MediaCityUK

Now in case you hadn’t noticed, around 2003 there appeared to be a dawning realisation that almost all the programmes shown on the UK’s main broadcast channels were being made in London.  The reasons for this can be argued, but the fact is that both ITV and the BBC spent the 1990s closing down almost all of their regional production studios – so it was hardly surprising.  Simply put, they were not attracting sufficient work to enable them to pay their way.  Talented people from all over the country who wanted to work in TV moved to be within striking distance of London’s studios, which were mostly on the western side of the capital.

However, the pendulum began to swing back and it became the aim of the BBC, ITV and C4 to make a greater proportion of programmes outside the M25.  This was mostly of course due to pressure from the government and Ofcom for the TV companies to represent the culture of the whole country rather better than they were.

The BBC seemed to embrace this need for change rather more enthusiastically than the other companies – possibly sensing that property was a lot cheaper ‘up north’ than in London and in 2008 they announced an intention to make half of their programmes outside London by 2016.

In fact, the BBC had indicated back in 2004 that they intended to move various departments to Manchester and a proposed development by Peel Holdings (later called The Peel Group) in Salford Quays was selected as a new base in 2006.  Thus the BBC became ‘anchor tenants’, Peel obtained detailed planning permission in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history. Read on…

 

 

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With a name as grand as MediaCityUK you know that they must have been planning something big.  Well – they were. Allow me to quote their website…

‘MediaCity is all about connections: connections with people, places, emotions, audiences and technologies.  It will ultimately represent – and redefine – a  new era of global media communications

You get the picture.  In fact, here is a picture…

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This photo was on the BBC’s website.  Quite interesting that this is where I found possibly the most unflattering image of this centre on the Internet.

 

Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.  The collection of buildings seen above that make up MediaCity is apparently not exactly admired in the world of architecture.  MediaCity won the ‘Ugliest Building in the UK’ award of 2011 in Building Design magazine’s annual Carbuncle Cup contest.  Amongst many unflattering remarks, the editor commented ‘Quite how the BBC has stooped this low is hard to fathom.’  Ah well.  No Grade II listing imminent here I suspect.  Considerably unfair too on the BBC who played no part in the design of all this.

Personally, I think that criticism is a bit harsh.  Having worked in the place myself, I think it looks OK – it’s a little bleak and wind-swept but the mix of architectural styles in the various blocks and buildings does make it seem somewhat less ‘planned’ than some developments.  It does however look a bit as though a roomful of architects have all gone off into separate corners and designed their building without looking at what everyone else was doing – but I assume that’s the effect they wanted.

 

Some people have compared this development with TV Centre but this is misleading.  Despite the size of the whole project, the number of medium/large TV studios is only four, (of which one is only 4,550 sq ft – the BBC’s Television Centre in White City of course had eight, five of which were between 8,000 and 10,000 sq ft.)  Nevertheless, it has become the base for several thousand people working in television, radio and other media and has affected the industry in various ways.

 

Many people believe that this is a BBC development.  Not so. (Please remember this – I’ll be testing you later.)  Well, only partly so.  The BBC have of course moved several departments here from London including Radio Five Live, BBC Children’s Department and BBC Sport.  All of these were based at Television Centre in White City.  However, none of these departments made much use of the five largest production studios at the Centre so the move north did not significantly affect bookings in them.  In fact, only one small studio was used by the Sport department at TVC. Children’s department occasionally booked one other small studio for Blue Peter – and that’s it.

 

The timetable was as follows: Blue Peter moved in the summer of 2011 – with the offices of other shows such as A Question of Sport and Dragon’s Den moving here from BBC Manchester in Oxford Road between May and July.  Many CBBC and CBeebies staff also moved up from London in this first wave.  Between August and October 2011 was wave 2 which included Newsround and CBBC drama.  Wave 3 was from October 2011 into early 2012 and finished off most of the move although the date for BBC Breakfast to begin broadcasting from Salford was 10th April 2012.

The BBC Breakfast move was particularly controversial as when it was in London, the show frequently made use of many actors, film stars, musicians, celebs and politicians who just popped into the studio at TV Centre at the beginning of the day.  It has undoubtedly proved to be more difficult to persuade these people to make a special trip to Salford if they are performing in or visiting the capital city – or indeed for most Members of Parliament who will either be in their own constituency or in Westminster for most of their time.  Without doubt, the range and quality of studio guests has diminished although some people are interviewed in London down the line which never works quite as well.  Breakfast is of course news-based and BBC News moved to brand new studios in New Broadcasting House in the centre of London – which is where many people expected the Breakfast show to be based. 

It is hard to fathom the editorial logic in moving this of all shows to Salford.  Two of the regular presenters refused to go as did just over half the staff working on the show – only 46% officially deciding to relocate.  The programme now shares the Northwest Tonight regional news studio, which is in one of the BBC office blocks rather than the main studio building.   In my view the look of the show suffered – with its low ceiling and scaffold bar grid visible in every wideshot inevitably making it look rather cheap and second rate compared with the space and proportions of the set in Television Centre’s TC7.  Let’s be frank – it looks ‘regional’ – but then, I suppose that’s what the BBC wanted.  Ironically, the show’s competitor – ITV’s Good Morning Britain, now comes from one of the remaining studios at Television Centre, with a large, expensive-looking set.

 

One does suspect that the fact that this show is made in Salford is because it represents 195 minutes of airtime Sundays to Fridays and 240 minutes on Saturdays on BBC One which helps to alter the overall balance of programmes made outside the capital in a simple but effective manner, whether or not it is the right programme to be made there.  Let’s face it – it helps to tick a box.

The BBC declared that it intended to make 50% of all its programmes outside the capital by 2016.  This includes drama (much of which is now made in Wales) entertainment and comedy.  Although BBC Entertainment and BBC Comedy are remaining based in London (they are now part of BBC Studios) they do make some programmes here – mostly in studio HQ2 – which in previous years would have been made in London.  Well, I say that… Since the studios opened in 2011, the only BBC comedy series I can think of (apart from a few pilots) that have been made in these studios were Citizen Khan, House of Fools, The Wright Way, The Goes Wrong Show and the reboot of Porridge.  And how many of these are particularly related to Manchester in their content?  Hmm.

 

The development was built (not by the BBC – did I mention that?) by the Peel Group, who describe themselves as a leading property and transport organisation.  They began in textiles in the 1920s in Lancashire.  As the textile industry declined, they moved into retail warehousing and property development.  Later they acquired the Manchester Ship Canal and its port facilities.  The Trafford Centre was completed by them in 1998.  They own several airports in the north of England and in 2003 acquired Clydeport, Scotland’s main sea port.  In 2005 they took over Mersey Docks, making them the largest owner of dockyards in the UK.  In 2007 they gained ownership of about a quarter of UK Coal plc.  So – an impressive portfolio of businesses in the world of ports, airports, property development, retailing and even coal mining.  However, no previous experience in the world of television – unless they have chosen not to state that on their website.  They have however created a new division – Peel Media – to administer this development.

 

MediaCity consists of several buildings – three of which are leased by the BBC.  However, the main studio block is separate and for a while it was assumed that the TV studios here would be operated by 3sixtymedia, the company that ran ITV’s old Granada studios.  More on this later.

 

There are three small studios on the first floor of the studio building that were built for the use of CBBC and CBeebies.  Studio HQ7 is 49 x 33 ft wall to wall and studios HQ5 and HQ6 are both 41 x 24 ft wall to wall.  HQ5 and HQ6 are the homes of CBeebies presentation and CBBC presentation and Newsround

For the first 8 years, HQ7 was just used as the Blue Peter studio and is roughly half the size of TC2 – the small studio they had been using at TV Centre for the previous few years.  No room for marching bands or elephants in here sadly.  No room for much at all in fact.  There was also at the planning stage an area designated ‘Blue Peter Garden’ – but this was on a roof, so not quite what we had been used to.  No more burying of time capsules, obviously.  I gather some rehearsals were done on the roof and it proved to be quite windy.  Who’d have imagined?  The BP garden is therefore now tucked away on the edge of a landscaped area right next to one of the MediaCity tram stop platforms.  The ‘Italian sunken garden’ (pond) was moved stone by stone from Shepherds Bush to its new location along with Petra’s statue.

In 2019 HQ7 was taken out of service for several months to convert it into a ‘virtual’ studio.  Thus it now shares use between Blue Peter (using a real set) and BBC Sport programmes using a VR set.

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The peaceful oasis of the new Blue Peter Garden – right next to the MediaCityUK tram stop.  That sound you can hear in the background is Percy Thrower rotating in his grave.

 

Incidentally, dotted around the landscaped area and the open piazza are a number of stainless steel bollards containing fibre links and some power, enabling cameras to be set up pretty well anywhere around the site and controlled by one of the studio production galleries.  This has proved to be useful on several occasions.  For example, Gok Live: Stripping for Summer (C4) used this facility to great effect in 2013 combining studio with live OB from the piazza.

BBC Sport has its production offices with editing and communications facilities and its BBC Sports Centre studio in one of the BBC buildings.  Many of their studio links are done on location at OBs – but some programmes such as Match of the Day used HQ3, the smallest of the main four MediaCity (dock10) studios until 2019 and now use HQ7 as referred to above.

 

 

So, to summarise the facilities…

 

The studio block has four small studios on the first floor (HQ5, HQ6, HQ7 and HQ8) – and on the ground floor, four medium to large TV studios (HQ 1-4) and two audio studios, one of which is the home of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.  This is very large – effectively a concert hall – and includes audience seating.

Three of the TV studios are almost identical in size and shape to studios 6, 8 and 12 at Granada’s Quay Street building.  (4,550 sq ft, 6,300 sq ft and 7,650 sq ft respectively.)  The reason for this may in some way relate to the non-competition agreement made by the BBC and ITV when they formed 3sixtymedia back in 2000.  However, I’m afraid what seems more likely is that they simply copied what already existed at the old Granada studios because nobody had a better idea and didn’t have the nous to ask current programme-makers what they considered would be the most useful sizes.  (Can you confirm the actual reason? If so, do let me know!)

 

 

Of particular interest is Studio HQ1 – a very large room officially stated to be 12,550 sq ft.  Its dimensions are 124 ft x 90 metric ft within firelanes.  That’s about the same width as TC1 or Fountain but 24 feet longer than TC1 and 10 feet shorter than Fountain in Wembley.  (Fountain has now in effect been replaced with LH2 – which has a working area of 144 x 103ft).  Who this studio was intended for is anyone’s guess.  Since even studio 12 at Granada sat empty for most of the time over its final ten or more years there didn’t seem to be an obvious demand for large TV studios in Manchester.  Indeed, for the first 2 years of operation after MediaCity opened, HQ1 was dark for most of the time.

I have heard that the BBC asked for a large studio to be included when they thought that TV Centre would be closing.  Apparently, a producer in the Entertainment department requested a studio at least as big as TC1 for shows like Strictly Come Dancing if TV Centre was no longer to be available.  However, Strictly did not move into this studio as anticipated by some but moved to the George Lucas Stage at Elstree where it remains.

It is also possible that the BBC needed to be sure that they would have access to a large studio for the coverage of general elections/Children in Need/Comic Relief etc after the closure of TV Centre.  Of course, things have since moved on.  Television Centre closed in March 2013 – and TC1 is now open again – but the BBC have used BBC Elstree D for elections and Children in Need – at least until 2021 when HQ1 was used for CiN for the first time.  In any case, as previously mentioned, the BBC have no direct connection with these studios but are simply clients like any other production company.

Well – not quite.  In the early stages of planning this project, somebody at the BBC signed an agreement with Peel that committed them to renting a certain amount of studio time over 10 years up to 2020.  This was reported to be the not insignificant sum of £82.8m.  (So, a little under half what they sold TV Centre for.)

Unfortunately, despite using these studios for quite a few shows that would previously have been made in their own studios in London, a report by the National Audit Office found that by September 2012 the BBC had underspent their commitment by half a million pounds.  They therefore had to spend more in the coming years, not just to catch up but to pay off the underspend.  I have heard (although I can’t prove this) that the underspend was simply paid to Peel each year, whether studios were used or not.  Remember, this was money going to the Peel Group, whereas in the past it was money going to their own subsidiary BBC Studios and Post Production (now called Studioworks), which could be re-invested in constantly improving facilities for their own use.  I have not even mentioned the cost of travel and accommodation for the various performers, producers and freelance craft heads of department who are still mostly London based.  Oh, I just have.  Public money well spent?  Well, you decide.

 

In fact for the first 18 months or so of operation only two of the main studios were fully completed.  The flagship studio HQ1 was an empty shell with no cameras, no lighting hoists and with its gallery suite unequipped.  Sports Personality of the Year came from there in December 2011 and all the hired-in lights had to be mounted on temporary trussing.  A series of Tonight’s The Night was made there in 2011 and a few editions of A Question of Sport in 2012.

An 8-part series of Lotto gameshow Who Dares Wins was recorded in this studio over 3 days in October 2012.  This show was originally recorded at TV Centre, a series was then made at TLS in London, then two more in BBC Glasgow, then a series in 2011 in studio 12 at 3sixtymedia (Granada) and finally here in HQ1.  All the other studios had fully equipped lighting grids enabling a quick and relatively inexpensive turnaround but in this studio a huge truss rig had to be hired in and installed – all for just 3 days’ shooting.

 

As you will by now understand, up to the middle of 2013 studio 1 had not received a large number of bookings because making any programme in here was relatively costly and time-consuming, since it involved hiring in a load of trussing and lights.  However, in 2013 money was at last found to more or less complete the fitting out of this studio.  In August it was equipped with motorised scene hoists and lighting bars.  However, rather unfortunately, these don’t cover the full working area of the studio in order to save some money.  The area about 12 feet inside the firelanes all round the studio has no lighting bars above, making the lighting director’s job something of a challenge.  Effectively, any set built there is unlightable unless (guess what) trussing is used.  So, the job has been partly done but not exactly finished.  Lighting round the edges of the studio it seems is not considered terribly important.

When it opened, HQ1 had no lights available to be used by productions, forcing them to hire in whatever they needed.  In 2014, 85 Kahoutek dual-source (twister) lamps were purchased from BBC S&PP: ex-TV Centre.  These luminaires are, let’s just say, not the first choice of any lighting director I know.  They were originally bought for two of the small studios at TV Centre many years ago and immediately gained a bit of a reputation.  I don’t know how much dock10 paid for them but let’s just say I’ll bet BBC S&PP couldn’t believe their luck when they managed to find somebody who actually wanted to buy them.  Needless to say, it is still necessary to hire in most of the lights required to cover productions in this studio.

 

The first transmittable TV production to be made in the MediaCity studios was the rather curious Saturday teatime gameshow Don’t Scare The Hare.  It was recorded in January 2011 in HQ1 – which was in an unfinished state.  It was, in effect, an outside broadcast made on a 4-waller stage.

Up until the autumn of 2012 programmes made in HQ1 had to use the gallery suite of one of the other studios along with that studio’s cameras – meaning of course that it couldn’t be used at the same time.  In October/November 2012 the galleries in HQ1 were at last fitted out, ready for the auditions part of The Voice in DecemberThat show returned in 2013 and in each subsequent year.

 

It is fair to say that as the years have gone on, fashions in TV entertainment shows have changed and there is now a greater demand for very large sets, which require equally large studios to build them in.  So in fact HQ1 has proved to be a very useful space after all.  Productions that have used this studio have included Swashbuckle, Pitch Battle, The British Soap Awards, Britain’s Brightest, The Code, Guess The Star, All Together Now, Let It Shine, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Michael  Bublé  at the BBC, Harry Styles at the BBC, The Goes Wrong Show, Alan Carr’s Gameshow Marathon and Alesha’s Street Dance Stars,  which shared the studio with Citizen Khan for several weeks in 2013, each show having its set at the ends of the studio, the audience seating being located in the middle and turned around to face the right way for each recording.  Very ingenious!  Interesting to note that the two ‘ At The BBC ‘ shows mentioned above were not actually recorded at the BBC.

 

 

Studio HQ2 (97 x 68ft within firelanes) was the first to be fully fitted out and opened with A Question of Sport in February 2011.  Since then, HQ2 has been booked by a number of productions including The Sarah Millican Television Programme, John Bishop’s Only Joking, John Bishop’s Britain, Citizen Khan, The Wright Way, the 2012 series of In It To Win It, The Furchester Hotel, Crackerjack, Sam and Mark’s Big Friday Wind Up, Naked Attraction, Gino’s Win Your Wish List, Cats Does Countdown, The £100K Drop and series 2 of House of FoolsHQ2 is a useful length but the working area is 4 feet narrower than Pinewood’s TV studios, which could affect the design of sets that would fit comfortably in those studios.

 

 

HQ3  (68 x 52ft within firelanes) is the smallest of the main studios and opened with cameras, lights and a fully equipped grid.  It was at first used mostly for BBC Sport programmes but CBBC show Justin’s House and Frank Skinner’s Opinionated have also been made in here.  The first Match of the Day came from here on Nov 5th 2011.  Its gallery suite was also used to drive HQ7, the Blue Peter studio for many months as that studio’s galleries remained unequipped until well into 2012.  In 2019, HQ3 was often used by Blue Peter whilst HQ7 was being converted for VR.  Match of the Day and other BBC Sport programmes have now moved to the much smaller HQ7 and use virtual sets, thus freeing up HQ3 for other shows.

 

 

HQ4  (76 x 68ft within firelanes) was unequipped for many months and still remains without motorised lighting hoists.  It was booked mostly by children’s programmes in the first year or so. Lights were hung from temporary trusses whilst hired-in flyaway kit and rented cameras were used.  CBeebies series Justin’s House was one of the first bookings and Dragon’s Den was recorded here in 2012.  The galleries were eventually fitted out in the summer of 2012 – some of the kit being brought over from Quay St. In fact, many of the lights in HQ4 have ‘GTV’ painted on them – having been bought by Granada Television many years previously.

The studio has had a densely packed set of trusses installed.  The light rigs for Countdown, University Challenge and Judge Rinder are all semi-permanently rigged.  HQ3 has occasionally also been used for one of these shows when recording dates clashed.  The Jeremy Kyle Show was based in this studio but was axed in May 2019.

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The truss rig in HQ4.

 

 

Thus – by the autumn of 2012, all 7 studios had had their gallery suites fitted out.  Those for the four main studios are very spacious.  The only problem with them is that they are an astonishing two floors up at gantry level, rather than on the ground floor which most directors/producers/LDs etc prefer.  Not only that but because of the position of the studio stairs relative to the doors, you have to walk through the door and then the full length of the studio before descending – this on a steel staircase that rings with every step making a quiet nip onto the studio floor impossible.  It’s even worse for the director or producer – he or she has to go out of the production gallery, along the corridor and into the lighting or sound gallery before making the lengthy trip to the studio floor to have a quiet word with the actors/presenters.  Quite extraordinary.

When I have lit shows at Pinewood or Elstree I have frequently nipped from my gallery to the studio floor to make a quick tweak to the lighting.  Often the make-up supervisor and designer will come into the lighting gallery to check the pictures on a grade 1 monitor.  Even in TC1 with the galleries on the first floor it is relatively straightforward.  In these studios it’s a complete pain and I know many others that feel the same.

It’s not just inconvenient – it assumes that all directors, producers and lighting directors are fit and able-bodied as the lifts are so far away that to use them would be completely impractical.  Also, the time it takes to get to the studio floor and back cuts into the studio day significantly.  I worked on a comedy here where the director went to and from the studio floor at least 10 times each recording day.  It took him about 30 seconds (often more) to make the journey each way.  That added up to 10 minutes of expensive studio time.

There appears to be a considerable amount of wasted space on the ground floor of the building – the foyer is huge – so one does wonder why the architect was not persuaded to rearrange things a little and build the galleries at ground level.  In any case, Peel do own the land all around – they could even have made the building slightly bigger and done the job properly.

 

 

Incidentally, dock10 now own sufficient mobile audience seating units to equip studios 1 and 2 with audiences of 300 or so.  The seats are quite old and a bit tatty (I gather they are ex-Granada and ex-TVS) but perfectly serviceable.

In 2019 dock10 took delivery of 15 Sony HDC-3500 4K cameras, to be shared between the studios.  This was certainly a welcome investment.

In 2020 dock10 marketed the facilities as having 12 studios.  1 – 7 are mentioned above.  The rest are as follows:

HQ8  – 33 x 22ft greenscreen studio (newly constructed on the first floor behind HQ4)

HQ9  – The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra’s studio

HQ10  – The radio/audio studio

HQ11  – The outdoor piazza (controlled from one of the other studios’ galleries.)

HQ12  – 2,960 sq ft Mezzanine area. (also controlled from one of the other studios’ galleries.) This has been used for Watchdog, Blue Peter, Rip Off Britain and as a spin-off area by The Voice UK.

They are also now marketing HQ7 as a greenscreen VR studio.

In case you are wondering – ‘HQ’ apparently stands for ‘Harbour Quay.’

 

 

 

Back to the history…

 

Negotiations and discussions between Peel Group and ITV North (the main owners of 3sixtymedia) continued throughout 2008 and into 2009.  The BBC were also involved but I gather only at this planning stage regarding the design of the studio for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.  My understanding is that they played no part in the design of the TV studios.

The studio design was, it seems, carried out by consultants TSL Systems.  I copied this from their website:  ‘The early engagement allowed TSL to advise Peel on the technical and internal architectural aspects of the design, such that Peel ended up with a facility that met the requirements of their anchor tenants.  Indeed most of the typical problems such a build would have encountered in being prepared for broadcast were solved at the design stage, allowing for completion to occur on time and on budget.’  This statement later disappeared from their website.

Reading between the lines, I can’t help but conclude that the priority may have been to finish on time and on budget rather than fully consulting with the people who would actually be using the studios, which might have caused awkward delays and cost overruns.  TSL were originally asked to provide guidance regarding the costs of building the studios prior to Peel winning the contract to provide facilities for the BBC.  On winning it, Peel approached TSL to carry out the detailed design.  Quite how many currently active producers, directors, designers, lighting directors, sound supervisors, scenic supervisors, make-up and wardrobe supervisors, floor managers and studio managers were shown the proposed plans and asked their opinion is not known but I think I can guess.  If you were involved in the early design and planning I would love to hear more – confidentially of course.

 

What I have heard is that the studios were intended to be fitted out with all the latest HD and 5.1 kit, making them genuinely state of the art – as one would expect after all the fanfares.  However, the banking crisis changed everything and early in 2009 the budget for technical fitting out was severely slashed.  Decisions were taken about what was essential and what was simply nice to have, which explains why the studios opened with some not having lighting grids and properly equipped gallery suites.  Remember, apart from the studio dedicated to their orchestra, the BBC were not involved in any of these decisions – ITV North were the people who were liaising with Peel and TSL about the TV studios at this stage.

Although these studios were designed and built after fifty years’ industry-wide experience of other studio centres, good and bad, there are several aspects of their design that many people have found somewhat surprising.  For example, gallery suites 2 floors up; no toilets close to the galleries; each studio only having one scene dock door – leading onto an internal corridor; no studio having direct access to outdoors; most dressing rooms not located close to the studio floors; dimmers on the grid instead of in a dimmer room where they can be easily accessed; and the lack of storage and props/workshop space.  (A quick look at a plan of Television Centre would reveal how all these problems could have been solved.)

 

 

At the time ITV North were involved in planning the MediaCity studios, they were intended to open in 2011 and Granada would then close its studios in Quay Street.  A site for a new building opposite MediaCity had been earmarked for them to move into so that the Quay Street offices could also be sold off.  However, on 11th March 2009 there was a surprising development.  ITV issued the following press release:

‘ITV’s long-mooted move of its Manchester production base to Salford is not going to happen – meaning that the former Granada site at Quay Street will continue to be home to Coronation Street and other shows.

Discussions have taken place over several years about ITV joining the BBC at the massive new MediaCity development in Salford.

But Chief Operating Officer John Cresswell announced to Manchester staff today, during a visit to Quay Street, that negotiations with MediaCity developer the Peel Group have broken down.

In a statement, ITV said: “ITV can confirm that negotiations with the Peel Group over the possible move of the broadcaster’s Manchester operation to MediaCity in Salford broke down this week after the developer dramatically scaled back its financial commitment to the ITV element of the project.”

“As a result, ITV will remain at its Quay Street base for the foreseeable future.”

John told Manchester staff that the focus would now be on ensuring that the Quay St building is fit for purpose.’

 

This decision initially appeared to leave the opening of the studios in some doubt.  If ITV/3sixtymedia were no longer involved and with the Peel Group severely scaling back its investment then would all of the studios be completed?  Peel already had a commitment from the BBC that they would book a certain amount of studio time so on this basis (apparently £82.8m over 10 years) studios 2 and 3 were fitted out.  According to press reports, in April 2009 the Peel Group were said to be trying to persuade ITV to change their minds.  This was hardly surprising as to make running the studios financially viable Peel would need regular bookings from them too.  Throughout the following months rumours began to circulate that ITV might leave Quay St after all.

 

In March 2010 Peel announced that they had appointed Andy Waters as Head of Studios.  Andy is a decent chap who had a great deal of experience as a resource manager at BBC TV Centre. I worked with him on many shows.  Within a few months several other resource managers from TV Centre joined him – possibly the uncertain future of TVC helped in this decision.  Whatever their reasons, although some aspects of the studios’ design might not be what they would have chosen had they been involved at the planning stage, I know that they are all determined to make this studio centre a popular and happy place to make programmes.  My experience working in the studios has been very good.  The support from the studio management team was excellent and my electricians crew were young, relatively inexperienced but extremely hard working and with a very positive attitude.  It was a genuine pleasure working with them.

Some good news is that the studio management team were successful over the first two or three years of operation in persuading the shareholders to invest in a range of equipment and facilities, enhancing the attractiveness of the studios.  It is no secret that when they opened, the studios were disappointingly equipped and in many ways unfinished.  This reputation quickly spread round the industry and did a great deal of harm.  The investment that has since taken place has certainly improved things.  It will not necessarily pay for itself directly but by making the studios a more attractive place to work will pay off in the long run.

 

Meanwhile, rewinding back to November 2010, SIS (part of which used to be BBC OBs) was given a 10 year contract to supply the studios with camera, sound and engineering crews.  They used to operate the studio at the BBC Media Village in White City that produced The One Show.  Thus ‘The Studios’ at MediaCity became a joint venture between Peel Media and SIS.  This enterprise was later named ‘dock10’.

 

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A familiar object, inexplicably located in the foyer of the dock10 studio block.  Since these studios are not owned by the BBC and have no connection with Dr Who, one does wonder quite who is trying to fool whom.  And why?
Note all the wasted space that could have been used to build gallery suites by re-arranging things within the building.

 

On 16th December 2010 it was confirmed that ITV would indeed be moving to MediaCity, after many months of discussions and negotiations.  The office staff and local news are now occupying several floors of the Orange tower which is the block that also houses the University of Salford.  The first local news broadcast from the new studio was on 25th March 2013.  As it happens, I have visited the ITV news studio.  As in most converted office studios the ceiling is much too low so most of the lights, instead of hanging properly from the grid scaffold bars, are tilted to one side and pushed up against the ceiling.  That doesn’t look great frankly.

On the other side of the water a 7.7 acre site next to the Imperial War Museum is now the base for Coronation Street.  A production block, two TV studios and a larger exterior set than previously used were built and opened at the beginning of 2014.  Two more studios were added later.

In 2017, to cope with the extra Wednesday edition of the show, a construction workshop was converted into two new studios – 5 & 6.  The external lot was also extended and a mobile production gallery built.  This is towed around the site close to where shooting is taking place.

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The Coronation St site seen from MediaCity across the Manchester Ship Canal.  Foreground left is one of the two original studios, the production block can just be seen on the left of frame and the new exterior set is just visible behind the car park.

 

The studios in the main Peel block are now being used for ITV’s other productions (i.e. Countdown, Judge Rinder, University Challenge), which of course was the intention when the centre was originally designed.  It was thought that the move to studio 4 would happen in the autumn of 2012 but in fact it was early in 2013 – Countdown being the first ITV show to use HQ4 in January.  The Coronation St site took far longer to build than anticipated due apparently to some construction issues with the main 4-storey production block.  I am told that bemused MediaCity workers watched it rise in 2012 only to be dismantled and begun all over again.

 

The financial commitment for the BBC to book space in these studios was due to end in 2020.  In July 2018 it was announced that the BBC had extended its booking until March 2023 for CBeebies, CBBC, Blue Peter and Match of the Day.  (Blue Peter and Match of the Day now share HQ7, so HQ3 is no longer required by them.)  It was not revealed whether the extension was on similar terms as before for occasional use of HQ1 and HQ2 for entertainment and comedy shows.

In January 2019 ITV renewed their contract for HQ4 until 2021.  Of course, they don’t have to use these facilities…  The old Granada Studios, now called Manchester Studios are back up and running so I imagine some interesting negotiations have been happening between them.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if ITV returned to their old home in Quay Street?