Friday 19 January 2018

It's time to cash in Ireland's own creative dividend

Continuing our series where business leaders suggest ways of kickstarting the economy, TV mogul Larry Bass says our film industry could double its workforce with a few simple moves

'We teach the next generation not to steal in shops -- yet we imply that it's okay to rob music, games and films on the web. We are a nation of electronic looters on a biblical scale...'

THE film and TV industry is a mass market business. With just over four million people, Ireland doesn't have the mass to match the proven creativity and expertise within the sector. So we must look beyond our shores for new markets.

The so-called independent TV production companies merely survive making programmes for RTE, TV3 and TG4. In fact, with just those three, very insular customers, we end up with a dependent sector. Despite this, the Film and TV industry here employs 5,000 people and can and will grow to at least 10,000 with nothing more than a change of policies, attitudes and, most importantly, focus.

We need to have an international focus. We need to become exporters of TV and not always produce solely for the home channels. The challenge is to scale our indigenous companies to allow companies to conceive and develop intellectual property formats in TV, new scripts in drama and then develop new markets. The only people stopping us are ourselves.

Look at the international success of the Irish electronic gaming sector. But imagine if to survive this sector had to produce all its games with the Irishness demanded by our domestic broadcasters?

The television market is a global market -- and the English language is the currency. It is dominated by the US, UK and some Australian and New Zealand content. It is time for Ireland to step up and take its share of an ever-growing pie.

We need all of our Irish domestic broadcasters to take risks on new exportable formats. This is good business. It is also not to say we should not see international formats on Irish television. We need a very rich mix of both. For example, the BBC has a schedule packed with international formats. Dragons' Den came from Japan, The Apprentice came from the US, and the soon-to-air The Voice came from Holland. But it also has many of the best new formats originating on the BBC -- Strictly Come Dancing, The Weakest Link, and The Office, for instance. The BBC now earns millions from its share of worldwide sales of these shows. We need to pull focus from the domestic industry to see the vista of the international market.

Great strides have been taken recently with the support of Enterprise Ireland; it now needs to go to the next stage. We need to get companies hovering around the €5m turnover mark to the €25m turnover mark and quickly to the next steps of the €50m-plus mark.

When companies start hitting these targets they automatically grow, they automatically employ more people and they automatically export because the industry cannot sustain companies of that scale here. There are examples of companies growing to this scale all over the world -- All3Media in the UK, Talpa in Holland, and Banijay in France. We need it to happen in Ireland as we have even more creative talent in Ireland -- it just needs to be harnessed, focused, supported and grown. All of this will feed into the wider economy creating jobs to support this industry.

This was captured well in the Irish Film Board report, published earlier this year. Entitled Creative Capital, with key headlines including 'Doubling of the size of the industry' and 'Double the employment of the industry from 5,000 to 10,000', the report advocates doubling the size and scale in terms of financial value from €500m to €1bn in five years.

The strategies of Screen Training Ireland, to support the industry that is growing, has gone beyond the stage it was initially set up to support. But as it is the only support available, it now needs to take the industry to the next stage and have a joined-up industrial training excellence that makes courses compulsory for industry practitioners. Having creative people isn't enough, we need the industry operating to highest international standards of production management and international sales.

We need to guarantee our place in this market by making Irish scripts more appealing to film studios, and Irish productions that shine with quality and become sought after. The link between creative industries and tourism needs to be dialled up. More Irish film and television equals more visitors.

The Government needs to focus on creative industries, making it a key priority for Enterprise Ireland to help these companies to grow markets and extend the Section 481 tax break to 2020.

Ireland may be an island, but in the global entertainment industry it's connected in so many ways. Content is connected and moves faster than any other industry. A programme can be conceived and created in Ireland, shot in Ireland, edited in Ireland and through the digital age be screened to an audience at the other side of the world on the same day. There is no reason and there are no barriers to entry. The only ones stopping us are ourselves.

But we as a country need to tackle other issues like piracy. We are fast becoming the Wild West for piracy.

When did we as a nation lose our core value system that teaches the next generation not to steal in shops -- yet implies that it is quite okay to steal, rob and gorge ourselves on music, film, television and games on the internet? We are a nation of electronic looters of biblical scale.

Creative industries are different, but they are hugely valuable. The regulation of broadcasting is not the same as regulating spectrum resources.

In fact, ensuring a healthy broadcasting environment is the single most important way to sustain a healthy nation that continues to question itself and gets the nation debating and protects and serves the body politic.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is not funded by the State, is not a drain on the economy. It is funded by the industry itself to achieve best practice in the industry and to make the industry accountable, sustainable and strong. In fact, the BAI is a shining light for the rest of the regulators and semi-states. They should not cost the Exchequer a cent -- they should contribute.

At least 5,000 jobs can be created if we move the industry from a cottage industry supplying domestic distributors to a world-class manufacturer working through the domestic broadcasters focused on a global market.

Larry Bass is executive director of Screentime global group, CEO of Screentime ShinAwiL and a board member of the BAI

Sunday Indo Business

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