The decision by the BBC to scale back its operations in Birmingham with the loss of more than 100 jobs was a major blow to the city. But it's not all doom and gloom in the creative sector. Alun Thorne meets one firm making the best of it.
Robin Powell knows a thing or two about broadcasting. The former ITV Central reporter was a familiar face on the local news for the best part of 15 years before taking voluntary severance and can still be seen on Sky and the BBC’s The Politics Show.
But while broadcast journalism is where Mr Powell has made his name and reputation, it is a new production company – Ember Television – launched almost a year ago to the day that excites him.
Not that Mr Powell is a stranger to production – he successfully ran a production company called Ember Regis since leaving his role at ITV that specialised in broadcast-standard videos for academia.
He built a long-standing relationship with Warwick University that saw the company make more than 100 films as well as a pioneering video service for the university called iCast and opened doors to other institutions such as the London School of Economics.
“Sadly, however,” said Mr Powell, “three things happened. My business partner left the business, our contract with Warwick came to an end and they took the work in-house and then Lehman Brothers happened with the economic decline that followed and we were very exposed to the public sector.”
So Mr Powell started again and looked for a formula that would work in the changing media environment.
“I wanted to invest in young talent as I always enjoyed working with young people and I always thought I was a reasonably decent journalist so I moved to Birmingham Science Park and took on a couple of interns and went from there.”
Mr Powell was making another film for Warwick when he first met Catherine Allen who would become the managing director of Ember TV.
“I was interviewing Catherine for the film and she asked if she could come on work experience and I just thought ‘oh no not another pushy graduate’ but she came to work for us in the middle of her finals and she was a revelation, so I invited her to work with us over the summer.”
Mr Powell then decided to expand the business and spoke to the science park’s head of incubation Simon Jenner, who recommended that Ember Regis set up a new division and call it something completely different.
“We came up with Ember Television and while only a small amount of the work we do is for broadcast, the idea is that we produce broadcast quality videos for corporate. Ultimately with things like YouTube and so on we are all broadcast now,” added Mr Powell.
Mr Powell is executive director of the firm and works around two days a week with the rest of his time taken by other interests.
For Ember TV his work is mainly strategic, although his profile and expertise means he is still needed in front of the camera at the insistence of some of Ember’s clients – he has recently been in the US filming a corporate video for accountants Barnett Ravenscroft.
But the day-to-day management of the company is in the hands of 22-year-old Ms Allen.
Her entrepreneurial talents have been obvious to those around her for a number of years, having funded her way through a theatre and performance degree at Warwick with her own production company – Branch Media – that started out filming lectures and grew into a range of services from making documentaries to creating video elements for artistic installations to working with such eminent organisations as the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Ms Allen said the company tapped into both her “entrepreneurial and creative side” and while it didn’t make her a fortune, it was enough to ensure she wanted for little during her studies.