Channel 4 has been ordered by government to branch out from London as a means of spreading media jobs to the regions. Expectedly, cities across the UK have now scrambled to pitch their best sites to host the hubs.
The broadcaster will move some 300 of its 800 staff to locations outside of the capital, adding to a tally of around 30-odd staff already working in the regions (25 Manchester and five in Glasgow). This comes after the government issued it a deadline to move a “material” part of its business to the regions.
Channel 4 will retain its HQ in London, but will also set up a national office and three creative hubs in the regions. Some 50% of content spend will be funneled through these sites. An additional three news bureaux will also open in conjunction with ITN.
Guidelines on how cities should apply to host the hubs have now been issued by Channel 4. Winners will be announced (Q3 2018) in a process led by chief commercial officer Jonathan Allan who will work with chief executive Alex Mahon to oversee "the biggest change to the structure of our organisation in our 35-year history”.
What pitching cities need
According to its document for bidders, the broadcaster is looking to “develop state of the art, creatively orientated office spaces" that will attract the best talent. Furthermore, "cutting edge connectivity and technology" will be required to join these sites up.
Those bidding to host the 'National HQ' will have to be within three hours travel to London (which would appear to scupper Scottish and some northern sites). They must have a working population of more than 200,000. And they must have 'economic, demographic, diversity' and be able to attract and develop “new and diverse talent”.
In particular, Channel 4 is keen to work with "educational providers, outreach programmes and other local initiatives that will enable us to bring different views, fresh ideas and new thinking into our business and onto our screens". At first look, this is a call for a solid university, college, school infrastructure as well as relevant community groups that could benefit from linking up with a national broadcaster.
It is important that those pitching "provide Channel 4 with the ability to design a dynamic and innovative environment that will represent our remit”. The site must “excite and inspire employees and partners”.
Cities can correspond with Channel 4 over the coming weeks before the 11 May deadline for written submissions. Entrants will be notified of the outcome on 1 October.
4 All the UK
The '4 All the UK' document outlined that the broadcaster is looking to establish a multi-site operating model by 2019. Cities are expected to pitch in to host some of the broadcaster’s infrastructure, much like cities are doing in the US to host a new Amazon headquarters.
Much of Channel 4’s programming will be spread across the three creative hubs. Chief among these will be the National HQ which will have a new studio for daily programming and a digital production unit intent on delivering short-form content to young people. Executives' time will be split between this site and London (which will be maintained with a reduced staffing).
The report suggests some 3,000 jobs will be supported throughout the regions as a result of the move.
Channel 4 already shoots Hollyoaks in Liverpool, Ackley Bridge in Yorkshire and Sun, Sea and Brides to Be from Cardiff based Nimble Dragon and numerous documentaries from Firecrest Films in Glasgow. Now it is voluntarily seeking to spend 50% of its product in the regions by 2023, a cumulative boost of around £250m a year.
More than a dozen cities are jostling to get in on the action including Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield, Coventry and Hull.
The effort echoes the BBC’s Salford move in 2012. Somewhat stifling the positivity around the move is a report from Centre for Cities said there was 'very small benefit to the region' from the BBC relocating its staff to MediaCity.