The last few months have been uncertain times for BBC Studios and Post Production but the broadcasters's commercial facilities arm is looking toward to a more stable future, with a move to temporary accommodation before returning to the refurbished Television Centre in 2015.
As the UK's public service broadcaster, the BBC is always under scrutiny, particularly from right-wing politicians and newspapers. Last year it came under fire when it moved into MediaCityUK, relocating five departments and many staff to Salford Quays. This year has brought the closure of Bush House and the start of operations at the expanded Broadcasting House (BH). Most controversial of all is the recent sale of BBC Television Centre (TVC) in west London to property developer Stanhope PLC.
Less discussed in the wider media was what would happen to BBC Studios & Post Production (S&PP), the commercial subsidiary that runs the broadcaster's studio and post operations in the capital.
BBC S&PP has two sites in London: BBC Elstree Studios just outside the city, which has five studios but is used primarily for producing the soap opera EastEnders; and TVC. Opened in 1960 TVC is indelibly linked with BBC programmes in the minds of many viewers, so the idea it was going to be demolished or at least no longer be TV studios caused a storm of comment in the press and on social media.
S&PP operates six TV studios at TVC, each with supporting vision and sound galleries, equipment rooms, dressing rooms and hospitality suites, plus post-production facilities. These include three 5.1 audio dubbing suites and preparation rooms. When the sale to Stanhope for £200 million was announced there was no word on what would happen to the technical areas and what the building would ultimately be used for, or where S&PP would end up.
At the beginning of August S&PP announced its long-term future would still be at TVC. Stanhope is to re-develop the 1960s concrete icon into a "mixed use" site, with leisure, office and residential facilities. The existing BBC studios will be redeveloped and S&PP will lease these once work has been finished, estimated at 2015.
In the meantime S&PP will move from its long-term base during 2013 into temporary accommodation, using space at both the BBC studios and the commercially-run studio at Elstree. Craig White, head of new business and entertainment at S&PP, says this will involve BBC Studio D and Studios 8 and 9 at Elstree Studios, which has a long history in film production but is also known for its TV work. Today its fame rests mostly on being home to Big Brother.
White adds that discussions are already underway with Elstree Studios to use other spaces, including the George Lucas stages (Star Wars was shot at the site during the mid-70s). Sound desks, cameras and lighting gear will be moved from TVC to Elstree to "enhance" the offering. Speaking specially about audio, White comments, "Both BBC Elstree and Elstree Studios will have digital sound systems installed to cater for the expected studio shows. These will comprise the Studer Vista 8 equipment from TV Centre."
At this stage the plan is for the "new" TVC to have three HD TV studios, all equipped for surround sound production. "No decision has been made on what consoles will be used just yet as our return won't be until 2015," White says.
Similarly no firm decision has been made regarding equipment for post-production. "We have a strong revenue base from our Post Production division," White comments. "We're currently nearing the end of an evaluation about where our services should be located to best suit our clients' needs. But moving away from TV Centre in the short term will give us the ability to strengthen our team and invest in more technology." The BBC Elstree site will also operate up to four edit suites and a multiplex area for live transmissions.
A new chief executive has been appointed to head S&PP during these changes and beyond. Anna Mallett has been with the BBC since 2006 and is currently controller of business strategy.
While there is no firm timetable for the redevelopment of TVC, White says S&PP will be move out by the spring of 2013 and aims to return two years later. "As everyone knows, technology changes are always happening in our industry so we’re keeping our options open around what set-up we'll have at the new site. However, we’re in discussions with our current customers with returning series at TVC from April 2013 to ensure that we can cater for their production needs at Elstree Studios and BBC Elstree."