U.K. Audiences Sweet on BBC's 'Great British Bake Off'

The competition show's fifth season semifinal hit an all-time ratings high‎ this week

A baking competition continues to be one of the big ratings hits for the BBC.

While such shows as sci-fi evergreen Doctor Who and Sherlock tend to draw most headlines abroad, The Great British Bake Off has spelled sweet success for the U.K. public broadcaster all this season, its first on flagship network BBC One, which it kicked off with its biggest season premiere audience ever.

When the BBC last year announced that the fifth season of Bake Off would move from BBC Two to BBC One, industry observers took note. Many were curious if the show would continue to draw a crowd or lose some momentum.

This week, the semifinal episode of Bake Off drew 8.8 million average viewers, for a 38.6 percent share of people watching TV at the time and a peak audience of 9.7 million, its biggest peak audience ever. The final is expected to draw more.

The show has led people to tweet about ovens they have bought inspired by Bake Off and about viewing marathons to catch up on missed episodes. "Ever get that feeling that you're the only one who hasn't been watching Great British Bake Off?" tweeted one person after the semifinal episode. "So many people talking about it!"

One TV industry insider explained the show's appeal with its focus on serving up "feel-good fun." The show also has been credited with boosting interest in baking in Britain.

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“We are extremely proud of this year’s remarkable success in the Great British Bake Off’s first season on BBC One," Richard McKerrow, creative director, Love Productions told The Hollywood Reporter. "Its current stellar ratings haven’t happened suddenly, instead it’s grown slowly and steadily over five years. It is a great show – a unique and authentic format, with brilliant hosts, a wonderful cast of passionate amateur bakers, fascinating content, refreshingly paced and stories that are magically compelling for a family audience. It also has an essential generosity and good-heartedness that makes it exceptional amongst competitive formats on television, and probably for that reason most of all the nation has fallen in love with the show.”

Bake Off has also been sold to international territories by BBC Worldwide.

In the U.S., a CBS version in 2013, The American Baking Competition, was short-lived amid weak ratings. It was hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. But it has continued to sell to other territories. A recent deal with Acunmedya in Turkey brought the total number of international sales of Bake Off to 15. The country's Channel 8 will air 35 hourlong episodes.

Said BBC One controller Charlotte Moore when she brought the show to her network: "I've championed The Great British Bake Off from the very start and believe the time is absolutely right to bring the show to an even broader audience on BBC One. I've watched the series grow over the last few years and earn a special place in the nation's hearts. It's inspiring and warm storytelling at its best, which celebrates the huge talent of enthusiastic and passionate bakers from all over the country."

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai