Channeling growth: Exploring the impact of a potential Channel 4 move
Both Liverpool and Manchester are among the UK cities hoping to provide a new home for Channel 4. As speculation over the broadcaster’s future location continues, Move Commercial explores the impact the media heavyweight could have on the region.
Words by Natasha Young
An “exciting opportunity” was revealed in March when culture secretary Karen Bradley addressed media industry representatives at Salford’s Nations and Regions Media Conference.
Declaring she is “unsympathetic towards those who recoil in horror at the very idea of media jobs being based outside the capital,” she invited potential new homes for Channel 4 around the UK to express their interest as the government considers relocating the publicly owned broadcaster outside of London.
Although reportedly met by opposition from Channel 4 itself amid fears it would lose its competitive advantage, the relocation is suggested by the government to be necessary for the broadcaster to “evolve to serve the country and add public value in new and different ways”. It would also fit in with the government’s commitment to spreading jobs across the country.
Liverpool and Manchester are among the cities to have since thrown their hats into the ring, as both North West destinations believe the channel would provide a welcome boost to their growing media, digital and creative sectors whilst they, in turn, have a lot to offer.
In Greater Manchester developer Peel has this year been marking a decade since it kick-started construction on its MediaCityUK hub, which has since become home to fellow media heavyweights the BBC and ITV alongside a host of other industry companies.
“It is precisely because the BBC and ITV have strong presence in our city region that we are such an attractive proposition for others.”
Whilst ITV swapped the former Granada Studios in Manchester for MediaCityUK’s Orange Tower and created a new production centre for long-running soap ‘Coronation Street’, the BBC took the more dramatic step of shifting departments from the capital.
With speculation over Channel 4’s future location ongoing, recent months have seen debate over how beneficial the BBC’s partial move has been for Greater Manchester after independent think tank Centre for Cities suggested the impact had been limited since the arrival of BBC North in 2011.
Around 2,700 staff across 26 BBC departments, including BBC Children’s and BBC Breakfast, set up home at MediaCityUK but according to Centre for Cities’ key findings any resulting job creation figures “should be handled carefully”.
The think tank concluded that the BBC move had certainly brought several thousands of media jobs to MediaCityUK – an area where the industry “had little presence” prior to its arrival.
“However, much of the growth in media was down to displacement, particularly from elsewhere in Greater Manchester,” the findings add. “Around 1,200 of the new jobs at MediaCityUK were in businesses which moved to Salford from other parts of the city region before 2011. Outside of MediaCityUK, the number of jobs in media in Greater Manchester declined between 2011 and 2016.”
Another of Centre for Cities’ key findings suggests that between 2011 and 2016 there was no growth in media jobs within the one-mile area around MediaCityUK and growth in other industries is “unlikely to have been linked to the BBC’s relocation”.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has been quick to reject what it describes as a “flawed report”.
“The BBC’s move to Salford has benefited not just Salford, but Greater Manchester as a whole and indeed the entire North West,” says Sean Anstee, GMCA’s lead for employment and skills and leader of Trafford Council.
“We have seen phenomenal growth in our creative and digital sectors.”
“As well as the direct benefits of the thousands of people that are now employed across Greater Manchester as a result of the BBC’s relocation, the move north has been instrumental in sparking a creative and digital revolution in the city region.
“We have seen phenomenal growth in our creative and digital sectors in Greater Manchester, making a compelling case for industrial clusters of excellence. The sector is worth £3.1 billion to Greater Manchester’s economy – that’s double what it was in 2010. There are 55,000 people employed in the sector. We are producing some of the most highly skilled graduates in the sector and are now in the top 20 European digital cities.
“It is precisely because the BBC and ITV have a strong presence in our city region that we are such an attractive proposition for others, from Channel 4 to the 1,600 startups formed in Greater Manchester in the past year.”
Channel 4, which began broadcasting in 1982, currently has around 820 staff with a small proportion of them, said by the culture secretary to be fewer than 30, based outside of central London.
Manchester’s inward investment agency MIDAS believes the fact that some of that small proportion is based in the North West city works in its favour as part of its case to attract the channel’s full operation.
“Greater Manchester is a vibrant, creative hotspot guaranteeing Channel 4 and other media companies access to a strong and well established industry and a large talent pool,” Tim Newns, chief executive officer at MIDAS, tells Move Commercial.
“With a 50-year history of broadcasting, media and producing original content, the city region is an internationally recognised centre of excellence for TV, radio and children’s media.
“The presence of two of the UK’s largest broadcasters has strengthened the network of smaller independent companies, many of which already work with Channel 4.
“A substantive relocation of further Channel 4 operations to Greater Manchester – it already has a sales office in the city – would further boost the creative assets and allow the city region to create an even more substantial international footprint.”
Greater Manchester boasts a long-running relationship with Channel 4 which dates back to the 1990s, as the area produced some of the station’s most successful shows including ‘Queer As Folk’, ‘Countdown’ and ‘Shameless’. However, it’s not the only city region with a growing media sector and previous form in delivering hit Channel 4 programmes.
Liverpool was once home to hit soap ‘Brookside’ and is still where ‘Hollyoaks’ is made for the channel by Lime Pictures.
The soaps’ creator Phil Redmond, who remains a prominent cultural figure in the Liverpool City Region, has been flying the flag for Liverpool to become Channel 4’s ew home, suggesting it is an “obvious solution”.
Although it doesn’t currently have a dedicated hub of media production like MediaCityUK, there are major studio developments in the pipeline as part of the transformations of the city’s iconic former Littlewoods building and Lime Street.
Plus a raft of 317 productions Channel 4’s supported by Liverpool Film Office, including creations for the big screen and high end TV dramas, were filmed around the city during the 2016/17 financial year and are said to have generated £8.4 million of inward investment into the local economy.
According to Invest Liverpool it’s this, combined with a healthy digital sector, which stands the city in good stead as a range of UK destinations are considered by the government for the proposed relocation.
“Channel 4 will be looking for more than cost savings moving out of London, and Liverpool has something unique to offer,” says Ellen Cutler, Invest Liverpool’s director of investment.
“Our filming credentials are already well known and respected, but it is the additional digital competency of the city that sets us apart.
“As the industry develops, it’s becoming more and more important to consider online platforms for all forms of entertainment and our skills and experience in this area are exceptional.
“An investment in Liverpool would be a prudent strategic decision for Channel 4 in the industry and Liverpool would work tirelessly to support the successful transition.
The North West, along with other areas including Yorkshire and the Midlands, now awaits the outcome of a government consultation into how Channel 4 can contribute to regional economic growth to see if it will become the base for the broadcaster.
If Liverpool or Manchester are successful in their bid, the move is also expected to strengthen the region’s reputation as a place of opportunity for media industry talent.
“What’s interesting about a big company [like Channel 4] coming to either Liverpool or Manchester, and often we’re vying for companies to come, is that once a big company comes in and they’re doing mass recruitment you find that people go ‘oh there are jobs up there so maybe I’ll go and have a look to see what’s going on’,” explains Louise Finch of the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) in the North West, which is working to enhance and connect the region’s digital industry.
“It has a massive knock-on effect into the wider community as well from the perspective of people who are looking for jobs.”