BBC Sport starts Salford move

UK: 100 members of the BBC Sport production team will this weekend become trailblazers for the publicly funded broadcaster when they become the first staff to take up residence in its new £200m home in the North of England, writes UK Correspondent, Will Strauss.

The technical and editorial staff are moving in across Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 of May and starting their jobs on Monday 16 May. They are amongst the first 150 BBC people to move to Salford’s MediaCityUK as part of the corporation’s ambition to create a new centre of media excellence outside of its traditional London home.

BBC Sport is very much the pace setter in the 36 week relocation programming with BBC Sport Online becoming the first active department. It is expected to start producing content following a three or four week period of testing and orientation. TV production will begin in earnest later in the year with Football Focus being broadcast from Salford from the start of the 2011/2012 Premier League season in August. Match of the Day will follow in October.

BBC director general Mark Thompson says that the move to Salford will not only save the corporation money, it will also be a blueprint for its future. “Because of the technology we’re putting into these buildings and how we are operating these facilities and running Salford, it will save the BBC and licence-fee payers, over time, significant amounts of money,” he said. “It will be much cheaper to do things here than it will in London. The alternative would’ve been a massive refurbishment. But that would have been gigantically expensive.

“It’s also a template for a new idea of what the BBC can be – a BBC that is state-of-the-art and cross platform; less hierarchical, more flexible and more open and – even more than we do today – put excellence and creativity first.”

Described by the man leading it, Peter Salmon, as ‘the mother of all house moves’ the BBC North project is the biggest single relocation in the corporation’s history. It will see a minimum of 2,300 BBC jobs – many transferred from London and Manchester – based in Salford.

BBC Sport and Radio 5 Live along with BBC Breakfast, BBC Children’s, BBC Learning, parts of BBC Future Media & Technology and BBC Manchester are all taking up residency in three rented buildings on the banks of Manchester’s ship canal.

The move is designed to do four major things: better serve BBC viewers in the North and raise audience approval scores; provide improved value-for-money for the license fee; strengthen media production in the North of England; and increase the quality of the BBC’s output by utilizing the latest technology.

MediaCityUK itself is a £500m creative industries development designed to bolster media production in the North West. Owned by Peel Media, the BBC will occupy about 10% of the 200 acres being developed and make use of a brand new studio block that is being run by Peel Media in conjunction with SIS, the parent company of SIS Live.

In-house post-production facilities – along with other media services – are being managed on behalf of the BBC by The Farm Group.Rather than owning and operating its own offices and facilities, the BBC has agreed long-tem rental agreements and a minimum spend in the studios.


Hot-desks and headphones

Facts and figures aside, though, what can the BBC Sport staff expect to find in their new home?

The completely open plan interior design of the new buildings means there are no offices or dividing walls. In fact, the only thing separating work teams will be carefully positioned cupboards and booths. This has been done to allow maximum collaboration and is intended to break down all internal barriers between departments and between staff and management.

Intriguingly, staff will not be given their own desks. Instead they will make use of a sort of ‘hot-desking’ approach allowing them to work anywhere but meaning they will have to clear all their belongings away into lockers when they leave. Each BBC Sport employee will have just 0.5m2 of storage.

As for meetings, purpose designed breakout areas, squat stools and booths – some that look like giant headphones – will be used for both formal and informal get-togethers.

The buildings – which sit directly opposite Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground – are also colour coded, alerting staff to specific areas like catering, while walls are adorned with BBC shows past and present, maps of the local area and so on.

In the BBC Sport building, known as Quay House, there will be ground-floor presentation areas for sports bulletins and programing plus live broadcast zones for Radio 5 Live.

The adjacent studio block – a shiny, and rather sumptuous looking building with seven HD studios in it – will be used for presentation of shows like Match of the Day. Editing will be done both at desk and in the purpose built edit facilities within the block.

The fit out of the buildings is costing the BBC £41m. Technology and facilities – rental and installation – is coming in at £74.8m. The BBC did not reveal how much has been spent on the giant headphone style meeting booths…


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