Growing opportunities spark investment in north of England

The snowball effect that Channel 4 will have hoped for when it picked Leeds for its national HQ appears to be gathering pace.

Pact’s decision to open a satellite office in the city, with two or three staff tasked with helping nations and regions indies to grow their business, feels like a no-brainer given the recent surge in producer investment in the region.

Incumbents such as Rollem, Daisybeck, Duck Soup, Air TV and Warp are being joined by the likes of Workerbee (the rebranded Endemol Shine North) and Lime Pictures spin-off Wise Owl Films, while True Vision Yorkshire is in line for investment from the C4 Growth Fund, and mainstay True North is investing to boost its post-production capacity.

Add in other developments across the north of England, such as ITV Studios’ Big Talk and Possessed and Studio Lambert all opening offices in Manchester, and the momentum looks like it’s building strongly.

Perhaps there are cultural benefits to this investment too. I went back to our recently published Best Places to Work in TV report, to assess it through an out-of-London lens. The result was startling: of a total of 25 indies who made the grade (many more applied but were unsuccessful), 11 were based in the nations and regions.

“Indigenous nations and regions indies will need to fight their corner hard to ensure they win a commensurate level of out-of-London commissions that will be coming from Channel 4”

Such a high proportion can’t be purely coincidence, suggesting there is something about being based outside of London that generates job satisfaction among employees and a higher sense of staff welfare among employers.

That’s not to say its all going to be plain sailing, and Ofcom still has to decide how best to tackle the thorny issue of quite what constitutes a ‘substantive base’. The issue prompts different views from broadcasters and from within the production sector, and someone is set to be disgruntled by its ruling.

Either way, the indigenous nations and regions indies will need to fight their corner hard to ensure they win a commensurate level of the out-of-London commissions that will be coming from C4, rather than satellite offices of the big players.

The extended deadline to bid for C4’s weekday Leeds lunchtime show passes this week. Producers will be determined to avoid the high-volume/miniscule-margin conundrum that Princess Productions struggled with in its latter years, but the creative and commercial opportunity will be huge if the right balance can be struck.

Chris Curtis

Five hours a week of television, from a new northern studio, should be a step on the path to C4’s relocation genuinely changing the tone of its output. That’s a prize worth winning for all parties.

  • Chris Curtis is the editor in chief of Broadcast