Have you managed by some miracle to avoid the furore which surrounds the Bake Off, or The Great British Bake Off as it is properly entitled? News of its sale to Channel 4 has reached unprecedented levels of media coverage recently and an eye-watering £75m was paid for a three-year deal for the show. But what have they actually purchased? Two of the stars of the show and one of the judges have already said that, out of loyalty to the BBC, they will not be moving with the show and thus far only celebrity judge, Paul Hollywood is staying for the transfer. So what is left: a tent; several food processors? Rumour has it that even these are hired. So, what have Channel 4 really paid for?
Well, the root of the value is intellectual property. The format of the show, owned by the production company Love Productions, is the valuable asset. Who would have thought that watching strangers succeed or fail in various baking skills and battling for that ultimate title could become so popular. But like many television game shows, reality shows and sitcoms, a successful TV format can be protected, licensed and sold like many other creations.
TV formats are a rather odd mix of copyright, trademarks and reputation in the overall set-up or presentation. As a result many instances are seen where copycat formats are created, seeking to duplicate the success of an original format without paying for the privilege of using it. As with all intellectual property rights, the only way to stop these imitations, is to threaten and often take legal action.
Successful TV formats may often seem like simple and almost obvious ideas. But the simpler a format appears, the likelihood is that it is the end result of a very complex process. Many successful formats will have begun with an idea as clear as mud. The skill in producing the final format is not necessarily what is being aired, but how it is aired. This is where we can start to see that the Bake Off may be a simple idea on the surface but much effort has gone into devising exactly how it will work. The presenters may or may not move to Channel 4, but the show has been successful and there are likely to be many individuals waiting in the wings to get a slice, excuse the pun, of the action. There are also potential spin off shows and merchandise which Channel 4 will be able to exploit, which for advertising reasons the BBC has not been able, as well as well positioned advertising revenue.
So, if you have a great idea for a TV show, you may be sitting on an egg worth hatching (or adding to a cake), don’t give it away for someone else to reap the profits. The best way to protect an idea in its infancy is secrecy, but when communicating the idea is necessary makes sure you protect yourself and the concept with confidentiality agreements (also known as non-disclosure agreements, NDAs) and ensure proper legal advice is sought to negotiate any possible contracts.