A buzz is building around the media world in the South West – as the continuing upheaval in the TV industry and online give companies new opportunities to grow and find success.
The merger last year of Plymouth production powerhouse Twofour with Welsh company Boom means there has never been a better time to work in the media in the region.
But is the South West really experiencing a new renaissance in media? Does being in the South West rather than the traditional TV heartlands of London give any kind of advantage? What are the important factors that allow businesses, some new, some established, to make the most of the new market landscape for media and video production?
“You have to work harder, living in the South West,” said Jeremy Hibbard, creative director and founder of Ivybridge-based production company Televisionary, and a former head of development at Plymouth’s Twofour. He left the “super-indy” in 2002 to form Televisionary. The company has grown over the last few years, has had numerous terrestrial TV commissions and has also built a thriving corporate business.
“We’ve never relied solely on the South West as a market – you have to broaden your horizons. I’m proud to live and work in the South West, but you have to look elsewhere,” he said.
David Flavell, creative director of Exeter’s Pangea Productions, agrees. The company has built a solid reputation since its formation in 2000 as a production house for corporate clients, and has handled projects for multinational brands including Carlsberg, Disney and United Biscuits and major organisations across the region such The Met Office and South West Water.
“The South West is a nice place to live and has a fantastic range of locations for filming purposes. However, we never kid ourselves that being based in the South West somehow gives us a magical advantage over other production companies outside of the region because in today’s digital age, distance really isn’t a major issue. The fact that we’ve generated new business in recent months from London, the North and Scotland illustrates that point perfectly well.”
Other companies see the beauty of the region as a real, tangible benefit. Emmy Smith, MD of Redhanded TV’s corporate arm, said it gives the company a real creative advantage. Redhanded was formed in 2008 and has built its reputation for high-quality films through its coverage of the World Match Racing sailing series. They have an office in Ashprington, near Totnes, and another in London.
“Our location really fuels creativity,” she said. “The streets of London are hemmed in, there’s a sense of buildings closing in around you, and that stifles creativity for many people. The physical sense of space we have here directly frees the mind to be more exploratory.” If that sounds too ‘floaty‘, believe me it’s backed up by the serious strategic intelligence of people at the top of their game. We then sell that creativity into London and it goes down a storm.”
One of the big changes in the TV production and media industry over the last decade has been the increase in the number of TV channels and the increase in online video on websites such as YouTube and Vimeo. Another game changer has been the increasing relevance of mobile devices, as first 3G, and now 4G networks, allow people to watch moving images wherever they are.
Jeremy Hibbard said that the changes in the TV landscape – with tens of channels rather than four or five – meant there were opportunities for those quick enough to respond.
“The proliferation of channels means the market is opening up, the budgets are small but they are turning into the nursery slopes for companies, ideas and talent,” he said. “You can see a number of companies moving from one of the smaller digital channels into more mainstream slots.”
“In recent years, the number of outlets available for people to view videos has increased almost exponentially. That has to be a good thing for companies like ours because it creates a whole new range of opportunities,” said David Flavell.
“I have no idea what will happen with new technologies in the future and haven’t got a clue what clever devices we’ll all be using in years to come. What I do know though is that there will always be a need for video content that delivers the client’s message to its target in an engaging way and we are here to provide that,” he said.
Emmy Smith has another take: “Over the last five years, the market has changed: at last everyone wants content. Marketing directors and sports federations now really recognise the sheer power of content that drives a real connection in a way that seriously impacts bottom line. Not crap, value-less, unimaginative film for film’s sake. I’m talking stuff that hits the sweet spot: that binds an audience to a brand, sport or organisation for the long term.
“Over the next few years the biggest influence on the media will be the need for digital content with a global relevance and reach. The most exciting influence? Real time experiential content that blows people’s minds.”
The Internet’s growing network of optic-fibre cable means that ‘broad’ casting could become ‘narrow’ casting – allowing companies to use video to sell services, events and products to a targeted audience over the web – bypassing ‘traditional’ media completely.
One South West company has based its growth on the new opportunities offered by the web and mobile applications is Plymouth’s Silverstream TV. Started by former BBC man Roger Wiltshire with tech whizz Alex Byrd, and now joined by former BBC presenter and producer Simon Walton, Silverstream produces work almost exclusively for the web.
“We started before YouTube,” said Roger, “so we had to create everything we used, from the protocols for streaming to the players people would use on their computers. We could see that the concept of broadcasting over the net was very possible and we decided we needed to invest in that.
“The Internet has dramatically changed the market – people can now create bespoke broadcasts that tailor to a very specific market, which gives it immense power. We are producing programmes for very important trade shows that are looking to speak to perhaps a few hundred people with the power in that industry. With one of our broadcasts you can make it possible for them to see your event from across the world.
“We were so early into the market with what we offer that we had to educate our customers, but now we are seeing a lot of clients absolutely loving our stuff.”
So, is the future bright for the media companies in the region?
Jeremy Hibbard says he’s excited by the future, but knows nothing happens in his industry without hard work.
“We’ve won awards and done really well, but in the regions in general and in the South West in particular you can’t rest on your laurels – you have to keep working hard and looking for opportunities to develop – you have to really keep on it,” he said.