Tuesday 12 December 2017

John McGee: How the media industry can capitalise on Brexit

While any gains that Ireland makes at London's expense are indeed most welcome, perhaps it's time we started to explore opportunities in other sectors Stock photo: PA
While any gains that Ireland makes at London's expense are indeed most welcome, perhaps it's time we started to explore opportunities in other sectors Stock photo: PA

John McGee

With Brexit now officially looming large on an uncertain horizon, many challenges and indeed opportunities lie ahead for Ireland.

While the economic challenges facing the country have been well-documented, discussed and debated, some of the possible opportunities are still being assessed. Much of this assessment has tended to focus on the financial services sector and the possible gains Ireland could make if London loses banking and financial services jobs once the UK withdraws from the EU. While any gains that Ireland makes at London's expense are indeed most welcome, perhaps it's time we started to explore opportunities in other sectors.

One such possible opportunity lies in the marketing and media sectors, areas in which Ireland already has a strong footprint through the presence of leading global giants such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. But there is a lot more we could do to develop a vibrant and thriving media cluster that embraces both multinational firms in creative advertising and marketing services, digital media as well as indigenous media and advertising firms and startups.

Let's call it something like Media City Dublin.

The concept of a media city is, of course, not new. There are many examples of successful Government-backed initiatives where countries - particularly in the Middle East and Asia, where nations are often dependent on one sector, such as oil and gas - have sought to broaden their country's industrial base by encouraging newer and emerging industries to locate there. Some of these revolve around economic free-zones where little if any taxation is paid. Others stem from urban-regeneration initiatives aimed at injecting new life into historically-unattractive areas.

I was in the Middle East last week, where Dubai created an international media zone in 2001. Called, quelle surprise, Dubai Media City (DMC), over 2,000 companies are licensed to operate there. Between them they employ over 20,000 staff.

In neighbouring Abu Dhabi, twofour54 is the name given to its own iteration of a pan-regional content hub that has attracted substantial inward investment from a wide-range of companies operating in movie production and production.

Further afield, Singapore Media City created a media zone in 2003 which now employs close to 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, Media City in Salford, just outside Manchester, has been gaining traction since the BBC relocated the bulk of its operations there several years ago and now Channel 4 is rumoured to be considering it as its new HQ. It essentially started out as a property play and urban regeneration initiative by local company Peel Holdings, in association with Salford City Council. However, the cluster effect of Media City has led to the creation of an extremely-vibrant media ecosystem that not only has several multinationals but also a rapidly-growing number of start-ups operating in the wider media space.

We've seen how clusters work in the medtech space in Ireland, where Galway is now seen as a hotbed of innovation globally, with a strong mix of local and multinational firms living harmoniously in a county better known for its rugged landscapes and hospitality than its technical capabilities. But this is what happens when you bring companies together in a symbiotic setting. Not only do they trade with each other, but they also learn from each other.

One could argue that we already have a media city in Dublin, located in and around the Grand Canal Basin where companies such as Google and Facebook are based. Often referred to as Silicon Docks, it does not, however, form part of a wider strategy or vision for Ireland's media industry. While IDA Ireland does a fantastic job in bringing these companies into Ireland, and Enterprise Ireland is there to support indigenous SMEs and start-ups, joined-up thinking and a wider vision of what the industry might look like in 10 or 20 years' time is conspicuously absent.

At a time when many international companies with subsidiaries in the UK are considering their post-Brexit positioning, Ireland is uniquely positioned as the only English-speaking country in the EU to boost its already significant presence in the media and marketing space. While the UK will continue to be an attractive place for many companies to do business, the lure of the much bigger and lucrative EU market is a lot more compelling. As a nation we should be capitalising on this.

A good starting point in all of this would be a review of the global and indigenous media sector to explore the many challenges and opportunities that it faces and how Ireland and Irish companies can help.

With the right support, policy initiatives and thinking in place, there is nothing to stop Ireland replicating the success of the IFSC which, as we know now, was a triumph of marketing.

Sunday Indo Business

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