As we celebrate ten years of dock10, Mark Senior reflects on how it all began and highlights some of the significant developments that have marked our evolution into the UK’s leading television facility.
The origins of dock10 lie in the BBC's plan to move key elements of its television operations, including BBC Children's and BBC Sport, outside of London to Salford Quays in Greater Manchester. At the time there was criticism that the BBC was too focused on producing content within the M25, and Mark Thompson, the then Director-General of the BBC, was keen that the corporation should, in his own words, "serve and represent the whole country, not just its capital." This ambition, however, required a major television facility that could support the creation of world-class content outside of London – dock10 was born.
dock10 is built on the site of the former Manchester Ship Canal docks. Construction of the canal began in November 1887, and it was dug largely by hand over the next six years being officially opened by Queen Victoria in May 1894. Construction of dock10 began in 2007, and it was ready to go on air in January 2011. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, in March 2012. Our name, dock10, comes from an original site plan drawn over 100 years ago that includes a series of nine docks and a reference to "SITE OF FUTURE DOCK NO. 10". The shipping dock originally envisioned was never built but our facility stands on the same ground and we are proud to call ourselves dock10.
One of the first television shows made here was Don't Scare the Hare, presented by Jason Bradbury. He described dock10 at the time as an enormous studio in the middle of a ghost town. "There was lots of glass, lots of concrete, lots of building, but there was no television," Jason remembers. "There weren't camera people going around. There wasn't a hubbub in the cafes and so on. There was nothing outside." The site soon developed with the migration to site of various BBC teams and shortly afterwards ITV and has continued to grow and evolve ever since.
Today, dock10 has eight television studios and two specialist audio studios - a total of more than 43,000 sq ft of studio space. This includes the UK's largest multi-camera television studio at a massive 12,540 sq ft. Our award-winning post production facilities have over 50 edit suites, as well as sound, VFX and extensive media management capabilities. We are at the heart of Media City that has a future-proof fibre network with over 20 global network providers, making it one of the best-connected sites in the world - perfect for the needs of broadcast and media.
When the global pandemic prompted the lockdown in March 2020, we knew this was going to bring challenges for our customers and the way television was made. We remained open throughout the crisis and adapted quickly to support our customers. BBC Bitesize was on air in record time with the virtual set being designed and built from the homes of our set design team in a matter of days – a feat that demonstrates the fantastic flexibility of our next generation virtual studio capability. We had also already been testing remote gallery production with the FA Cup and so when the lockdown's travel restrictions came into force, we were able to hit the ground running and keep live sport and events on-air. Other large-scale events, such as the Sports Personality of the Year, were broadcast from the studios with special Covid-safe working measures. Our media infrastructure comfortably supports remote working, and this has enabled many of our post production team and clients to work from home. We are very lucky to have a large facility which has allowed us to host all of our visiting productions in a socially distanced and Covid-safe way, including temperature checks, one-way systems, Perspex screens and extra office space to support social distancing.
We're really looking forward to restoring the ‘face-to-face’ contacts we have with colleagues and customers. This year, we're celebrating 10 years of dock10 and it would be wonderful to be able to get the team together in person to do something fun to mark the occasion. Some of our people have been with us since the very beginning and it feels like only yesterday that we were just a start up in the middle of an empty Media City. Today we are the UK's leading television facility at the centre of a world-class media hub - we have come a very long way in the last 10 years.
It's interesting that the pandemic has really driven some significant changes in the way people work, with remote production, remote post and virtual studios all leaping forward years in just a few months. These big changes have been fully embraced by production teams and proven to work, so we think they are here to stay and intent to do more in all of these areas. For example, we believe that virtual studios are an exciting development that will be increasingly important, and we've taken a fundamentally different approach to them. Rather than building a small green box and having a fixed virtual studio, we have enabled all our studios to be virtual on demand. This enables any size of production to add virtual elements, large or small, that can significantly enhance its look and feel. Having initially delivered a virtual studio for Match of the Day in August 2019, we have now hosted virtual studio shows across multiple TV genres.
dock10 is well known for providing world-class facilities to the broadcast industry – in genres including children's tv, sports, entertainment, drama and live events. Increasingly the same high ‘broadcast quality’ content is being demanded from other markets. For instance, we have now also delivered virtual studio shows for agencies, brands and the esports market – this market has continued to grow during lockdown and we are now delivering content based on global esports competitions. The exciting thing about our industry is that it never stands still – it’s constantly evolving and dock10 will continue to evolve with it. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years will bring.