C4 setback but campaign boosts West Midlands

Story updated November 8, 2018

Birmingham missed out on its bid to host the headquarters of Channel 4, with Leeds taking the honours, along with Creative Hubs in Bristol and Glasgow.

Bid leaders admitted it was a “huge disappointment” after a major investment in time, money and resources.

But the bid has left a hugely valuable legacy in one of the most energising campaigns in the region’s history, which has provided the momentum behind a renaissance of the screen sector.

A long selection process reduced the campaign to three final locations for the broadcaster’s new headquarters – Birmingham, Greater Manchester and Leeds. All three are also in the running to become a Creative Hub for the channel.

The West Midlands bid originally began with Coventry also on board and Leamington Spa competing for the Creative Hub but the focus shifted to the Second City in July.

The city and region pulled together a powerful bid under the banner Get Closer and the hashtag #WMGeneration. The argument was that the region represented the ‘natural’ location for a UK broadcaster, whose remit is focused on adventurous content for young, diverse audiences and which plans to increase its spending quota on 'Nations and Regions' content from 35% to 50% by 2023.


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It made a powerful claim for both. 

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon and her team were presented a clear message that the region represents the youngest, most diverse populations in the UK, in a region packed with talent that cut across the creative sectors.

And the broadcaster had a perfect view off the brilliant connections to the rest of the UK and to the world. The initial pitch took place at the top of the Birmingham City University's Curzon building, overlooking the planned HS2 route and with aeroplanes taking off from Birmingham Airport taking off into a clear blue sky above the city.

The region's promise of the maximum benefits of moving with minimum disruption is strong, as Channel 4 seeks to take a leading role in a fast evolving media ecosystem while retaining its strengths. The move out of London comes at a time of change in the media market with the big Video On Demand players, such as Netflix and Amazon, growing into major disruptive forces. The digital era has already seen big shifts in consumer demand - particularly among younger audiences - and challenging trends in a converged media economy.

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon has recognised the need for change: “The concept of distinctiveness in a post-Netflix world is more important than ever, and for us that’s got to be as well, with the concept of relevance.”

That balance has been at the heart of a West Midlands, bringing together innovative but  established businesses, recognised stars of the sector and a wealth of emerging talent, representing the full diversity of the region's communities. It has earned the region a place on the shortlist for both the broadcaster's HQ and as a 'creative hub'.

Among those who joined the West Midlands pitch were Citizen Khan writer and star Adil Ray, film director Debbie Isitt, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and DJ Bobby Friction alongside big hitters from leading creative businesses in the region, universities, and the leaders and chief executives of Birmingham City Council, Coventry City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority.

There was strong representation from the region's rising stars, including film-maker Daniel Alexander, comedian and Radio One presenter David Whitely, social entrepreneur Ishani Parekh, rising artist and singer Sibongile Mkoba, choreographer, Cherelle Harding of Positive Youth Foundation and actor and poet Adaya Henry, who even penned a poem of support. Regional collectives helping drive diverse young talent, including Beatfreaks  were also represented.

The region's government bodies and universities were fully engaged in the bid with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street as a vocal advocate and leadership offered by others, including Neil Rami, of the West Midlands Growth Company.

The bid came at an exciting time for the region, including Coventry City Of Culture in 2021 and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022, as well as developments in the sector itself, including new studio space, the arrival of BBC Three in Birmingham and the setting up of the West Midlands Screen Bureau (WMSB), whose creative cluster work is now getting into gear and will be represented at the pitch by Strategic Project Leader, Michael Gubbins (in a session led by another of the campaign's leading lights, Jonnie Turpie MBE.)