Is the secret to turning Britain into a global media powerhouse about the technical facilities and the digital connectivity, or backing showbiz impresarios who can motivate the talent to create something special, asks Alex Connock.
Read the Digital Britain report, study the approach of media cities from Dublin to Kuala Lumpur – and you’d be convinced that media power is about the best buildings and internet connection. More studios, fatter pipes.
Since Google built server farms the size of Tescos, success has been benchmarked by connectivity and digitising power. Technical stuff is easier to measure than creative ideas, easier to chalk up as an asset under accounting rules than a comedy script or a half-built website and easier to get a loan for. So big investors and government prioritise hardware as their main investment metric.
The problem is that in media – that is a strategic mistake.
Bandwidth is never enough – without great bands. The Beatles didn’t happen because Liverpool had the best studios, and U2 weren’t created by Irish government directive. Hollywood happened because of men with fat cigars (unfortunately back then it was just men) not buildings.
Appointing a cigar-smoking showbiz guy to run ITV, even in this technological decade was the right decision at the time - since the product is showbusiness. Britain’s Got Talent isn’t great because it’s made in a big studio, or because tapes are digitised at record speed. It’s a great show because it’s about the drama of Simon Cowell as the presiding Emperor, the baying coliseum, the hapless gladiators meeting showbiz destiny. You need a showbiz spotter to run that.
It’s great that Britain is building incredible media facilities. It’s great that everyone is finally going to get 2MB of broadband (though five years late.) But let’s not confuse that with success. Those things just amount to a garage full of tools.
Britain’s got the talent to use those tools – but the talent should be getting the same backing, which it is not. Against a reported spend nudging half a billion on Media City (which by the way I applaud) there is barely a couple of million pounds investment currently available to creative businesses in the North West, and even then, it’s in tiny segments. And I’m not just picking on my own region - it’s the same everywhere.
So let’s not just dig down for the fat digital pipes of Britain. Let’s dig up some intangibles too – the scripts, the crazy online business plans, the TV dreamers. Let’s find the venture capital, take the risks, have less meetings, more creative lunches, more late nights, more mad ideas. Even in these health-conscious times, let’s get back to smoking some big, fat cigars.
Alex Connock is chief executive of Ten Alps