Half of U.K. TVs Tuning Into British Baking Show as ABC Renews American Edition

The Great British Bake Off - Everett Collection - One -Time Use - H 2016
©PBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

'The Great British Bake Off' now ranks among the biggest shows in U.K. history as the season seven premiere outperformed the Rio Olympics.

American programmers who doubt the ratings prowess of reality shows need only look across the pond for hope. The Great British Bake Off, a modest hit when it premiered in 2010, now ranks among the biggest shows in U.K. history.

BBC One’s good-natured cooking competition (known, due to copyright issues, as The Great British Baking Show in the U.S.) returned for a seventh season Aug. 24 and drew a whopping 10.4 million live viewers for a 47.5 share. That means nearly half of British TVs on during the hour were tuned in — a bigger percentage than the Rio Olympics or Pop Idol in its heyday. Nothing, save the Super Bowl (a 73 share) and the NFL conference championship games match that level of saturation with U.S. audiences. The Oscars and NBC’s most watched night of Olympics coverage couldn’t even muster a 40 share.

GBBO's status is all the more impressive considering how far it's come. The first season's audience barely managed to crack 3 million.

That growth potential is particularly exciting for frustrated American TV executives. CBS showed no patience when it premiered (and promptly canceled) the first U.S. stab at adapting GBBO in 2013. But current U.S. rights holder ABC is more optimistic, recently renewing stateside spinoff The Great Holiday Baking Show. "We're really hoping that it follows that same pattern," says ABC reality chief Robert Mills. "Everyone thinks of the original as an overnight hit, but it grew slowly and surely. Now it's a ratings monster."

Holiday Baking Show, which makes use of GBBO personality Mary Berry and pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini as judges and counts couple Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez as co-hosts, aired in late 2015 and averaged roughly 5 million viewers — modest, by broadcast standards, but it held remarkably steady throughout its run.

"To be on the coattails of something that is really a true global phenomenon is so rare, so we'll be using that in the marketing," says Mills of the second season. "It pays to have patience. We saw that with Shark Tank, too. We didn't make too many tweaks from the original, and the audience found it and it became a big hit for us. That's what we think is going to happen here."

And ABC is not the only outlet getting in on the GBBO buzz. Netflix has streaming rights to the original's back catalog, and PBS currently has first-run rights in the U.S. A spokesperson for the public broadcaster noted that the latest season, the third it has aired, ranks as the most streamed PBS program of the summer. Thus far, it's also more than doubled the number of streams from the previous season.

As for the original, it shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. The current season is pacing ahead of the 2015 run, with the premiere already growing 30 percent with time-shifting.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.