“There is scope for regional production to become far more influential as a result of the increased appetite”
It might have been very different: page 35 of the Tories’ 2017 election manifesto spelled out the government’s plan that Channel 4 would “be relocated out of London”.
After months of planning and politicking, the broadcaster has arrived at an outcome that is more than satisfactory, given the massive upheaval that would have come with full relocation. But the challenges come thick and fast. Next up, how can C4 achieve its triple move at minimum cost, and with maximum (positive) impact?
Chief executive Alex Mahon and chair Charles Gurassa were talking up the potential for the latter, indicating a desire to better reflect Britain on screen, work with indies across Britain and spread key decision-makers around the country. It is hard to argue with any of this, and escaping from the London bubble could be creatively liberating.
They both also stressed that this is their vision for reimagining C4, rather than a government plan imposed upon the organisation.
This is fair, but it is also true that a quota-only approach, which was certainly C4’s initial preference, might have had a genuinely transformative effect without occupying nearly so much management time and incurring such significant costs.
But that was never going to fly with the government, which will ultimately get its photo opportunity with a shiny new C4 national HQ located in the heart of one of England’s major regional cities.
While the headlines will be about where C4 ends up – there will be a major beauty parade, with candidate cities offering attractive commercial packages alongside arguments based on skills or university graduates – the real economic significance will come in the shape of the 50% nations and regions quota, and the production sector knows it.
One hard-bitten producer with an out-of-London office I spoke to this week was in an upbeat, pragmatic mood. They felt C4 had played its hand well and dodged a bullet, and are now preparing to suggest switching their returning series to their regional outpost and to make that offi ce front and centre of future pitches.
Those London indies with established N&R offices will be playing the card hard, stressing their authenticity, and those without them will be quickly reconsidering that position.
Most of all, there will be an opportunity for both more start-ups to launch outside of London and for existing indigenous indies to really join the big leagues.
With the BBC also embracing programming from the nations and regions, there is scope for regional production to become far more influential as a result of the increased appetite, and to deliver genuinely distinctive shows.
Chris Curtis is the editor of Broadcast
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