What does it mean for the rest of the country as major broadcasters move their headquarters from London?
For many years London has been the beating heart of the UK’s creative sector - headquarters to the nation’s broadcasters and production companies. But there has been a shift in recent times, one that has been expedited over the last couple of years with moves by BBC and Channel 4 out of the city to regional hubs. What is spurring this decentralisation of the media industry and what does it mean for the rest of the country as major broadcasters move from London?
The opportunity to decentralise has arisen due to the huge appetite for homegrown storytelling in the UK. Where we were once interested in tales from across the pond, we are now seeking to tell, consume and increasingly export our own stories. This is demonstrated by the interest shown by global powerhouses like Netflix and Amazon, who last year doubled their spend on British-made TV shows to £280m. In September 2019, Netflix announced that the UK will have the second biggest budget after the US, spending $500m (£400m) making more than 50 television shows and films in the UK this year.
Netflix announced that the UK will have the second biggest budget for TV show production.
One of the pillars underpinning the move away from London is of course the regulator. Ofcom imposes quotas on the public service broadcasters (PSBs) to ensure that a suitable proportion of their network programmes are made outside of the M25. The PSBs are seeing this as a great opportunity to work together, evidenced by investments made in talent programmes in the nations and regions. PSBs have been directed by Ofcom to diversify their productions, centres and crew, but who are the people that will be working at these new regional headquarters? Are they London based employees contracted to spend a day or two in the regions, or can we expect a boost in regional employment? The quotas are intended to be a positive move by Ofcom but the success is dependent on how the guidance is implemented; whether the new rules will be applied as they were intended or if it will become a grey area.
As we know, there is not just one type of Britshness (despite the frequent perception overseas that every Brit sounds like Hugh Grant!). The advantage of having regional hubs is that the characters and stories being told are relatable and authentic. One of the key messages at the Edinburgh TV Festival was that the success of any story is its ability to engage with the local audience and be a true representation of the people and life that the show portrays. For example, a show based on the hustle and bustle of Brixton set in Bath would not resonate with local audiences.
The success of any story is its ability to engage with the local audience and be a true representation of the life it portrays.
In July 2019, Channel 4 Chief Alex Mahon said that she expected its relocation would mean the loss of as many as 270 employees, who were expected to quit rather than relocate. In a similar theme the BBC found that nearly 60 per cent of managers refused to move from London, while just 31 out of 144 agreed to relocate to operations in Birmingham.
Broadband TV News reported that in the last year over 2,500 cast, crew and extras have worked on almost 40 Netflix originals and productions across Britain - including Sex Education in Wales, Outlaw King in Scotland, and The Crown at Elstree Studios and other locations across the country. Sky Studios launched a UK innovation hub in Leeds, which will focus on talent development, scripted partnerships and new content experiences, creating new original drama, comedy and scripted ideas for Sky and its customers.
To achieve authentic storytelling from the broadcasters, diversity is required in front of and behind the camera - another area the industry needs to work on, but let's save that story for another day. The move towards regional hubs goes some way to widening the narrative of British storytelling and achieving this diverse talent pool. The investment that comes with producing content in the UK should have a wider reach than London; Leeds expects a boost of £1bn over coming years as it attracts talent and business to the city’s burgeoning media hub. It is an exciting time in the media sector and, if applied as Ofcom hopes, the impact that this exodus has on the UK as an investment hub for content and production can only improve.
Our national media specialists understand the real challenges facing public service broadcasters and production companies in this respect. With capability in regional hubs such as Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh we understand the intricacies of the media sector in the UK. If you are feeling the impact of the exodus and would like to discuss this further please contact Mandy Girder.