Having evolved its quayside development into a thriving digital hub, the BBC recently announced that it is moving its digital and technology teams to Salford, along with Radio 3 and 6 Music production. Daytime TV show, Morning Live, will also be broadcast from Salford – meaning that BBC One’s entire live morning output will come from MediaCity in Manchester.
This exodus has increasingly led people to question London’s position as the PR capital of Europe. Earlier this year, an article in PR Week concluded that it would retain its position as the epicentre of media comms, despite this migration. Yet, in the context of industry trends and Brexit, this seems to oversimplify the issue’s complexity. Regardless of whether London holds onto its crown or not, the BBC and its competitors have shown something that was always suspected but never confirmed: that success is achievable within the capital city and elsewhere in the country.
Relocating to the North
When the BBC decided to move to Manchester in 2006, it operated from its headquarters in London, with smaller regional offices throughout the UK. By the time the move was completed in 2011, the corporation was well on the way to decentralising its operations and reducing the number of decisions made in the Capital.
The North of England was a viable option for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it’s where 25% of the BBC’s license fee payers live – but it was also a recognition that just 8% of programmes catered to this area. By moving its headquarters to Manchester, the BBC could get a PR boost, hire local talent more easily, and produce more specialised content for Northern audiences. There was also a political edge to the move, as the BBC faced criticism for continuing the license fee whilst being so London-centric.
At the time, the BBC’s relocation to Salford Quays – right in the heart of the newly established MediaCity – was perceived as a risk, as it was largely undeveloped. Fast forward ten years, and it has proven well worth it, with MediaCity now boasting high-profile business tenants, including Kellogg’s and Ericsson.
Meanwhile, the BBC announced earlier this year that it will be moving top journalism jobs to Leeds as it reveals more details about its transformation plan for the North. Under the transformation, the BBC News teams, the Learning and Identity team, and some snew UK Insight teams will move to the city. There will also be a tailored BBC One across Yorkshire, North West, and North East England, with new marketing campaigns catering for the region.
In a similar move, Channel 4 has officially moved its national headquarters to Leeds, and Hits Radio has started being broadcast from Manchester. So what exactly is it that makes the North – and Manchester in particular – so alluring for media outlets?
Manchester and its Growing Media Presence
Media has been an integral part of Manchester’s culture and economy. Its most noteworthy television exports include the longest-running serial soap drama Coronation Street and the longest-running documentary series 7 Up!. For a time, Manchester was famously coined ‘Granadaland’ due to the number of successful programmes produced by Granada Television, one of the biggest commercial television companies in the world in the late 20th century.
However, in recent years, Manchester has become a thriving hub for national and international media. A wealth of new startups, media stalwarts, and huge global players has made it the second-largest centre of the creative and digital industries in Europe. The question for new or expanding firms is this: is it now a viable alternative to London as a centre of creative excellence, particularly in broadcast media?
Broadcast media needs to do its part to reflect society, so anything that encourages it across different communities in the UK can only be a good thing. Our broadcast media is beginning to represent a more diverse and inclusive country and is bringing new voices with it. When it comes to the brands that appear on broadcast media for coverage, this means working harder to be more inclusive. For example, they may need to consider where their spokespeople are based and make sure they are representative of the people consuming the content.
The BBC stated that one of the main reasons for ramping up the move to Manchester is that it represents a “top-to-bottom change” and will cement its commitment to “better reflect, represent, and serve” all parts of England.
Thanks in no small part to MediaCity and the impact of the broadcast media influx, Manchester is now recognised as one of Europe’s leading digital hotspots. While there’s undoubtedly much more to MediaCity than the BBC, the corporation’s move inspired many other companies to explore opportunities outside of London. Plus, if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the working environment no longer needs to be stuck in one place. At the very least, broadcast media should represent the diverse audience it seeks to inform and entertain, from the places it is created to the content it produces.
Manchester isn’t the only northern city with a story to tell. Other cities, including Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Belfast, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, all have their own empowering and exciting stories to tell, creating broadcast opportunities for savvy PRs. Post pandemic, this should be the time to embrace change and celebrate the variety of people and places that make up the UK – creating more diverse and exciting broadcast content. In any case, we look forward to seeing what the future holds!