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What Have We Learned About Channel 4's Relocation Plans?

Channel 4's HQ at 124 Horseferry Road, Westminster

Channel 4 has announced a shortlist of three potential locations for its new national HQ, a 30K SF outpost of its London operation which will, despite the name, be the place where the real decisions are taken. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham made it to the final run-off.

A further three cities, Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow, are shortlisted for a smaller 10K SF "creative hub". One of the disappointed National HQ bidders will also become a creative hub.

A final decision will be announced on 1 October ahead of a 2019 move.

So, what have we learned?

1. Big Is Best

The creative types at Channel 4 like the mega-city metropolitan feel. Smaller cities and locations at the end of tedious journeys from London were ruthlessly chopped off the long list and the shorter list of seven from which the final selection was made for the National HQ. So goodbye Newcastle and Coventry, cheerio Stoke-on-Trent, pack your bags Norwich and Leamington Spa. Liverpool, despite its strong Brookside history and Channel 4 links, also got the boot.

2. Northern Soul Is Preferred

Leeds has a long TV history, even if today its principal output is Emmerdale, the soap opera in which serial killers are commonplace and every character ends in hospital at least once a year. Manchester, already home to the vast joint ITV/BBC production hub at Media City, is a natural choice. Birmingham — not a major production centre for studio-based TV since the demise of Pebble Hill — is the odd one out (see below).

3. England, Our England

It has not gone unnoticed by the specialist media that Glasgow and Cardiff were both deleted from the shortlist for the National HQ.

4. Politics Matters

The relocation effort is only happening because politics bumped into broadcasting, and politics won. The government all but forced Channel 4 into the move. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street was a vigorous campaigner for the Channel 4 relocation. You do not have to be a cynic to see that a Conservative government might favour a big glamorous win for Street, the narrow Conservative victor in the 2017 mayoral election who defends his seat in 2020.

5. This Had Little To Do With Broadcasting

If TV technical skill was what mattered, Liverpool, Bristol and Cardiff would be very high on the list. Liverpool's Lime Pictures churns out Hollyoaks, Bristol has long been a TV science hub, and Cardiff already has S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, along with a large BBC presence. The wider economic and cultural set-up seems to have weighed more heavily with the Channel 4 short-listers.

6. And The Winner Is...

Nobody knows. Birmingham's chances cannot be discounted, but the industry newspaper Broadcast Now chose a picture of Manchester Town Hall to illustrate its story, so perhaps they know something?