Will Channel 4's Leeds move change the PR landscape as well as TV?

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by Stephen Chapman

Tim Downs, director at Aberfield communications, looks at whether Channel 4’s move to Leeds will change the region’s PR landscape, as well as its TV.

The announcement that Channel 4 is to make Leeds its new home has rightfully been met with huge enthusiasm across the region. Within a week there were further announcements that a raft of independent production companies, that wouldn’t normally be seen outside Shoreditch or Salford, would also be opening offices in the city.

While much of the initial focus has been on programme production, particularly drama, the creative and marketing sectors have also been promised that the move will open up a whole world of opportunities. But will this migration up the M1 deliver opportunities specifically in the PR sector by allowing more regional voices to be seen and heard on the public service broadcaster, or will we simply see a leap in sales of East Coast Main Line season tickets as the same old media commentators make the two hour commute?

Well, it’s worth looking across the Penines to the BBC’s relocation to MediaCityUK as the best example of what we might be able to expect.

Now OK, the BBC migration was on a different scale, including a £200 million investment and the movement of digital, radio and TV, initially creating up to 2,300 jobs, whereas Channel 4 is creating 300 roles.

But, unless we start to see a more diverse range of voices, and to some extent a distinctly Yorkshire twang being reflected in the output, then it won’t be the success we all hope.

Better representation of the North in programming was part of the BBC’s commitment when it moved, and with the sheer number of shows that come out of MediaCityUK, including BBC Breakfast and Radio 5, undoubtedly the number of regional spokespeople and experts required on the sofa and in the studio has increased.

Incidentally, it’s also had the broader positive effect of increasing the number of northern accents you hear through the BBC’s wider output. We asked BBC correspondent Nina Warhurst what impact she felt it had had, she said: “Yes for sure it’s made a massive difference, and I’ll be honest it has given me a lot of confidence.

“I genuinely used to think I would never get a job on national news because of my accent and now I feel as entitled as anyone. It’s a massive psychological shift, which is important. Now I am regularly on national news and that would not have happened without the Salford move.

“Not just because of the geographical and logistical move, but also the fact that experts, journalists, even vox pops from up here are now given the same respect on air. That’s huge.”

So what is Channel 4 likely to be offering the communications community in Yorkshire and the North East?

Thankfully, Channel 4 chief exec, Alex Mahon, has already committed to bringing news output to the new Leeds HQ, with a new broadcasting studio to allow Channel 4 news to be anchored from both Leeds and London.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post she went further, specifically focusing on how it would change the way the news is produced, she said: “The flavour of the news is very different where you have it. Having contributors and producers outside of London will help us represent a lot more of the UK.

“What we are trying to do is make sure that we represent wider views, values, communities, backgrounds, opinions, accents and contributors that are not just London.

“I think really you have to have part of the team away from London to do that properly.”

So the signs are good that, in the same way that the BBC has made a significant difference in the North West, we might see a similar effect and opportunities here in Yorkshire.

We just can’t make it happen quickly enough.