The New BBC Studios: 'It's Amazing How Little Has Changed'
Ray Snoddy was under no illusions that he was the main attraction as he chaired The Media Society's debate at the old BBC Television Studios in White City.
“The star of the show tonight is not us,” said Snoddy. “It is undoubtedly the studios and looking around them I am glad to see that some service is being paid to the past.”
The intermingling of the past and the present permeates the new development in W12. A Soho House hotel will stand adjacent to the iconic studio wall, and more than 950 apartments will have the 52-year-old T.B. Huxley Jones’ Helios statue at their centre.
Snoddy may lament the loss of Studio 7, his old stomping ground, but it is clear that maintaining the cultural heritage of the old television centre of the complex is at the forefront of the work being done in White City.
Changes - And a Nod to the Past
Among the lucky guests who were given tours around the old studios were a number of former BBC employees, including Esther Rantzen and Phil Harding, eager to see what has changed since they left West London.
Margaret Hill, who worked for the BBC for nearly 40 years in a number of roles, remarked at the strangeness of returning somewhere so familiar that was still quite different. “It was very nostalgic for those of us who worked at the BBC. I like the fact that the entrance into Helios still maintains the cladding and the mural. In fact, the spirit of the BBC has reappeared here. I left the BBC while everything was going away, and it’s great to see it coming back.”
Though much of the work that was once housed in W12 has moved to Broadcasting House or Salford, BBC Worldwide still maintains its headquarters in White City. The corporation’s for-profit arm hosted The Media Society’s debate: “Is British television still the best in the world?”
What Makes British TV Great?
Snoddy chaired what was a wide-ranging and often robust debate on the place of British television in the wider world. BBC Worldwide’s CEO Tim Davie, Kim Shillinglaw director of factual programming at Endemol Shine UK, and the deputy CEO of Pact Max Rumney all had their own ideas on what made British television so great, as well as how to keep it that way.
Shillinglaw noted that in British TV: “We are bloody good at coming up with ideas and we really need to nurture and protect that.” But she also warned that “we should not underestimate the challenge that Netflix and Amazon might bring.”
Davie, who is in charge of the arm of the BBC that builds the brand commercially, said he was fully aware of the “totemic” changes in the industry that new online competitors have ushered in, particularly when it comes to engaging younger audiences.
How to Compete in a Changing Market
Much of the debate was on the question of whether the BBC can compete in a marketplace that has shifted so dramatically, and Davie pointed to how the BBC was well placed given “we own a lot of our own content and that is a really important thing”, as well as how the BBC can market itself to the wider world without corrupting its ideals. “'The things that are the most successful for BBC Worldwide are the things that are the most BBC. Doctor Who, Sherlock, Blue Planet II.”
All of the panelists agreed that it is the quality of British TV that has made it so successful, and it is crucial that this is maintained. Rumney added: “If you have the best quality content then you will meet that demand. I think as long as you have those creative abilities we will be able around the world.”
Though the majority of discussion was about the place of British television in the world, there was also time to discuss how the BBC and traditional media can work to combat fake news.
Shillinglaw said she believed that the BBC must up their game to compete with other news outlets. “My kids get all their news from Snapchat, Buzzfeed and Facebook and the BBC's presence on those platforms is immature. The traditional news suppliers have got to do better at engaging younger audiences.”
Somewhat inevitably, the conversation turned to Brexit, and how the tumult is affecting British television. Davie believes that the initial concerns other countries might have had have subsided. “I was with a major French broadcaster this morning and we didn't mention the B word. We were discussing non-scripted formats that could work really well on their networks”