The much-anticipated Tuesday evening debut of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4, which had bought the rights to the baking competition after seven seasons on public broadcaster BBC, drew an average of 6.5 million viewers, according to overnight data.
Channel 4 said that meant an audience share of 30 percent, adding that it was its biggest overnight performance in five years and biggest peak time share for 16-34 year old viewers in 10 years.
The show had averaged 14 million viewers for its season seven finale on the BBC last year, cementing its status as Britain's most-watched show. Its season seven premiere had averaged 10.5 million viewers last year, up from 9.3 million for the season six launch in 2015 and 7.2 million for the 2014 season opener. The performance beat the 2013 season launch, which had averaged 5.6 million viewers.
With Channel 4 having a much smaller reach than the BBC, few expected the show to come close to its previous record ratings figures, or even double-digit millions.
Unlike the publicly funded BBC, Channel 4 is funded via advertising revenue, so the show's success is key for it. It has signed Bake Off sponsorship deals worth an estimated $5.2 million and extended the show to 75 minutes to fit in more than 15 minutes of commercial breaks.
Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival last week, Channel 4's outgoing creative chief Jay Hunt said the show “breaks even at around three million, so anything north of that would be fantastic,” adding that “if it gets fix, six, seven [million], I would be absolutely delighted.”
Channel 4 has a three-year deal for Bake Off. A modest hit when it premiered in 2010 on BBC Two, the good-natured competition show was later moved to flagship channel BBC One and now ranks among the biggest shows in U.K. history.
The show immediately lost judge Mary Berry and hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, but judge Paul Hollywood remained on the show under a deal reached with Channel 4. He is joined by hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, as well as judge Prue Leith.
Critics lauded Channel 4's first episode, saying it was largely sticking to a popular and winning formula.