To move - or not to move?

To move - or not to move?

Many major broadcasters bit the bullet during the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century and invested in large new state-of-the –art broadcasting centres.

The BBC was one of the biggest – drastically revamping almost its entire property portfolio in a long term project that culminated in the opening of New Broadcasting House in London. This £1.046bn project took 10 years to complete and eventually moved more than 5,000 staff from ten smaller buildings across the capital.

Whilst doing this, the BBC also moved more than 1,000 staff out of London to 3 new buildings which are part of MediaCity in Salford.

Other UK broadcasters had also invested significantly in new broadcasting centres with ITV also moving to Salford and SKY building a major new studio complex at its HQ near Heathrow.

Elsewhere in the world, CCTV was moving 10,000 staff under one roof in its iconic ‘trouser-shaped’ building in Beijing and the Russian state broadcaster also moved into a new home in Moscow.

And it wasn’t just broadcasters. Many big newspaper groups were doing the same – The Guardian and The Telegraph in London and the New York Times to name just three.

As each project moved from financial approval to design and planning it looked around at what others were doing. The new Bloomberg building in New York was scrutinised for its radical approach to open-plan working. The new Google buildings were explored for their hyper-creative and flexible workspaces.

  • There was never one single reason for making these big investments – but a variety of shared issues which included:
  • The need to remedy old and tired buildings which had originally been fitted with redundant analogue technology
  • The need to invest in new content supply chains that organised metadata efficiently so that it could supply new online products cost-effectivelyThe need to bring television, radio and online staff alongside each other as platforms converged over the internet
  • The need to have higher levels of resilience so that threats to transmission could be minimised
  • The need to save money in the long-term by selling off old buildings and bringing down future revenue costs
  • The need to work more closely with - or even house - some independent suppliers

The new buildings used open plan seating areas, hot-desking and shared services for more efficient use of space. Private managerial offices became rare and the emphasis was on breaking down walls – both physically and metaphorically. Collaboration and creativity aimed to work in harness with new efficient and future-proof technology.

And, as the champions of these new projects continuously pointed out, it was much safer and less disruptive to create brand new buildings with new technology than try to replace workspaces and technology which was constantly in use.

Some – like Aljazeera in Doha or RTM in Kuala Lumpur are doing a bit of both and some, like Mediacorp in Singapore, are planning the final moves of staff into their new broadcasting centre.

But the signs are that this trend is now slowing. Some companies, like MBC in Dubai, planned to move but decided not to in the end whilst others, like RTE in Dublin, are still considering what to do.

As the impact of the disrupters bites harder into traditional broadcasters’ advertising income it takes a brave CFO to stake so much capital on major new building projects. And yet – these projects, when harnessed to new technology, have the ability to transform the prospects of a broadcaster by enabling new ways of working that meet the needs of the future.

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Last modified on 15 May 2017
Andy Griffee

Advises on strategy, organisational structures & all aspects of change programmes.