Which city has the best chance of becoming the new home of Channel 4?

Several cities have opened their doors to the new Channel 4 HQ, but do they meet the broadcaster’s key criteria?

Last month Channel 4 gave a clearer indication of what it is looking for from a prospective host city as it looks to move 300 jobs out of London. Its brochure ‘4 All the UK’ should make interesting reading for those not bidding, as well as those hoping to attract the broadcaster.

Channel 4 estimates that 300 jobs will move to the city it chooses for its new headquarters and over time it claims that 3,000 production jobs will be supplemented by the new business outside of the capital.

The document identifies that the following key considerations (or ‘entry guidelines’) must be met by the successful city:

  • A working population of at least 200,000
  • Up to 3 hours journey time to London
  • A high level of physical and digital connectivity and infrastructure

And in assessing these criteria, the following things will be considered:

  • Economic, demographic, diversity and environmental factors (although no detail is given to what specifically this means)
  • An existing availability of talent and future pipeline including educational links
  • Local connectivity and broader infrastructure
  • Ease and speed of travel
  • Effectiveness and efficiency of available office space

Following the announcement, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Sheffield, Stafford, Stoke and York are among the cities and regions who have submitted a proposal.

So how do the cities measure up on these criteria? If we consider the first three – working population, travel time to London and cities’ level of digital connectivity – a list of potentially eligible cities comes out. This data is available directly on Centre for Cities’ data tool, with the exception of journey time to London data which can easily be extracted from any route planning website.

The essential criteria rule out York, Plymouth and Hull on a population basis, and Belfast and Glasgow as they are too far away from London (excluding flights).

City Working age population, 2016 Journey time to London by rail (minutes) Properties achieving ultrafast broadband, 2017 (%) Population with high skills (%)
Birmingham 1,574,229 85 86.00% 28%
Brighton and Hove 242,400 85 91.25% 47%
Bristol 484,616 105 86.50% 44%
Cardiff 244,578 125 79.80% 46%
Coventry 234,307 60 70.58% 34%
Leeds 512,780 140 73.90% 34%
Liverpool 425,167 140 81.50% 32%
Manchester 1,578,824 130 66.80% 36%
Milton Keynes 169,030 35 13.86% 36%
Newcastle 551,048 150 67.04% 34%
Nottingham 440,746 120 89.50% 32%
Sheffield 539,822 130 45.30% 34%
Stoke 241,293 100 71.50% 26%
York 138,155 120 58.32% 43%


Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and Cardiff have a higher percentage of premises achieving ultrafast broadband. Broadband connectivity is a key component of the infrastructure offer that a city can make to businesses, entrepreneurs and residents. Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham all have big working populations too, which implies a more diverse workforce.

While Channel 4 does not rank its criteria in terms of importance, it’s likely that the availability of a skilled workforce will be chief among them, or at least influence its final decision. As we show in our industrial strategy briefing, skills should be a key concern for all cities seeking to attract a range of businesses, not just broadcast media. British cities that offer access to high-skilled workers and knowledge have been most successful at attracting high-paying businesses and jobs. Of those bidding for Channel 4, this measure sets Bristol and Cardiff apart from their counterparts.

That said, although there are many good reasons a city would want to be the new home of a major national broadcaster, the direct economic impact is likely to be small for the eventual winner. Our report on the 2012 BBC move to Salford shows that it did lead to a jobs boom in MediaCityUK but had little impact on employment across Greater Manchester as a whole. Places bidding to be the new home of Channel 4 should not overestimate the economic benefits it would bring.

What’s more important, is that cities address the weaknesses that they might have in attracting higher-skilled businesses to their area, be they Channel 4, HSBC or any other firm.

On this, the Channel 4 prospectus, as well as the criteria set out by Amazon for its HQ2 location, are very helpful. They should act as a guide as cities think about how to grow and diversify their business base, and pull together their local industrial strategies. A new Channel 4 headquarters will bring with it a few hundred new jobs, which of course will be good news for the chosen city, but does not mark the end for the other competitors. The aim of all cities should be to create many tens of thousands of new jobs in a range of industries.

In order to do this, cities will need to offer businesses what they need to be successful. And Channel 4 and Amazon both highlight a skilled workforce and good physical and digital connectivity as high priorities. Places should take part in the bidding process for the new Channel 4 headquarters if they think that it would benefit their local area, but the broader challenge for all cities is to understand and respond to more fundamental business needs in order to attract other high profile companies to their area.

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James Moore
7 May 2018 16:38

Sorry, where does this absurd idea that Liverpool only has 400,000 inhabitants come from? I presume you are only counting the Liverpool local authority, not Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton or St Helens. Ridiculous from people who should know better. Bristol isn't nearly as large.

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