The future of digital media is in the North – here’s why
In what is being dubbed a “digital migration” in the industry, many media organisations that once housed their digital functions in London are migrating to the North of the country.
Although the shift can be attributed to a number of factors, early signs that London has been caught napping while the digital revolution took hold are certainly there.
According to one recruitment consultant there has been a significant increase in the demand for experienced digital professionals throughout the north, with Leeds a particular hotbed for such talent over the years.
Here’s how the north positioned itself as the chief beneficiary of a digital migration.
There once was a time when London had a monopoly over the media industry. In fact, so concentrated was the media landscape that in 2003 the government was forced to intervene with the Communications Act, which required a proportion of programmes by the UK’s main broadcasters be made outside the M25. This acted as a catalyst for big media moving to the north.
Fast forward to today and the news on the media front is that Salford outranked both London and Manchester to become the UK’s top city for starting a new business in 2017. Sunderland also laid claim to the most new tech businesses in the UK, with the turnover of digital tech businesses in the city growing by 101 per cent between 2011 and 2015.
This is even further exemplified by the fact that nearly 70 per cent of total UK digital tech investment was in regional clusters beyond London, with Edinburgh (£159 million), Manchester (£78 million) and Sheffield (£61 million) among the notable recipients.
Significantly, digital employment in Sheffield and South Yorkshire stands at over 21,000 and digital firms in the region boast one of the highest growth rates of any cluster in the UK, with turnover increasing at 47 per cent.
In Birmingham, there are already an estimated 50,000 creative workers in the city area, and more than 5,800 companies. Little wonder, therefore, that Birmingham successfully lobbied to gain more investment from the BBC in the same vein as Salford by pitching itself as “young, diverse and digital”.
The impact of Media City’s introduction to the wider region and the rate of growth should not be understated, as thousands of start-ups now rub shoulders with the likes of the BBC and Channel 4, who headquarter in the city.
It would appear the only way is up for the region. In 2016 a £1 billion plan to double the size of MediaCityUK was given the green light. Moreover, according to a study by DueDil, if Salford maintains its startup growth rate, the city could be on course to produce 5,286 new businesses this year alone, a huge increase of 2,436 from the previous year.
According to Stuart Clarke, who headed up the Leeds Digital Festival in June 2016, Leeds has the potential to become ‘digital capital of Europe.’ Thanks in part to the rising costs of running a business in London an increasing amount of start-ups are heading to Yorkshire to capitalise on its burgeoning digital sector. The Leeds University backed SPARK programme supports student entrepreneurs, while Futurelabs, Duke Studios, Leeds Beckett Digital Hub and ODI Leeds provide space and networking opportunities. A £3.7 million grant from Leeds City Council will be divided between innovative tech projects, and Creative England backed Gameslab Leeds will continue to support games studios in the area.
The North East is also in the process of handing the keys to the region over to tech-savvy Millennials. The IPPR “State of the North” report pointed to the opportunities afforded by the creative and tech sectors in the region that will necessitate more digital skills. Sunderland now has the highest rate of digital tech business startups in the country, while Newcastle and Middlesbrough both have higher birth rates than the national average – with a hotbed of IT and digital talent and creativity there to welcome firms who take a punt on the country’s chilly North East.
In Birmingham, the digital scene is thriving with the youthfulness and diversity of its workforce, as Under 25s make up 40 per cent of the population, making it among the youngest cities in Europe with an increasing supply of talent for media firms operating in the digital space.
With the secret now out, it will be interesting to see how aggressive this migration is set to be. Although London is undoubtedly important to the Digital Media sector, it seems like the tide has turned to the North with only greater growth expected in 2018.
72Point’s Jack Peat will be leading Prolific North Live’s Digital Keynote Theatre on 28th February and 1st March, for more details, see https://live.prolificnorth.co.uk/.