GaWC Research Bulletin 397

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This Research Bulletin has been published in S. Conventz, B. Derudder, A. Thierstein and F. Witlox (eds) (2014) Hub Cities in the Knowledge Economy: Seaports, Airports, Brainports Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 163-180.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Mediating the City: The Role of Planned Media Cities in the Geographies of Creative Industry Activity

O. Mould*


The start of this century saw the acceleration in the global recognition of the creative industries as a viable industrial sector and one that has huge potential for economic growth (Flew, 2011). Perhaps fuelled by the rapid increase in technological development and the ease at which creative content can be created, modified, delivered and consumed, the creative industries are now seen at ‘the apex of the knowledge economy’ (Knell and Oakley, 2007).  Moreover, urban governments have realised the importance of the creative sector in revitalising urban areas in need of regeneration. The popularity of Richard Florida’s (2002) creative class thesis along with the ‘creative city’ eulogies of Landry (2008) and other self-styled urban ‘gurus’ has catalysed the uptake of policies that have put creative industry activity and the attraction of creative workers firmly at the centre of regenerative urban policies. Urban governance (notably more so in cities of the Global North however) is now focused on trying to create urban environments that help to foster creativity and innovation by making them attractive places to live, work and play.

One such policy initiative that is gaining in popularity is the construction of so-called ‘media cities’. While the term ‘media city’ is relatively new (and perhaps slightly popularist), they can be defined as large, planned, highly developed urban areas designated specifically to concentrate media and creative industry production (in its broadest sense). By concentrating media and creative industry activity to relatively small urban locales, these media cities are acting as global media hubs that are attempting to create a knowledge-led ‘buzz’ that helps to develop and foster creative industry activity. The term ‘media city’ though has been subject to evolution. Krätke (2003: 605, added emphasis) in attempting to define ‘media cities’ suggests that;

“‘media city’ is a term currently used to describe cultural and media centres operating at very different geographical levels. They range from small-scale local urban clusters in the media industry to the cultural metropolises of the global urban and regional system”

In the short period since this was written, the popularity of the media city as a physical urban policy development has mushroomed. Hence, the term ‘media cities’, has been used to indicate cities in a global network of media industry activity (Krätke, 2003; Krätke and Taylor, 2004; Watson and Hoyler, 2010). However, the usage of media cities in this chapter, while relating to this ideology of global media cities (in that they do indeed contribute to a city’s capacity to operate in the media industry internationally), it will refer to the media city as the physical, meta-planned, purpose-built hub of media and creative industry knowledge in any given urban locale. A number of examples across the world can be cited, the most recognised being Media City Dubai, DR Byen in Copenhagen, Digital Media City in Seoul and MediaCityUK in Salford. They will often have large office, studio and exhibition spaces (usually at high rental costs), and house auxiliary leisure and cultural services. Other examples of similar developments include TechCity in London and the digital mile in Zaragoza, which focus on digital technological companies rather than media, but have similar planning principles. Also, many cities have large film studios that have been constructed to attract ‘runaway film production’ from Hollywood (Mould, 2008). These areas, including Fox Studios in Sydney and Vancouver Film Studios, but they also share many of the characteristics of the more recently constructed media cities. In all cases however, there is a large area of the city that is given over the multiple buildings and landscaped outdoor areas, designed to cater for and attract national and international creative and media industry companies. They are also often part of a wider urban renewal program which includes other leisure and consumption activities – such as the Salford Quays development surrounding MediaCityUK and the Moore Park area of Sydney which includes Fox Studios as well as two sports stadia.

These media cities, while a relatively new development are already beginning to change to geography of creative industry production globally, for example the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently moved (i.e. in the back end of 2010 and first half of 2011) approximately 50 per cent of it’s production capabilities from their base in London’s White City to the brand new facility in MediaCityUK located in Salford, Greater Manchester. Other examples from across the world are seeing large, internationally recognised companies re-locate to these media cities to take advantage of the industry specific, often highly technologically capable, facilities on offer. As such, we are witnessing a shift in the global geographies of creative industry activity. This chapter then will explore the characteristics of these media cities and how they are changing the spatialities of national and international creative industry activity, as well as how they are effecting local, incumbent activity that existed beforehand. Using examples from around the world, but focusing primarily on MediaCityUK in Salford, this chapter will first outline the descriptive characteristics of media cities. Second, the chapter will focus on how they have affected local creative industry activity through engagement with, but also dislocation of pre-existing creative industry companies and freelancers. Finally, the chapter will highlight how media cities have started to shift the geographies of world city connectivity and how this may affect the world city network of media and creative industry activity.

Media cities: a foundation

The importance of culture and creativity to urban regeneration is a policy development that has gained popularity in recent years (Peck, 2005; Evans, 2009). Based largely on the desire to attract the mobile creative class that are often seen as the critical ingredient in regeneration, many urban governments have invested heavily in cultural heritage and/or the creative industries. Many cities have chosen to adopt a sophisticated marketing campaign in order promote themselves internationally. The prefix ‘creative’ has been used seemingly at will (again, in predominantly Global North cities), with Creative London, Creative New York, Creative Sheffield, Creative Toronto just some of the cities to have used it to garner an international reputation as somewhere that is amenable to creative professionals (Evans, 2009). In these instances, it is a city-wide campaign that is the focus of policy and ‘on the ground’ development, often leading to beautifying specific areas, investing in heritage and in local and regional transport infrastructure (Pratt, 2008). However, more recently some local councils and urban officials have been providing an altogether more focused and pragmatic creative industry policy that entails the manifestation of a purpose built cluster of creative industry activity. Media Cities then, as they have become known, are being constructed around the world as councils, often led by private real estate and investment interests, are offering large swaths of their city as potential sites of massive redevelopment. Many cities already had recognisable clusters of creative industry activity mainly due to incumbent businesses recognising the value of agglomeration and assimilating a cluster over time (Scott, 2006). However, these media cities are large-scale, meta-planned, hi-tech media and creative industry facilities designed to attract companies internationally. Goldsmith and O’Regan (2003: 33) noted that the media city has been “recast as a form of commercial property/industrial park development” which has a primary goal of attracting international business.

While each one is different in style, content and provisions, there are common characteristics that are shared, among the world’s media cities, which can be distilled into three areas: technological capacity, diversity of real estate provision and private ownership. Each of these will now be discussed in turn.

Technological Capacity

Part of the mantra of all media cities is to provide the latest ‘cutting edge’ technological facilities. In terms of both hardware and software, the buildings that constitute these areas will have super fast broadband connectivity in order to transfer the large (high-definition quality) content. MediaCityUK in Salford boasts broadband speeds of 10 gigabytes, which is needed by many of its tenants, including the BBC who have to transfer high-definition film between Salford and it’s base in White City in London. The ability to store large amounts of data on-site which can be accessed anywhere across the world is also often a pre-requisite. Cloud computing, file storage and remote digital access are modern data-handling methods used by creative industry professionals. Hence media cities need to cater for this by having large server capacity which often takes up large amounts of square footage (often underground with sophisticated cooling techniques). One such example is where BBC producers based in London will need to virtually ‘touch up’ animated children’s programs made in Salford’s studios. Much of the animation is created digitally and requires large software packages to manipulate them (such as Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro). Previously, many of the changes or enhancements (changing colours, erasing errors etc.) had to be done on-site as the software was too large to be hosted via existing broadband connectivity. But the vast broadband capabilities of MediaCityUK allows for these changes to be made in real time by producers or creative professionals off-site (in London or elsewhere). 

As well as the on-site and off-site broadband capabilities, the hardware to make the creative content in media cities needs to be of very high quality. The TV studios, editing suites and radio studios of contemporary usage all require high definition (and in some cases) 3D capabilities, which brings with it very different spatial and equipment needs. For example television studio space needs to be larger with more rigging on the ceiling and room for larger high definition and 3D cameras to move around. The spaces at many of these media cities have been designed specifically with these needs in mind and so, are more accessible for the modern methods of television, radio and film production. Also, many of the outside spaces in media cities have hi-tech provisioning with video walls, interactive screen and smart phone accessibility.

Real Estate Provisions

In order to attract the creative professionals to live as well as work in these media cities, often there will be high specification living accommodation built along side the creative industry facilities. In most cases, these are high-rise condominium style constructions, often situated on or by a waterfront development. Earlier descriptions of media cities included the presence of these extra-curricular attractions;

“In addition many media cities also include extensive public areas comprising cinemas, concert halls, restaurants, function and conference centres, retail areas, theme parks, studio tours and, in the case of Fox in Sydney, a farmer’s market”.
(Goldsmith and O’Regan, 2003: 33)

Also, Copenhagen’s media city for example has a purpose built large water feature with multi-story living quarters situated on either side. Salford’s MediaCityUK was purposely located in the Salford Quays area as this was the location targeted for regeneration. Waterfront regeneration has been an intrinsic part of urban regeneration policies for sometime (Norcliffe et al., 1996) and the attraction of Salford Quays as a site for MediaCityUK includes its waterfront location. As such, high-rise, waterfront-facing apartments surround the main MediaCityUK buildings in Salford, with luxury fittings and services on offer. Most buildings will offer concierge services, high-speed broadband, fully fitted luxury apartments, and other services that creative professionals (an identified sub-set of the creative class (Florida, 2002)) are thought to require. The proximity to their working environment (no more than a short walk or cycle away) is also viewed as a requirement for this group of workers. The provision of luxury accommodation nearby is a deliberate attempt by the planners of these media city sites to create a ‘lived’ atmosphere; an area that is not solely for work, but a place where people can see out their leisure time. As mentioned in the introduction, the creative industries are characterised by the high levels of social networking and the fact that much of the industrial learning and knowledge acquisition is done ‘outside’ of the work environment, in the after-work locations. As such, not only do the planners of these media cities offer luxury living quarters, but also there are hotels, bars, shops and other auxiliary leisure facilities. In Salford’s MediaCityUK, the planners have offered building space for a high-end Holiday Inn, and the space for a number of cafés, food outlets and bars to be opened. The provision for this diversity of real estate is then crucial for the planners of media cities as it offers the workers the opportunity to interact socially as well as in the work environment, which is seen as critical to the success of a creative industry community.

Private Ownership

The media cities of the world are clearly seen as key strategic policies by local and national governments. By providing state-of-the-art facilities, they attract large international media companies, but of course, these provisions are extremely expensive. Many of these media cities around the world are owned by wealthy real estate companies, who have been invited by the local authority and governance structures to construct the facilities. However, this results in these areas being privatised, with strict enforcement of exclusion and spatial laws. The company that owns MediaCityUK for example, the Peel Group have strict vendor laws for the ‘public square’ area of MediaCityUK which prohibits street vendors beyond a certain point. For example, mobile food and beverage sellers are forced to move temporary stalls from one side of the road (which was owned by Peel) to the other (council land). Private security personnel often patrol the outside areas and the restriction of public activities (i.e. busking, begging, street vending etc.) is much higher than in other local council operated land. Often, the outside ‘public’ areas are highly landscaped with art installations and local transport hubs designed to give the impression of a public environment, which is an attempt to create a more ‘relaxed’ environment, which in turn is an attempt to stimulate the attractiveness and ‘buzz’ of the area.

Given these three characteristics of media cities, it is possible to see how they are beginning to represent attractive places for the world’s prominent media and creative companies. MediaCityUK in Salford already has the BBC, but ITV (the UK’s largest commercial TV channel) is relocating there, as well as many of the country’s leading independent TV production companies. Reuters and CNN are already located in Dubai Media City, with Disney and HBO looking into the potential of setting up regional bases. Other media cities such as in Copenhagen and Seoul house the national broadcasting corporations as well as a host of other small and medium sized enterprises. As such, these media cities are becoming important spaces of creative industry activity.

Mediating local talent?

Literature on the creative industries often extols the virtues of vibrant locally orientated communities of talent or ‘creative clusters’ (see O’Connor, 2004; Cooke and Lazaeretti, 2008). The tacit knowledge and shared learning that is embedded in local networks of creative industry practitioners is key to learning the latest trends, obtaining employment opportunities (as many freelancers and project-based workers operate in this manner (Ekynsmith, 2002; McRobbie, 2002)) and gaining industry ‘know-how’. Grabher, when researching London’s advertising industry noted how the area of Soho is critical;

“Rather than equating the agglomeration of creative projects in Soho simply with reduced costs of transaction, it provides a vibrant site for ‘hanging out', training and thus, gaining access to networks at the peripheries of projects… Through processes of negotiating meaning, these networks act as local interpretive communities which filter noise into signals”.
(Grabher, 2002: 258)

Essentially, the overall ‘ambience’ of Soho, with it’s bars, cafés and clubs provide the environment in which advertising professionals learn about the industry and the specific nature of current projects. The area of Soho is perhaps unique in its milieu and how it fosters creative talent in this way, but other cities have similar areas; the fashion industry in Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris or the jewellery quarter in Birmingham (Pollard, 2004). The fundamental characteristic of these ‘types’ of clusters is that they have built up over time, gained a critical mass and inertia which has helped sustain the area as a key creative industrial location. Crucially, there has been a distinct lack of planning policy; the growth has been more ‘organic’ (Scott, 2006).

Other examples of creative industry clustering phenomena can be seen in so-called incubator spaces (Turok, 2003; Jayne, 2004). These are more planned than a Soho-style cluster. They are often purposefully designed spaces that are rented out at relatively low-cost to small-scale creative industry workers (freelancers or small companies) with the specific intention of creating a vibrant, collaborative environment. Often (but not always) they are in re-commissioned older buildings that have been reconfigured. Note, that these are not the same as rentable office spaces in city centres (such as those offered by Regus and the like), in that they are tailored toward companies that require ‘creative’ spaces such as exhibition rooms for art shows or performance areas. One such example (that is relevant due to it’s proximity to MediaCityUK in Salford) is Islington Mill.  It is located in an old cotton-spinning mill in Salford, and acts as an affordable office and exhibition space for local artists. It houses a number of permanent resident artists and has recording studios and a club facility. It is a privately run enterprise, opening in 2001. These incubator spaces are crucial to the creative industry landscape of a city as they provide the valuable (and affordable) space needed for freelancers and small-scale creative industry companies. These micro-creative clusters can often stimulate local auxiliary activity (cafés, retail etc), and while remaining relatively small in scale provides that key ingredient, the creative milieu that is needed for micro-business to grow.

Hence, creative industry clusters have traditionally been viewed as small-scale, entrepreneurial and un-planned (by public interventions). Media cities however occupy a much different typology of creative industry cluster. Larger in geographic scale, investment levels and technological capability, they clearly cater for larger clients than ephemeral city centre locations or incubator spaces. Nevertheless, the clustering of creative industry companies in a media city represents another type of agglomerative activity that is changing the geographical characteristics of creative industry activity. To continue with example of MediaCityUK in Salford, since it officially opened, there has been a steady increase in commercial tenants. There is the obvious presence of the BBC, ITV and the School of Media, Music and Performance of the University of Salford, however, some of the peripheral buildings and locations have been taken up by national independent production companies, some of who rely heavily on commissioned work from the BBC. However, also on-site there is a facility known as The Greenhouse, which is designed as an incubator space similar to the Islington Mill. Housing small to medium offices and flexible leases, this space is designed to give the opportunity for smaller scale creative industry companies to locate in MediaCityUK. Therefore there are tangible examples of the concentration of creative industry activity that is already giving MediaCityUK the characteristics of a regional and national media knowledge hub. The aims of the investors and planners of the site are to continue the development in order for it to be a global hub of creative and media industry activity.

Part of the rhetoric of media cities is to stimulate the creative environment which is so critical to the development of a vibrant industry. The way in which these media cities have developed however has created an environment that is qualitatively different to those in other types of creative clusters. As described in the previous section, media cities are typically characterised by high levels of private investment. The real estate company that owns the land demands much higher levels of rent that are found in other creative clusters, rent that is unaffordable to many local creative industry practitioners that wishing to relocate (However, office space targeted directly at this income bracket (such as The Greenhouse in MediaCityUK) temper this process somewhat). The development of MediaCityUK was highly predicated on the BBC’s relocation of some of its high profile departments, and with the promise of the creation of over 2,300 jobs (BBC, 2011) for the region. To date however, of the 680 new jobs that have been created thus far, only 16 have gone to local residents of Salford (Hollingshead, 2012). Other critiques include local community groups and representatives of the nearby estate of Orsdall who claim that the money spent by the local council to develop MediaCityUK has been diverted from other local services such as bus routes, libraries and schools (ibid.).

While its ‘success’ can be debated and it has been controversial, there is little doubt that it has had a profound effect on the shifting geographies of creative industry production in the region, and the UK as a whole. Already there has been a concentration of the region’s main television production companies to the area (BBC North and ITV), with many companies that provide editing, pre- and post-production services moving up from London to MediaCityUK. It is important to note however that television and associated digital media production is one facet of the creative industries. Definitions of the sector by the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and other politically-orientated bodies (such as NESTA and the Work Foundation) have been attempted in recent years, all with an element of contention and there is often international variations (O’Connor, 2007; Pratt, 2005). However, the role of television and the BBC has always been considered a fundamental activity with the UK’s creative industry landscape. As such, MediaCityUK, as an institution is already having (and will no doubt continue to have) a pivotal role in national creative industry provisioning. And, other media cities around the world that have a longer history have already influenced global and regional media production (such as in the Middle East, which is discussed later in the chapter).

Global media hubs

The rise of the media city policy concept and its prominence as a creative industry cluster is clearly an important characteristic, but of equal merit is its relevance in the international network of globalised media production. Put crudely, while they arguably look ‘down’ (to the local networks of creative industry practitioners), they definitely look ‘up’ (to attracting international media activity). Previous research on the internationalisation of creative industry activity has focused on how there is a global network of media companies, in much the same way as there is a global network of advanced producer service firms, so described by the work of the Globalisation and World Cities group (GaWC) at Loughborough University (the most recent work of which is comprehensively detailed in Taylor et al., 2010). The media firms construct a concurrent city network with the ‘traditional industries’ involved in the world city network theorisations (law, accountancy, advertising etc). Krätke (2003: 625 - 626) noted how;

“the globally operating media firms are at least as influential as the global providers of corporate services, because they create a cultural market space of global dimension”.

The globalisation of cultural goods hence has created a global city network of media providers. The research positing cities in a media industry urban network produces a hierarchy–with New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Berlin, Munich and Amsterdam occupying what Krätke (2003) labels as ‘Alpha world media city’ status. This list is similar to the Alpha cities that occur through the world city network of advanced producer service firms via the work of Taylor et al., (2010). Further research into the global urban network of media industries conducted by Watson and Hoyler (2010) indicates again how New York, London and Paris still occupy the top positions atop the hierarchy of global ‘media cities’. Essentially, the previous work on the internationalisation of the creative and media industries has painted a picture of a world city network that does not vary significantly from city networks based on other sectors.  There are however nuances to this, with a high degree of regionalisation, i.e. cities exporting predominately to domestic markets. As such, the media industry is characterised as less globalised than major corporations in other sectors (Flew, 2007).

Given the preponderance of the global media urban network to closely align with that of other sectors, will the emergence of media cities have any effect? Will Dubai, Salford, Seoul, Copenhagen and other cities that have recently built a media city start to rise up the hierarchy as they attract more media and creative industry companies? Given the relative novelty of the media city concept, it is too early to fully assess and analyse their changing function to the global media production. However, some initial foundational observations can allude to how the geography is changing in the short to medium term. These observations can be generalised into three broad (and inter-related) changes, namely the rise of the cities from the Middle East and North African (MENA) region, so-called ‘second-tier’ cities and acute geographical concentration of internationalised production.

Rise of the MENA Cities

Dubai’s media city, while perhaps the most prominent, was not the first in the region. Jordan Media City was built in Amman in 2001 and before that in 1995, Cairo completed it’s Egyptian Media Production City (Quinn et al., 2004). Currently, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah are constructing similar sites in order to compete with Dubai for media talent. All these developments are against the backdrop of the prominence of Al-Jazeera, the regional media company headquartered in Doha, which arguably has given a global media voice to the MENA region. The rush for media cities in this region can be attributed to the need for alternative income sources to the oil and gas industry, and the diversification of the industry base (Stanley, 2003). Also, the construction and real estate industries in the gulf states is colossal, with vast amounts of disposal income being funnelled into construction of leisure, hotel and conference facilities. Also, the alleged ‘Arab entrepreneurialism’, characterised by the CEO-like activity of Arabian royal governments, has predicated an increasingly service-based economy (Bassens et al., 2010). Dubai, therefore has been described by Pacione (2005: 264) as,

“[an] attractive ‘sun–sand–sea’ ecosystem [that] has become the leading tourist destination in the Middle East. In addition to hotel, entertainment and retail complexes the city has developed trade centres, conference facilities and theme parks in order to enhance its image as a major leisure-tourist destination”.

Dubai has been characterised by large-scale property developments. ‘The World’ and ‘Palm Jumeirah’ are two gargantuan real estate developments where reclaimed land in the Persian Gulf offshore from the main city has been shaped to form luxury housing estates. Also, the recent completion of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa is emblematic of Dubai’s wealth and ostentatiousness in the real estate market. Dubai Media City can be seen as an extension of these real estate developments, with the desire to create further facilities for international business and tourism. Another tactic used by Dubai Holdings (the owners of Dubai Media City) to attract media companies is to make Dubai Media City a ‘Free Zone’ where tax credits are offered and 100% foreign ownership is permitted (whereas outside Dubai Media City, foreign investors are required to have an Emiriti co-owner (Quinn et al., 2004; Davis, 2006).

Given the contagion of many urban and economic development policies from one UAE city to another, and the intense competition within the region (Bagaeen, 2007), is it no surprise that Abu Dhabi and other UAE cities are planning media cities of their own. And, the presence of Amman’s and Cairo’s offerings creates a MENA regional ‘cluster’ of media cities. The longevity of the region as a creative industry hub is questionable given two restrictive characteristics. First, there is a tempestuous relationship between media production companies in Dubai and the national governments censorship laws, and the freedom of expression that often characterises international media production may not be as tolerated in Dubai as in other cities around the world (Quinn et al., 2004). Second, media cities require a mix of provisions for international, but also national and local markets. Watson and Hoyler (2010) have shown how media companies tend to export the majority of their cultural products to their local and regional markets. With only a limited population regionally (approximately 350 million people across all the Arab League countries (United Nations, 2009)), there will be a limited demand for the potential over-supply of multiple media cities. 

So the rapid pace of media city development in the Middle East region does have the potential to raise its stock as a global player in the media and creative industries. However, the over-supply of large-scale media-orientated real estate coupled with a lack of a vibrant local creative industry to sustain its employment base, the long-term sustainability is questionable.

Second-Tier Cities

As has been discussed, many of the world’s global cities have vibrant creative industry clusters. London, New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo are all examples of global cities (Alpha cities in GaWC’s rankings) that have vibrant creative industry sectors. The diversity of cultural provisions, and the embeddedness of creative professionals into the fabric of specific urban areas (such as London’s Soho as described above) are factors in mediating these cities as global creative industry hubs. Many of these global cities will have primacy within their region or nation, and as such have a tendency to attract a disproportionate amount of creative talent from the hinterland. They have cultural and historical ‘inertia’, i.e. a vibrant milieu that has developed over the long-term, and offers a vibrancy that is not easily replicated in the short-term. London, for example, is often viewed as a magnet for UK creative industry talent (Higgs et al., 2008), leaving many other large cities in the UK implementing policies in order to maintain or attract talent of its own. MediaCityUK’s development and the rhetoric of the BBC’s move to Greater Manchester is a prime example, but other cities such as Sheffield, Leicester, Birmingham and most recently Cardiff have implemented media city (or the related cultural quarter urban regenerative tool) developments, reminiscent of initiatives outlined by Markusen (1999) as representative of ‘second tier’ cities. As such, media cities represent an attractive policy initiative for a city that is attempting to compete against another location with high cultural and historical inertia.

Therefore, many of these media cities are situated in (or just outside) these second tier cities. The debate about Salford’s position as part of the Manchester city-region is far too complex to visit here, suffice to say that MediaCityUK has developed Manchester’s prominence as a city that can boast of its access to creative industry activity. Since it opened, MediaCityUK has seen a steady stream of small and medium sized businesses relocate from other parts of the country (including London), which is slowly increasing the stock of creative, and media industry activity. Also, we have seen above how cities in the MENA region are constructing media cities; and if we utilise the GaWC classification of cities, many of them are classified as Beta and Gamma cities (Taylor et al., 2010). Therefore, they can be said to be located in the ‘second tier’ of the world’s cities (the obvious exception to this is Dubai, which recently went from a Beta- city in 2008 to an Alpha+ city in 2010).

It is clear then that there is a role played by media cities in diversifying a city’s economic base, but at the same time, geographically concentrating the creative activity into a specific urban locale to create a media hub.. The Global Cities of this world (London, New York, Tokyo etc.) will already have a diverse and developed creative industry base, and lack the affordable space to house large studio complexes within the city itself. So these second (or perhaps third) tier cities play host to media cities, but it is worth noting that cities of the Global South are seemingly by-passed by the media city policy phenomena. While Cairo has developed a media city, and Durban in South Africa has positioned itself as a ‘film-friendly’ city (Goldsmith et al., 2010), the media city policy initiative has not yet been implemented in Global South cities. The cost of developing such a site alone is a major obstacle in constructing a media city, with vast sunk costs including the technological capabilities and auxiliary facilities needed. As such, it seems that the cities with the impetus to build a media city are those with the financial resources to match the ambition to compete for international creative industry activity.

Concentrated Production

Media cities, through the diversity of facilities on offer and the high-speed virtual connectivity are beginning to concertina creative work into more geographically concentrated locations. In order to explain this process however, it is first necessary to understand the ‘project-based’ nature of creative industry work (Grabher & Ibert, 2006). Cultural output from media and creative industries (such as feature films, television shows, digital content, computer games, music etc.) have a highly fragmented production system in all but a few exceptional circumstances. Once a commissioning agent has  ‘green lit’ a project, then a network of creative professionals, ranging from freelancers to large established media firms will work together for the duration of the project, and the disband upon completion. The variety of companies and individuals will vary considerably depending on the project. With feature films a commissioning agents (often a large multinational media firm such as Universal or Time Warner) for example hiring a myriad of professionals such as freelance directors, carpenters, caterers, haulage companies, advertising firms, cinematographers, runners, automobile manufacturers – a whole range of companies and individuals hired to do a particular job temporarily.

Media cities, in their clamour to attract media companies are offering state-of-the-art technology and facilities that will not only attract permanent business residents, but also short-term, project-led work. Each media city clearly has nuances and their own specialised facilities, but as they become more homogenous in their creative industry provisioning, more of the equipment, skills and spaces that are needed to carry out the entire project on site will be available. The BBC’s studios at MediaCityUK for example have very malleable features which allows for different parts of specific television with very different spatial and technological needs shows to be filmed in the same studio. Previously, a piece of film which needed to be edited using a particular piece of hardware or someone with a specific skill set may have been sent to another location. Media cities with their range of services allow for it to be sent somewhere else on site. Different companies that often work together that had had to locate in different parts of the city or even in different cities can now co-locate because of the facilities on offer. An example is the company Flix which often works closely with post-production on BBC shows. They relocated to MediaCityUK from Deansgate in Manchester in January 2012. Being on the same site as the BBC and having access to the same super-fast broadband networks clearly attracted Flix to MediaCityUK and with more of the BBC shows they work on being co-loacted at MediaCityUK, there has been an intense geographical concentration on this particular part of the project network.

This concentration of activity is redolent of creative clusters and the agglomeration of creative industry activity (that has been outlined above) more generally. However it is the level of production that is critical here as often, many large-scale productions (i.e. feature films, and high-budget episodic television dramas) have had to use companies and other agents that are dispersed geographically. Media cities offer the potential for a vast majority of a substantially funded project to be completed on-site, more so than a film studio or an incubator space. For example, the technological capabilities of more top-end computer generated imagery (CGI) companies are often located off-site to major film studios. For example, one of Hollywood’s major post-production studios, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM - the credits include the Star Wars films and the latest Transformers movies) is located in San Francisco, not Hollywood. Media cities offer the facilities for both filming and the post-production on the technological scale of ILM to be conducted onsite.

Of course, this is all dependent on commissioning agents choosing to shoot and produce a cultural product in a media city, rather than continue to use their original networks of companies, however, as they continue to develop they will increasingly see the concentration of high-end media production. In sum, they offer the geographical concentration of (national and international) corporatized media production.


This chapter has sought to shed some light on the burgeoning popularity of the media city development tool. While not an in-depth study of the intricacies of the policies that developed them, and the socio-economic processes that maintain them, this chapter has described and evaluating some of the general themes that are starting to become apparent as the media city policy gathers popularity around the world. The rise of the media city has in no doubt been linked to the recent surge in the popularity of ‘creative city’ policies in recent years (Evans, 2009; Pratt, 2010). Many of the these policies however have been criticised as ambiguous, self-serving and lacking any real understanding of creativity and it’s ability to rejuvenate struggling urban areas and depressed economies (Peck, 2005; Atkinson and Easthorpe, 2009). Through the popularisation of creative class thesis (Florida, 2002, 2005), specific city governments are using creativity as an excuse to develop and justify existing development strategies. Media cities then represent a more ‘robust’ creative city policy. In other words, those urban governments (Salford, Dubai, Copenhagen, Seoul etc.) that have developed extremely expensive media cities have attempted to develop the economic base of their city via specific media and creative industry activity and position themselves as media hubs in the global creative economy. In this respect, they can be identified as creative city policies that adhere to a more ‘realistic’ view of creativity (albeit an economistic one). However, given the gargantuan amounts of sunk investment – the infrastructure, the real estate, branding, international advocacy – the (primarily private) owners have tailored these environments for a very specific market, i.e. the international, corporatized creative and media industry companies. Freelancers and SMEs are very prevalent in the creative industries (Higgs et al., 2008), and their importance in maintaining the vibrant and ‘collegiate’ buzz of a creative knowledge hub cannot be overstated (McRobbie, 2002; Ekynsmith, 2002). By pricing these agents out of a media city environment, the long-term success of a media city as an incubator and stimulus for creative talent is highly questionable. The presence of large, international media companies clearly aids in the economic vibrancy of these areas, and creates an exciting atmosphere of international media production. However, it remains to be seen whether this will translate into the stimulation of local creative industry talent and the legacy of a sustainable creative workforce. Also, within the MENA region, where there is a plethora of media cities, all vying for global companies, the competition is already fierce and will continue to accelerate. The ability of all of them to succeed in what is a highly volatile and competitive regional market place is also highly questionable.

Moreover, many of these media cities, given the large amounts of finance needed to stimulate production, will follow the financialised contours of the world economy. The financial servicing of media production in these media cities is such that much of the revenue and profit streams will remain situated within the ‘traditional’ world city network articulated by Taylor et al. (2010). Therefore, by extricating a network of media cities from that of the advanced producer service firms network would be to limit the full understand of the complexities of the economic activity. As has been outlined in this chapter, media cities are having, and will continue to have a resounding effect on the international geographies of creative and media industry production. However, the creative industries thrive in areas that can offer a milieu that inspires, engages, conflicts and challenges the status quo. These environments are the imbued characteristics of many cities across the world – time will tell if they can be replicated in media cities.


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* Oli Mould, School of Environment & Life Sciences, University of Salford, Email:


Edited and posted on the web on 21st March 2012

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in S. Conventz, B. Derudder, A. Thierstein and F. Witlox (eds) (2014) Hub Cities in the Knowledge Economy: Seaports, Airports, Brainports Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 163-180.