Sheffield / Bristol

A far too short visit to Sheffield DocFest to chair a panel on the US market with a stellar line up:

A really interesting take on the new opportunities of the factual landscape, especially in the US. The big investments from Netflix and Amazon in particular are generating a new wave of significant production, and triggering changing commissioning patterns from traditional broadcast channels like Discovery and Nat Geo (e.g. full buyout commission).

The strategic moves of companies like Snap, Facebook, Hulu appear to show the potential for another wave of “digital first” content commissioning. And with investment announcements in the last week of a $100M Snap / Warner Bros deal and $450M into Vice (plus new entrants like Awesomeness TV) this feels like a market with plenty of buyers. Interestingly the evolving position was blurring lines between the producers / distributors / commissioners on my panel – all taking much more agile positions (especially in distribution) as a result of new opportunities and new threats.

And as with all things a counter intuitive effect. Examples were cited across the panel (e.g. PBS’s Black Panthers doc) where a theatrical release massively amplified eventual TV and online audiences. The right content will find an audience (or multiple audiences) on the right platform (or platforms) – the hard bit is the same as it ever was, “the right content”…


As I walked back to Sheffield station I passed Sheaf Square, an empty piece of ground highlighted in the local newspaper as the site being put forward by the city as a potential new location for Channel 4.

I’ve been working with Bristol City Council and Invest Bristol + Bath (plus industry, Universities and others) to build the Bristol offer into this DCMS consultation.

Regardless of the shape or likelihood of outcome it raises some fundamental questions on the wisdom and efficacy of top down interventions in cluster development. If your industrial strategy is to use available levers to rebalance an economy, how do you judge additionality?

The cities who are publicly interested in Channel 4 represent a mix: a city with no real scale creative economy, can you catalyse something from scratch?; a city which has already seen significant investment, so does a small incremental addition make any real difference?; a city with a scale creative economy but structural weaknesses, does adding resilience to an ecosystem with potential feel transformative enough if you are also looking for a political impact?

We’ll see how this plays out. As is often the case, the process of galvanizing attention has secondary benefits in focusing minds on the immediately possible.

I’ve had a long held belief that the next wave of innovations will come from second cities, cities where the accessibility of diverse talents allows a crowding of different viewpoints around a problem, and where a collaborative approach is second nature as there is a shared desire to grow the local economy (one day I’ll devote some proper research time to it).

Interesting to see the John Harris article for Demos this week which sees the economic challenges of London as an amplifying factor in the same effect across the UK:


The picture above shows the unofficial twinning of my garden with the “Happy Terrace” garden on the roof of Kyoto Station (thanks to Jas for making me a replica sign from my original photo).

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