BBC Scotland's Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow
BBC Scotland's Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow sets new standards in technology and design.

By a strange quirk of fate the foundations for BBC Scotland's new flagship headquarters in Glasgow were laid, in 1877, by the grandfather of the BBC's first director general, Lord Reith.

Between 1864 and 1887 George Reith was general manager of the Clyde Navigation Trust during which time he planned the excavations for Prince's Dock on the south bank of the river.

Later renamed Princess Quay, the area declined with the shipping industry (the high tide mark being the QE2's launch there in 1967) and was semi derelict up until 20 years ago when the Govan docks were earmarked for regeneration.

'We acquired the site in 1991 to give what was a downtrodden area a new lease of life,' says Fiona Hamill, director of creative industries, Scottish Enterprise. 'It was envisaged as a mixed business and leisure park but recently has refocused into a media and digital media village.'

That aspiration hinged around BBC Scotland's decision to locate its £129m broadcasting complex there - a move which is intended to anchor a wider fleet of media enterprises.

For the BBC, a shift out of its cramped berth at Queen Margaret Drive, its home since 1936, was an operational necessity. Its small, cellular office units made the building difficult to work in, costly to maintain and impractical to retool for modern production. 'It was absolutely unfit for purpose,' says Iain Marley, Pacific Quay project director at BBC Scotland. 'It was incredibly inflexible, had no collaborative workspaces and was inaccessible to the public.'

A refit of Queen Margaret Drive was considered in 1998 then discarded in favour of a custom-designed building to address those requirements.

'We looked at every aspect of the business, how we work and what that means in terms of the type of space we wanted,' Marley explains.

'Television operates on a project by project basis in which production teams come together, work on a commission then disband to form other teams. Such churn costs money and we had the opportunity to largely eliminate that by breaking down internal barriers and easing personal interaction.'

The design, by David Chipperfield Architects, of the five-storey 34,000sq m building features an open-plan approach similar to BBC Birmingham's Mailbox or BBC White City. Edit suites will be 'accessible' behind glass or in open areas where tiered meeting spaces are designed to stimulate creative discussion.

Situated opposite the SECC (Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre - Scotland's premier live performance venue), along from an IMAX cinema and next to the Science Centre, the 60-acre site will be directly linked to the city centre by the new £20m Finnieston Bridge. 'Of all the sites we looked at it scored very highly in terms of openness to the public,' says Marley. 'The original plan resembled a business park - concrete islands surrounded by a sea of car parks. We lobbied for more vibrant land use. There are offices, shops and residential areas connected together by an iconic bridge.'

The atrium from which the innards of the building can be seen reflects the corporation's vision of 'transparency' and will engage the public with an information service. A series of displays and interactive kiosks will signpost analogue switch-off, on-demand programming and the Creative Archive - a long-term project to open up the BBC's audiovisual records to the public.

The Creative Archive will ultimately be facilitated by a central media library, a server-based repository of digital media which forms not only the heart of BBC Scotland's new production facility but also that of the BBC's creative future nationwide. 'The technology will provide a blueprint for the rest of the BBC,' explains Marley. 'It involves the delivery of a single digital content production system for radio, TV and new media - all of which are integrated. At the core will be a digital library which will be a rich resource for programme-makers and later the public.'

Initially the digital library - comprising IBM servers with Adendo asset management software - will be networked across BBC Scotland's production centres over 100Mb fibre connections. BBC operations in Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and Dumbarton (home of BBC Scotland drama River City) will install Avid Unity ISIS servers and Media Composer Adrenaline edit stations for the exchange of content with Pacific Quay. Radio production will also be integrated at these and other locations such as Stornaway via the VCS Dira production and playout system.

'The IT infrastructure will enable workgroup transfers over the network,' explains Robert Heap, senior account director for Siemens Business Services, which won the £52.7m deal for the project's design, build and implementation.

BBC Scotland technical manager Brendan Mallon observes: 'You can't underestimate the ability to share content collaboratively. Rather than locking an edit off, the story is available for producers or executives to review, comment and approve.'

Dira is being implemented at Broadcast Centre with a view to standardising the radio scheduling systems across the network. Playout at Pacific Quay is via a set of Omnibus controlled Omneon servers, the same system devised by Siemens for BBC Broadcast Centre. 'By having the same automation in both places it enables their future integration,' Heap observes.

Rushes will be ingested into a 192 terabyte ISIS storage array at Pacific Quay and available to edit within 15 seconds of logging key metadata within Avid Interplay software (BBC Scotland was a beta site for this asset management tool). 'News and sports production will benefit with the speed of ingest but the digital library also allows us to version content to immediately support a whole range of platforms,' says Marley.

Production decisions will be made within the ISIS environment with finished pieces published to the IBM library from where they can be plucked for playout or pulled back into the ISIS for later repurposing.

There are 250 licences of the edit and scripting package Avid iNews Instinct, mainly for use by news and documentary teams. Assembled edits can be immediately played to air or switched for further offline or online to one of 17 Adrenaline or 20 Newscutter packages (Avid's contract is worth £4m). Three Symphony Nitris are provided for finishing.

'This entails a fairly radical change of workflow,' says Marley.

'Previously, for example, offline and craft edit suites were run separately and followed from each other in the production chain. Now that workflow will be more closely integrated. Production teams brought in tapes, watched them at their desk and made paper notes. Now the producer can activate the content on ingest. Previously the only way to share media was to dub out to tape and re-ingest. Now audio content for radio can be interchanged with video material.'

Low resolution 'proxy' files will be available to any desktop, enabling multiple use of the same material but content will be mastered to the archive on high definition (Avid uses a compressed form of HD, dubbedDNxHD) or as SD 50Mbs IMX.

'If there's a rush we'll store at DV25,' says Mallon. 'We can set up very simple publishing services to 3G, WAP, internet or broadcast transmission. The idea is to open up many parallel access routes for production to access content.'

Two of the facility's three studios (including the largest 790sq m) will be HD capable (with 13 Grass Valley LDK6000 studio cameras) as will the majority of the 21 post-production suites. Three audio theatres will offer 5.1, the largest with a Dolby certified theatrical licence. A third drive-in studio is designed for OB use.

Currently BBC Scotland is outfitted with Sony SX cameras for news capture. A pilot programme, designed to test the value of tapeless acquisition, will examine Panasonic's P2 and Grass Valley Infinity cameras in the autumn.

With the building work just completed, Television Systems Ltd (TSL) has begun the equipment installation. Concurrently, BBC Scotland will be organising training initiatives for the 1,200 staff set to migrate to Pacific Quay. Equipment roll-out and training will begin in Aberdeen and spread to each production centre before starting in Glasgow so lessons can be learned on the way.

The city has traditionally been Scotland's media capital. But according to Scottish Enterprise's Hamill the BBC's decision was vital in confirming Glasgow as a media centre for the future. 'Pacific Quay is an important strategic development in Glasgow's regeneration and could create 5,000 jobs,' she says. 'It's been planned and talked about for over a decade. Finally those plans are coming to fruition.'

Other media companies at pacific quay

Scottish Media Group (SMG) has relocated its 500 staff to purpose-built 20,000sq m offices in Pacific Quay a year before its neighbour BBC Scotland. All STV production including Scotland Today news is relocating from its current base at Cowcadden to the £20m building. SMG Productions (Rebus, Taggart) will follow suit while Setanta's 24-hour sports channels, which SMG manages, are already transmitting from the site. Setanta's production of Celtic and Rangers club channels will also be based there.

'This is a catalyst for a change in our technology and work practices,' says SMG chief executive Donald Emslie. 'It underlines the rebranding of Scottish and Grampian into STV and extends us into the digital media world with'

It's no coincidence that SMG's networked production facility is, like BBC Scotland's, based around Avid ISIS with 30 Newscutters, 10 edit and five dubbing suites. All news, programme production and video for the web service will be produced on the system. 'There's a sense of resource pooling,' says Emslie. SMG may utilise the BBC's larger production studios if it lands, for example, a gameshow contract and the BBC in turn could utilise SMG's 12 camera OB vehicle and VTR unit.

Although local radio station Beat 106 and the Prince's Trust have offices on site, the high rent (£1.3m per annum for SMG) is thought to have deterred other media firms.

Alan Somerville, director of Pacific Quay Developments Ltd, says the BBC's move was critical in attracting business but admits the leasehold may prove too high for most local indies or video gaming developers.

The BBC raised the bulk of its £129.25m funds through a bond scheme and owns a lease on its building until around 2034.

'Property is the key to this,' says Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4 director, nations and regions. 'The BBC and SMG have sold property elsewhere in Glasgow to allow their moves to happen. Most independent production companies in Glasgow are not at Pacific Quay and in most cases the rental prices would not make it cost effective for them to move there. For start-up companies the prices would be virtually prohibitive.' C4 will remain at its Glasgow city centre base, with a review of the situation in five years' time.

Just outside the Pacific Quay area is a growing collection of media outfits. These include HD rental house Axis Films which moved from the West End of the city specifically to service Pacific Quay tenants.

Nearby the former Govan Town Hall is in the last phase of being reinvented as Film City Glasgow, housing Sigma Films (producer of Cannes 2006 competition entry Red Road) and post-production suites managed by Savalas and Serious Facilities.