“I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”

bakeoffNearly 15m viewers for the Great British Bake Off Final on the BBC.  More than a quarter of everyone in the UK tuned in to Nadiya’s heartfelt speech (all audience figures used in blog are Source: AdvantEdge (BARB) – Individual Max TVRs).

I personally have my doubts about marshmallow fondant with lemon drizzle but none at all about the gorgeous winner Nadiya – to quote Arif, late of these pages: “Four foot, eleven inches, but a true giant to me”.

There’s been much discussion about the content of the show in the media which focusses on diversity and political correctness.  Let’s instead consider that this show proves that audiences are still available in huge numbers on British television for entertainment peaks in the way that they used to be back in the old days.  We’ve learnt to use TV in media planning in a much more fragmented way over the last half decade.  Can we imagine an era where you could once again regularly count on reaching a quarter of the UK in one show on one night?

The capacity to bring huge audiences in at one go remains the remit of one channel commercially.  It is an unshakeable truth still that ITV draws the biggest audiences.  When Channel 4 originally launched there was a brief period when the airtime was sold by ITV sales houses regionally.  For one night, and I think one night only, some C4 shows were aired on ITV in a mass sampling exercise.  The shows, which included C4’s soap Brookside and an original movie Ptang Yang Kipperbang, drew far bigger audiences when shown on ITV (and this was at a time when the TV only had 4 channels.)  Despite mobile and tablet viewing habits the tune in behaviour of the British viewer on the main screen is in some respects unchanged.  There are all kinds of shows that if shown on ITV would drive bigger audiences still.

Sporting events remain big draws for live audiences at scale (England versus Wales at Rugby delivered 13m viewers) but the last time that ITV achieved 15m viewers for entertainment was years ago.

The big audience is not purely about the quality of the content.  I sat through the Bake off Final and trust me if you missed it you really didn’t miss that much – it’s not Shakespeare, it’s not even George Lucas.

The marketing of programme brands by the BBC and the reputation of the BBC master brand is a huge ingredient (pun intended) in the brilliant audience figures achieved.  The approach is long term, exploits ruthlessly paid, owned, earned, acknowledges the massive role that the audience plays in the brand’s success, is very friendly, and is famously nurturing of new ideas and talent.

Whilst it is the obvious point to make that the BBC funding means that they can afford all of these characteristics it is wrong to dismiss the strategies of ITV’s main competition for that reason alone.  The BBC has constraints that the commercial channel does not in terms of what it can spend on marketing – it would be open to heavy criticism if it was judged publically to be profligate with license fee money.

What can ITV do to borrow from brilliant tactics used by the BBC?

Commercial TV’s usefulness is step-changing for advertisers in new ways with tech advances finally reaching the mainstream.  Jamie West (Sky Media’s deputy md) wrote this month in Campaign about the evolution of targeting on TV using Sky AdSmart which serves different ads to different households watching the same TV show.  This has potential to reduce wastage for a client with a portfolio of brands and improve effectiveness.

What advertisers would also like is the potential to reach lots of people at the same time in one spot reliably too.  Come on ITV1, don’t put boundaries on yourself, don’t say maybe, if Bake Off can do it so can you.


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