Do we all have to move to London if we want to start working in the TV industry?

On this MA, we aim to give students as broad a skillset as possible to allow them to move into a range of different roles and industries, with a key focus – naturally – on film and television (in the broadest sense of both terms). It’s a question we get asked time and time again: aren’t all the TV jobs in London? In this guest blog, recent student Heather Burrell talks about the early stages of her job hunt, how some of the bigger talent databases do indeed emphasise a London bias, and how there are some positive moves being made towards bringing more TV production to the regions.

The London Bubbleheather case study

Since finishing my MA last month, I have started looking for work in the TV industry, and found that an overwhelming majority of the jobs featured on a key talent database are in London (see map I created below). As a whole, UK media in general is heavily concentrated into the small bubble of the capital. Whilst London only represents 13% of the population, all our national English-language newspapers have their bases there and, as of 2015, around two-thirds of all television producers are centred there. This ultimately means London is massively dominating the rest of the UK’s media, whilst also generating a risk that regional talent could be hugely underwritten. As someone who hasn’t been able to consider applying for jobs in London, due to the cost of living there, my chances of getting a job in the TV industry have felt drastically limited.

From my own personal experience, in order to begin a career in television, a plethora of experience in the industry is imperative. In most cases, this will start off as unpaid work experience placements or internships; which I luckily managed to participate in as a built-in part of the MA. However, without that, I simply would not have been able to afford to commit to such long periods of unpaid work and, ultimately, my path into the industry would have been heavily restricted. Many people who I have met whilst working in the television industry managed to gain experience at the beginning of their career through personal ties to people already in the industry. Hence, it seems a route into the industry is easier for those who are well-connected and those who can afford to live in London or take on more unpaid work.

What about the regions?

Having said that, I also know that regional cities, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and beyond, do offer opportunities and experiences in the film and television industry. In fact, two out of my three placements were in Birmingham and the majority of placements offered on the MA are in the West Midlands. So, it is important to note that, whilst there are recognised biases in the industry, work is certainly not completely restricted to London!

heather mapChannel 4’s plans to move its headquarters outside London is evidence in itself that the industry is aware of the London media bias. In March 2017, the then Culture Secretary Karen Bradley gave a speech at the Nations and Regions Media Conference in Salford, Manchester; a place which itself has seen regeneration after the decision for BBC to move strands of production there from London in 2004. Bradley’s speech emphasised that broadcasters “can flourish in places outside London” and states there is a “great deal of talent” outside London that is being overlooked. It is great to see both the BBC in 2004, and now Channel 4, making an active effort to relieve the bias. There is no doubt it must be easier and more convenient having everything, from commissioners to studios to production companies, confined to one place. However, it sometimes feels like the rest of us are left stranded at sea, struggling to swim ashore to the expensive island that is London life or towards other islands with only very limited jobs to offer in the television industry.

Staying positive

So, should I have to move to London if I want to start working in the TV industry? Whilst it feels that way for me right now, the reality is, it’s hard to find work in TV anywhere at this stage of our careers. There are other, localised job sites and social media groups beyond The Talent Manager and I know others from my cohort have started to find work in the West Midlands, but too often the nature of the industry is biased towards those who are well-connected and have the funds to live in London, or commit to unpaid work. Having said this, I think the main reason it’s such a hard industry to get into is because it’s such a fun, exciting and rewarding line of work, so it is certainly understandable why it’s so competitive, and it has only been a few weeks since I started my job hunt.

It will be interesting to see what happens if/when Channel 4 relocate outside London, as it is likely that production companies and other broadcasters will follow suit. This will ultimately allow for a wider spread of creativity across the country, and hopefully, burst that concentrated bubble of media in London and make a route into the TV industry more attainable for all of us!

Heather Burrell

Karen Bradley speech at the Nations and Regions Media Conference (29 March 2017):


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