The former managing director of Wimbledon Studios takes a frank look at the studios business in London against a background of rising land values
It was with great sadness that I departed Wimbledon Studios at the start of this week. Much has been written about my departure over the past week, but I have nothing further to add to my statement of 28 July. I wish all parties the very best for the future.
What I will say though, is the hardest part was accepting that such a great opportunity has gone to waste. Our expansion and development plans were ambitious, but entirely realistic given our growing client base and the fact that increased demand for TV studios in London was set to play to our advantage. This was the catalyst for growth, alongside investment.
The fact is that producers today face a sudden and all time low of available TV studios in the capital. Just where will production companies go now?
Besides Wimbledon, Teddington is scheduled to close this year and no-one seems to know how long exactly Riverside can continue. So the realistic options open to the production community are studio destinations that are outside of the M25.
That is unless you count the London Studios – but you should count yourself lucky if you can book there, given most of ITV’s subsidiaries expect first dibs in what is rightly regarded as still being THE leading studio facility in central London.
My personal hunch is that the tower the ITV Studios sits within could make for a great residential property on the river in the not too distant future. The location of any studio complex is key, because without swift access to or from central London, the chances of success reduce dramatically. That’s why so many producers liked Wimbledon, with such easy rail access to and from Leicester Square tube or Waterloo station.
The reason? Talent. Ask yourself the question; will Rihanna accept being in the sticks when she usually records a show on the South Bank and be back at her hotel within half an hour? Ditto any star who is accustomed to the convenience and trappings of the West End.
The repercussions ccould be a disaster for producers, who have been used to having a number of choices. They might find that the “worm turns” financially too. For too long, producers have struggled having their budgets cut by broadcasters and the facilities sector is usually the first to feel that pinch, but as demand grows, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the studio prices increase in line.
This is a natural consequence of supply and demand. It’s worrying for producers and is a situation that the remaining studios must handle delicately. They must be careful not to be seen to take advantage of their client’s predicament. Ultimately, the relationship between customer and its supplier is based on trust.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are still outstanding studio facilities not too far from London, such as Pinewood TV and Elstree Studios. Both have their TV divisions that can be relied on. My attitude is that as one door closes, others open.
My belief is the studio landscape in London will undergo a significant shift over the next five years, with investors finally understanding there is a winning formula that can work for everyone.
That’s my focus now. Finding a new venture that will show how it can and should be done both now and into the future.
Piers Read was managing director of Wimbledon Studios from 2010-2014
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