Three years after Love Productions marched Bake Off from BBC One to Channel 4, history is repeating itself with Avalon’s Taskmaster, which is unlikely to return to UKTV’s Dave and will likely land on Channel 4 or the BBC, all of which begs the question: is this the new normal for prize formats? Manori Ravindran investigates.
As revealed by TBI last week, Avalon is pulling Taskmaster from UKTV’s Dave five years after it debuted on the channel and grew to become its biggest hit.
The producer holds a five-year licence running from 2015 to 2019 with UKTV for the Alex Horne and Greg Davies-hosted programme and is now shopping the format after failing to agree upon commercial terms with UKTV.
TBI understands that co-creator Horne and the Avalon team were at Channel 4 for talks as recently as Wednesday, and it has been suggested by trade outlet Broadcast that discussions are also ongoing with BBC One, where it is believed controller Charlotte Moore is a “big fan” of Avalon and is keen to snap up the programme, whose eighth season drew an average audience of 1.8m viewers to Dave.
Adding fuel to the fire and upsetting countless fans was this week’s season nine finale. While the new season’s line-up is generally revealed at the end of the final, Wednesday night’s closer was mum about season 10. The format has also been conspicuously absent from Dave’s original comedy showreel in recent weeks.
While this level of channel-hopping is more prevalent Stateside, it is a relatively new trend in the UK, where such high-profile “transfers” are not as commonplace.
The only way other channels will be able to guarantee they keep their hit shows will be to pay out a lot of money. They can’t bully the super indies who supply so much of their programming. Avalon produce other important shows for Dave – they just can’t blacklist them. It would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.
“It is still a very, very rare occurrence for productions to move channels,” one indie boss tells TBI. “What’s surprising about this case and begs the question as to whether the doors will open to more of it happening is the fact that you do save on marketing. If it’s a brand with enough of a loyal following, you go straight into reasonably good territory.”
Similarly, Nick Smith, EVP of formats for All3Media, tells TBI: “With the rise in the number of buyers for UK content and the increased competition for eyeballs, a hit show is worth more than ever, so we’ll see more ‘transfers’ in the future.
Smith predicts that SVOD platforms may become more aggressive in this regard in the future. There is, after all, hunger for such formats – just look at Amazon’s French adaptation of Love Island.
“They need programming that will drive people to subscribe to their service, so if they have the opportunity to acquire shows that have a large and passionate fanbase, why wouldn’t they? We’ve already had a taste of this with the signing of Black Mirror to Netflix and Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and co. to Amazon.”
In the case of Taskmaster, one source adds that the “burning question” behind the show changing channels becomes “what is the return on investment and the value for money? If either Channel 4 or the BBC pay more than Dave to get it, is it worth it?”
Indeed, when Bake Off switched to Channel 4, the cast changed almost entirely. In the case of Taskmaster, the dynamics are more nuanced as Horne, who created the format, has more skin in the game and Davies has also become an essential part of the show. So, how will the show change and grow?
If Channel 4 takes the programme and schedules it on Friday nights or mid-week, could it draw 3m? Could a BBC One Friday night slot – or even an ambitious Saturday night, post-Strictly slot – do the same?
Perhaps what’s most illuminating in the case of Taskmaster is that it’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way for channels such as Dave to protect their hit programmes going forward is to pay big money upfront, or have direct access to IP themselves à la ITV and its Studios business.
One senior source tells TBI: “ITV are in a strong position given the amount of production companies they own, which means I’m a Celebrity… and Love Island are going nowhere and, as the biggest commercial channel, there’s no better home for Got Talent. It’s hard to imagine ITV losing a show that they want to keep hold of.
“The only way other channels will be able to guarantee they keep their hit shows will be to pay out a lot of money. They can’t bully the super indies who supply so much of their programming. Avalon produce other important shows for Dave – they just can’t blacklist them. It would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.”