MediaCityUK, the impressive home to the BBC and others in 36 pristine acres. Its now 6 years from when construction ﬁrst began. No-one doubts the transformation that has taken place. During the day at least the area has a buzz that was missing since the early 1900s when Salford Docks in its heyday serving 5000 ships a year.
MediaCity is part of an elite club of over 60 media cities worldwide. Nearly all run at a loss and have been hugely expensive to build. Some are white elephants and others are driving their local economy with phenomenal success. One thing they all share is the expectation of success is racing ahead of the reality.
Looking to the past - which is an excellent basis for the future - we see ‘equivalent’ ﬂagship developments take a long, long time to ﬂourish and ﬁll.
Back in 1931 the newest, tallest and smartest new building in The World was the Empire State Building. Constructed at the back end of the Wall St crash it was the largest rentable ofﬁce on earth. In year one it lost $2 million which in today’s terms would bankrupt most property groups. It took 19 years to turn a proﬁt and only become full in 1950.
Fast forward to 1991 when the Canary Wharf development was opened at the site of the West India Docks - the busiest docks in The World in the early 1800s. The 14 million square feet site grew over the subsequent few years. Famously following a property crash in 1992 the development company went bankrupt. Indeed Canary Wharf has only made a proﬁt since 2007, taking 16 years to wash its face.
So what can we deduce about MediaCityUK. It will succeed but many are expecting that to happen faster than the reality that history tells us. The digital launch of Manchester’s new Internet Exchange point IXManchester is a huge boost to the development and the region in general. The BBC and University of Salford are shortly to be joined by ITV. With Peel owned and managed HD Studios you’ve got broadcast nirvana for the creation of linear and on demand content.
The thornier issue which few media cities have managed is how to handle a disruptive and unpredictable digital media sector. Clearly they’re a must have but as we at Manchester Digital know its far easier to avoid describing the sector in detail as its a broad church which is thriving but constantly changing and in ﬂux.
Maybe this is why a trade association can help. Most digital companies aspire to world class digital infrastructure but don’t all need, or can afford ‘state of the art’ smart buildings. A quick wonder down Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter will show us the other magic ingredients include great coffee, free wiﬁ and places for interesting creatives to hang out and look cool with sleek Apple devices. Media City isn’t competing with this area of Manchester but closer engagement is the name of the game.
Perhaps the creation of Media City can, as the public planners hope, be a catalyst for the wider area to beneﬁt from a reputation and growth in ‘digitalness’.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter that the Quays grinds to a halt around 7pm and many of the cool startups and freelancers of the Northern Quarter don’t hang out there. Maybe some more creative thought into startup space which links rent to proﬁtability could do the trick. Some attention to free WiFi and independent coffee shops wouldn’t go amiss.
Whatever happens we wish MediaCityUK a happy 6th birthday and if you think it is already reaping the rewards then return in a decade and see it as the jewel in the crown of a high tech international hub which Greater Manchester will become.
This article is the opinion of the author and does not represent a position or policy of Manchester Digital. As a trade association we offer free speech to our members and welcome submission of articles for our website.