As dock10 marks its 10th anniversary, what does the future hold for television studios over the next ten years?
It's hard to believe that television facility dock10, based in MediaCityUK in Salford, marks its 10th anniversary this year.
When dock10 opened ten years ago, MediaCityUK itself was a building site in the final stages of completion. The ambition then was to create a major TV facility that could support production outside of London, one that could also assist the BBC in its plan to move key television operations, including BBC Children's and BBC Sport, to Salford Quays.
Now the area is a major regional hub for TV production, with dock10's facilities hosting shows such as The Voice, Match of the Day, Countdown, Blue Peter, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? through to live events such as Sport Relief and The ITV Election Debate. Clients include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as UK and international indies and the streaming market.
dock10 is now looking ahead, thinking about what the next ten years might look like at the facilities, and for other studios.
Head of studios Andy Waters says it's easy for facilities to focus their attention on the streaming market, which has thrived during the pandemic. He points out that the lion's share of TV content creation is still going to come from public service broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. "They still have a huge role to play, and will continue to do so into the future," says Waters. His comments are backed up by Ofcom figures - the PSBs are still the largest investors in new UK-made content for UK audiences with £2.5bn in direct spend, and not including third party or additional co-production funding.
Having said that, opportunities are opening up for TV studios outside the PSB market. dock10, for example, is starting to work with eSports companies on events and programming to reach gaming audiences. As the streamers diversify out of scripted and into entertainment, TV studios are also likely to pick up more work from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
"I think the appetite for non-drama shows is probably going to increase," says Waters. "We're certainly seeing that at the moment. People have enjoyed a lot of drama over the last 12 months, but there is definitely a demand for fun game shows and entertainment shows where people can easily dip in without having to commit to multiple seasons."
Looking ahead, technology is also going to significantly shape the TV studio offer over the next ten years.
At dock10, the 2018 installation of a 200GBps network is smoothing the way for 4K UHD/HDR television production.
Virtual studio technology and remote production are also becoming important TV studio offers, and are likely to see growing demand in the next few years.
All of dock10's studios now have a virtual capability, says head of production innovation Richard Wormwell. The technology has already been used on shows such as Match of the Day and BBC Bitesize, and entertainment producers are now starting to pitch ideas to broadcasters that make use of virtual studios.
Wormwell stresses that virtual studios aren't what people might think they are – rooms with green walls and a green floor. Instead, the latest virtual studios uses gaming and camera tracking technology to extend and enhance real sets in a highly photorealistic way so that they appear bigger, brighter and better. For most shows, the best solution is to blend virtual and real sets. Where there are audiences, the actual set needs to give them a sense of place.
Waters describes virtual studios as "another creative tool" for producers that can help their set stand out from the crowd and that will enhance their format.
Remote production, meanwhile, has thrived during the pandemic, and looks set to do so in years to come. In the past 12 months, live events, particularly sports, have sought to reduce the number of staff travelling to locations, preferring to handle production from galleries in a main studio. dock10, for example, has become a hub for coverage of sporting events such as Six Nations rugby, the FA Cup through to the Australian Open.
"The last 12 months has proven that remote production can work," says Waters. Looking ahead, he puts forward a balanced argument about the use of remote production. Broadcasters and producers will often want to be on location in force at an event to allow their team to easily tap into the atmosphere and personalities on the ground. However, remote production is here to stay – and one of the most powerful arguments for its continued use is that it lets broadcasters and producers to reduce their carbon footprint and to create content in a more sustainable, cost-effective, way.
"Given the climate crisis, it would be foolish for us to throw away all the advances in remote production of the past year," says Waters.
Above all, the next ten years is about change. Whether it's servicing traditional broadcasters or new streaming and eSports clients, or adapting for remote production and virtual sets, TV studios like dock10 will be key to driving change in the way programmes are made and viewed.