The newsroom at BBC Broadcast House in London. Image courtesy Hufton & Crow.
Broadcasters across the globe are adopting the 1960s slogan ‘Make Love – Not War’ and using its essential message to underpin a revolution in the way they are organising their staff, technology and buildings. A new era of intense internal collaboration is being seen as a key tactic in their efforts to reduce costs, grow audiences and see off new competition. A recent survey by Marquis Media Partners LLP identified scores of TV, radio, print and online companies who have embarked on wholesale building moves and technical refreshes. Most of them are also preaching a gospel of vigorous co-operation between their different teams, departments and divisions in order to maximise the value of their investments.
The BBC’s largest ever capital project, the redevelopment of Broadcasting House in London, allowed 5,000 staff from 10 smaller buildings across London to join the 1,000 who were already working in its original 1930s building. It brought the BBC’s London-based TV, Radio and Online services together under one roof as well as all of its international and national news and current affairs teams.
New subject-based clusters of staff were created for the Arts and the Sciences, a 100 jobs were cut with the creation of a single technical support team for everyone and ‘golden rules’ were established which insisted everyone use the same technology and that no single department owned any of the studios or edit suites. The overriding message was clear – the BBC could no longer allow its aptly named ‘Divisions’ to operate as separate and almost wholly independent tribes.
Elsewhere in the UK, Sky and ITV have been busy creating their own new buildings where company-wide strategies have been forcefully driven through.
Sky newsroom in West London
The Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV has brought together no less than 10,000 employees at its iconic new building in Beijing. The main aim behind their massive trouser-shaped building was for all aspects of its TV operation to be united in one place in order to co-operate more closely.
Now, the Japanese broadcaster NHK has deployed researchers to look in detail at some of these other projects. It has earmarked a substantial budget for the creation of a new broadcasting HQ to be opened in Tokyo by 2025.
In some cases, these huge new internally joined-up broadcasting centres are also going the extra yard to collaborate with external companies. In Singapore Mediacorps’ new building aims to house a wide range of smaller media companies just as the BBC’s and ITV’s new campus at Salford near Manchester works in partnership with Dock 10, a privately owned block of studios and facilities that are also used by their competitors and the local university.
The price of land development in the world’s capital cities, combined with the need to maximise occupation of these expensive new buildings, means a particular approach to workplace design is being shared by all of them. Open plan is the name of the game with a minimal number of internal dividing walls and maximum flexibility to adjust for future waves of contraction or expansion.
Some of the more hierarchical national cultures in the Far East have baulked at the idea of no managerial offices - but all of them have embraced hot-desking and flexible working to some degree. The workforce hasn’t just been encouraged to ‘cuddle-up’ to their colleagues through all kinds of collaborative new initiatives, it has also been encouraged to ‘huddle-up’ in much more concentrated numbers. Back at New Broadcasting House in London the pressure to house all of its creative teams in one place and accelerate the sale of other buildings like Television Centre has prompted an aggressive overall hot-desking target of 15 people to every 10 desks. But such measures can deliver benefits which go beyond cost and efficiency.
Google and Bloomberg approaches
Many broadcasters have looked to Google or the Bloomberg offices in New York as inspiration for ways in which internal spaces can force staff to meet-up in a way which old buildings made virtually impossible. The Bloomberg business news empire prioritises what it calls ‘incidental contact’. The lift only goes to one of the six floors of the New York HQ so that everyone is forced to interact with everyone else as they move around the building. Moreover the spiral staircase they are forced to use acts like a vertical meeting room with informal breakout spaces at every stage. The 2,200 staff may only have four square feet per person, but it is all part of forcing an atmosphere of febrile and intense creative collaboration.
The new developments are also seeing broadcasters begin to reach out to their audiences by opening their doors and inviting them in. A new visitor centre has been built at the Sky campus near Heathrow Airport to house the Sky Academy. It aims to create opportunities for up to one million under-25s by 2020. And at New Broadcasting House guided tours take place from dawn to dusk, passers-by can drop in for a coffee in a cafeteria overlooking the main newsroom and radio theatre audiences are marshalled in and out on a daily basis. It is estimated that more than 60,000 members of the public will visit the new building each year. Surveys have proved that such face-to-face contact drastically increases the approval ratings for the host broadcaster amongst those that turn up.
But it’s not just a question of deliberately collaborative construction and new corporate cultures. The technology installed at these new more open broadcasting centres also needs to underpin the ethos of sharing that is designed into their very foundations.
New internal technical design authorities police any new technical procurement to make sure it is consistent with the rest of the company.
This doesn’t just drive procurement savings through larger single supplier contracts. It brings down support costs, training costs and crucially allows a much higher level of internal movement without having to retrain staff each time. Companies know it benefits them to have multiplatform and multi-skilled staff who know intimately how other teams work – and it encourages higher levels of staff retention. Attachments come and go more easily and the workforce is much less likely to feel they need to leave their current employer for fresh new challenges and experiences.
But the real driving force behind the technology of these new broadcasting centres is to enable the quick and easy sharing of the same program content and information.
The quantum-leap proliferation of new channels, new on-demand services and new internet-based business models over the last 15-20 years has forced them to drastically reconsider their technical and operational workflows. New production and media asset management systems, clear metadata strategies and leading edge IT infrastructure are all needed if companies are to track and exploit their content across the full breadth of the content chain, from acquisition and production to distribution and archive.
All broadcasters are grappling with this issue as they are forced to organise their ‘under-the bonnet’ wiring more effectively. It’s almost impossible to launch new subscription and video-on-demand services without this in place. But many know to their cost precisely how difficult it is to re-wire the plane in mid-flight as well as challenge long-established ways of doing things which are based in firmly entrenched departmental silos. Some have also rushed to install IP based production systems without making the essential workflow changes along the way. Implementing radical new technical and operational change is much easier when it comes with a whole new building and other supportive culture change. Staff can be retrained and recognise a clean break with the past as soon as they move locations.
Marquis recently advised one prominent middle-east broadcaster that even if it didn’t move to new premises, it had to start managing some of these workflows and technologies horizontally and holistically if it was to retain its leading place in its market. It had grown too quickly and too big to ignore them any longer.
Because the world has changed. A second industrial revolution has swept through the mass-market broadcasting and communications world. People now receive video, audio and text services on multiple devices, many of them handheld. Computers are televisions and phones - and televisions and phones are computers. Citizen journalists often have the most gripping footage of breaking news events and broadcasters no longer own the distribution pipes to audiences in their millions. Moreover, old business models are fighting for survival against new internet subscription services.
Traditional broadcasters across the world are being forced to reshape and reorganise themselves and their services like never before. They are being forced to Make Love – Not War in the design of their buildings, the technology they use and in their newly joined-up corporate cultures. They are all doing it in an attempt to turn such scary new challenges into exciting new creative opportunities. In the new world, collaboration is king and staff are being told to love thy neighbour more than ever - especially if you want to kill the competition…
Andy Griffee is with Marquis Media Partners LLP, a group of media and broadcast experts who have practical experience of delivering many of the projects mentioned in this article.
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