The broadcaster is deciding where to relocate to Birmingham, The UK’s second city. Channel 4 will decide where to move its head office, At the end of this month. In the world of media this is a moment of substantial importance. But the potential impact of the board’s verdict is much greater.
The bidding process, overseen by Jonathan Allan, Channel 4’s chief commercial officer, has yielded a shortlist of three: Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Each of the cities has a decent claim to the prize – but it should unquestionably go to Birmingham, which has a hunger for the regeneration its presence would stimulate, and a civic trajectory that is perfect for Channel 4.
With preparations for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and the prospective arrival of the HS2 link have enlivened the UK’s “second city”, which was once known as the “workshop of the world”. Today, unemployment is falling across the West Midlands but it is still too high: the jobs that a “hero brand” such as Channel 4 would generate are badly needed.
But the city does not present itself as a hard-luck case. The municipal spirit that animated Joseph Chamberlain is surging once more. Birmingham’s digital infrastructure, early rollout of 5G mobile capacities, and the tech hub in nearby Leamington Spa are extremely impressive.
Leeds claims to offer the diversity that Channel 4 is seeking in its new home. But it can scarcely compete with the incomparable diversity of Birmingham – whose population embraces more than 187 nationalities – or, importantly, the age demographic of the Midlands city.
More than 40% of Birmingham’s citizens are 25 and under. And this – above all else – is what makes the city the ideal new location for this, of all broadcasters. As it approaches its fifth decade Channel 4 – facing competition from Amazon Prime, Netflix and YouTube – badly needs access to the pulsing core of youth. Even in the world of virtual business, the geographical setting of the modern corporation’s HQ still matters tremendously.
Six metro mayors, most particularly Andy Street in Birmingham and Andy Burnham in Manchester, and the “northern powerhouse” established by George Osborne.
If Channel 4 moves to Birmingham, it will be living amongst its target audience.