so surely £800k a show is not bad for a ratings-topper - and shouldn't the talent share in that success ?
Lord Hall, for it surely will have come to him for a decision, has gone for the hair-shirt, and let Jay Hunt take her chances with the creme patissiere. It's a big call.