PR Insight: Manchester and the Broadcast Media Landscape
The media landscape has changed hugely over recent years, both literally and metaphorically. A geographical shift has seen media corporations choosing to base themselves further afield, namely moving from south to north. Driven by the BBC moving its headquarters to Salford in 2011, the region’s media industry is now thriving, and there’s been a clear trajectory of other broadcast companies following suit and moving up north ever since - in no small part due to the government’s ‘Northern powerhouse’ scheme and the ultra-convenience of the HS2 train line.
Having evolved its quayside development into a now thriving digital hub, the BBC recently announced that it is fully moving its digital and technology teams to Salford, along with the production of Radio 3 and 6 Music. 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. An article in PR Week earlier this year 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 complexity of the issue. 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 not only achievable within the capital city, but elsewhere in the country too.
Relocating to the North
When the BBC first made its decision 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 important decisions made in the capital.
The North of England was a hugely viable option for a couple of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it’s where 25% of their license fee payers live - but it was also a recognition that just 8% of programmes catered to this area at this time. By moving its headquarters to Manchester, the BBC could not only get a PR boost, but also 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 the continuation of 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 around its transformation plan for the North. Under the transformation, the BBC News teams, the Learning and Identity team and some of the new UK Insight team 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 now 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 for many years. Its most note-worthy television exports include the longest running serial soap drama, Coronation Street, and the longest running documentary series in 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 (it would eventually merge with eleven other franchisees to form ITV in 2004, now based across London, Manchester and Leeds).
However, it’s only in recent years that Manchester has truly become a thriving hub for both national and international media. A wealth of new startups, media stalwarts and huge global players has led it to become 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 when it comes to broadcast media?
Broadcast media needs to do its part to reflect society, and so anything which 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, rather than heralding London alone, 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.
In fact, 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 one that 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 follow its lead and explore new 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 be representative of the diverse audience which 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, either. Other cities including Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow all have their own empowering and exciting stories to tell, creating real 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 interesting broadcast content in the process. In any case, we look forward to seeing what the future holds!